As we settle in for this year's much-hyped 'John Scott Appreciation Weekend', the majority of NHL players and coaches are afforded a few days away to rest, heal, take stock, and in some cases, smack the reset button before trudging through the latter chunk of the season. But while some current underachieving clubs -- Dallas Stars, Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild -- are hoping a reboot will inspire a charge to postseason glory, other less-ballyhooed teams are eager to pick right up where they left off at the break.
The Carolina Hurricanes' devotion to an analytics-laced strategy of increased puck possession appears to be paying off. Heading into the midseason pause with two straight five-goal games, the club is 15-7-4 since the first week of December. They're playing well and -- more importantly from our fantasy-soaked perspective -- scoring goals.
Leading the way at present is center Jordan Staal (owned in 27 percent of ESPN.com leagues) with four goals and eight assists in his past 11 games. Not bad for a guy who registered a grand tally of two helpers in all of October. On Jordan's line, Andrej Nestrasil and sophomore Joakim Nordstrom are contributing -- the latter, in particular, with a goal in three straight games. Both Nestrasil and Nordstrom are virtually unowned in ESPN.com leagues; considering their current rate of success as top-six forwards, and the favorable schedule facing the Hurricanes this week, either/or might be worth enlisting if your roster sports holes.
Through and beyond the next seven days, former star Eric Staal is also be projected to get his act together (relatively) following a generally pitiable first 50-plus games. While the Carolina captain remains in a prominent role -- top line/top power play -- surrounded by decent-enough talent, his anomalous career-low seven-percent shooting percentage further suggests sunnier days are ahead. Plus, as mentioned, the 'Canes are just playing better as a whole. If looking to shake up your roster a bit, the elder Staal brother could serve as an intriguing buy-low option.
It's worth noting the Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Vancouver Canucks stray from the three-game median with only two scheduled contests this week. We're additionally wary of Kings' netminder Jonathan Quick, who lurched into the All-Star break, surrendering a total of 10 goals through three straight losses.
On the other end of the spectrum, five squads launch 2015-16 part deux with a four-game-slate bang, including the Edmonton Oilers, Canadiens, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals.
Looking for skaters
Columbus Blue Jackets: Competing with more pep in their step, the Blue Jackets are 4-2-1 in their last seven contests. An upcoming swing through western Canada to face the Oilers, Canucks, and Flames should provide ample opportunity to earn another win or two, while rifling a few pucks into the net. The forward line of Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky, and Cam Atkinson is generating the most noise, with a combined 11 goals and 10 assists in those past seven games. All three are available to varying degrees and should be enlisted in most deep leagues in the coming week. Centering the Jackets' other top-six trio, including wingers Scott Hartnell and All-Star Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg (owned in less than one percent of ESPN.com leagues) merits consideration in deeper leagues as well.
On defense, Seth Jones is warming up to his top-pair role since jettisoning Nashville in early January. Out from under the dense shadow cast by Predators Shea Weber and Roman Josi, the young defenseman has quietly contributed six assists in his most recent seven games -- including a couple with the man-advantage -- while playing mega-minutes.
Edmonton Oilers: He's cleared for contact. He's feeling no worse for wear after taking hits in practice with the Oilers' AHL affiliate. And yet Connor McDavid (and his mended collarbone) isn't "too sure" about returning immediately after the All-Star break (Feb. 2), as we generally anticipated. Obviously, the last-place Oilers won't rush their young superstar back (because why?), but Edmonton fans and fantasy owners can't be faulted for wanting a clear return date.
Of course, the rookie sensation's in-or-out status affects more than just his own fabulous self. You'll remember Nail Yakupov (owned in 21 percent of ESPN.com leagues) blossomed, collecting nine points in 10 games while skating on McDavid's wing earlier this season. We're willing to wager the Oilers' 2012 first-overall pick -- who has just recently recovered from an ankle injury -- will get another shot at that plum role. It's just a matter of when, exactly. Maybe this week for a four-game slate. Keep a close eye.
Washington Capitals: Winning far more often than not (35-8-4), and scoring piles of goals, the Capitals face a ripe schedule the first week of February, including three of four contests at home. Outside the gaggle of usual dangerous suspects -- Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, etc -- fantasy outlier Andre Burakovsky (owned in 1.5 percent of ESPN.com leagues) sports fresh appeal as a contributing member of the Caps' second line. Competing alongside Kuznetsov and Jason Williams -- at even-strength and with the extra skater -- the young winger has earned three goals and six assists in his past half-dozen games.
On the blue line, John Carlson managed to squeeze in a pre-ASG contest after sitting out since Boxing Day with a lower-body injury. While Matt Niskanen remains on Washington's top power play -- for now -- Carlson's spot on a unit that includes Kuznetsov and Williams isn't all that off-putting either. Utilize the club's top defenseman as you usually would.
Oh, and Ovechkin is forced to sit out the first of four Capitals contests this week, after passing (nagging lower-body injury that has reportedly bugged him all season) on All-Star festivities. Them's the rules.
Looking for goaltenders
Joonas Korpisalo, G, Columbus Blue Jackets: Korpisalo is 4-0-1 -- rocking an ultra-impressive .953 save-percentage -- in his past five starts. "He just looks poised back there, confident, like the game is coming to him," Dubinsky told reporters this week. By no means a fantasy slam dunk, the young rookie could be worth the gamble while Sergei Bobrovsky (groin) and Curtis McElhinney (ankle) continue to recover.
Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins: While he isn't dominating like in years' past, Rask is projected to enjoy a fruitful week that includes facing the Toronto Maple Leafs -- 3-0, 1.62 goals-against average, .946 save-percentage this season -- and the offensively modest Buffalo Sabres, twice. With no back-to-backs in play, the Bruins won't feel pressure to start backup Jonas Gustavsson, who was hospitalized last week with an elevated heart rate (he's since been released).
Ovechkin isn't the only player forced to take a game off after opting to skip the NHL All-Star contest; Chicago's Jonathan Toews (illness) is destined to sit out Tuesday's tilt in Colorado while taking such a pass. With only two other games on the team's sked, and considering Toews' recent lack of production (zero points in five contests), you may choose to shelve the Blackhawks captain if other solid options at center are available.
The Calgary Flames could be without defenseman Dennis Wideman for a good while. Suspended indefinitely for aggressively plowing into a linesman this past week, Wideman faces a disciplinary hearing with the league Tuesday.
We could see more Calvin Pickard in Colorado's crease while Semyon Varlamov continues to deal with a legal matter. Until the civil trial involving Varlamov's ex-girlfriend concludes, ensure the Av's No. 1 is stashed on your bench.
Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim Ducks: After missing 13 games with a sprained knee, Fowler is expected back Feb. 2 versus San Jose. Watch for Fowler to reclaim his spot on a Ducks' top power play in place of rookie Shea Theodore.