Merry Christmas everybody! I hope everyone has had a great holiday season so far and great fantasy seasons up until now as well. The year is officially coming to a close and 2011 is right around the corner, so that means the regular season of fantasy hockey is already just about halfway through. If you are just out of a playoff spot or needing to stay competitive with the pack, now is the time to start getting ready to give your team that big second half push. With that said, here’s some advice on preparing your fantasy squad for Week 12 and beyond.
This year’s Winter Classic is taking place in Pittsburgh this year between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. That means the much talked about matchup of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby is going to be on the biggest stage of the regular season. Ovechkin and the Caps have finally gotten out of a major slump after losing eight games in a row, while Crosby has kept his point streak alive at 23 games (23g-22a-55pts in that span, 29g-31a-60pts for the season) while propelling the Pens to wins in 15 of their last 17 games. If the matchup between these teams on Thursday was any indication of what this game is going to be like, then everyone should be in for a treat on New Year’s Day. In the mean time, check out a really cool speed lapse of the Winter Classic rink being built. I would also highly recommend to anyone that has HBO to check out the four-part documentary 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic. It’s a fantastic in-depth look at these two teams over their past month of action.
Pekka Rinne returned to action on Thursday after missing nine games. He played solidly with 28 saves, but his team could not bail him out in a 2-1 loss. Anders Lindback played admirably in Rinne’s absence, even collecting two shutouts in a row. However, Rinne is the team’s number one and should see the majority of the starts on down the road. Rinne owners are going to want to get him back in their lineups ASAP, as Rinne has been playing very well this season when healthy. Lindback makes for a good handcuff for Rinne owners, but it’s most likely safe to drop Lindback if you don’t also own Pekka.
The biggest news of the week came on Thursday, as Derek Roy is out for the rest of the season. Roy tore his left quadriceps tendon in the game versus the Panthers when he was checked cleanly into the boards. Roy led all Sabres in scoring this year with 10g-25a-35pts in 35 games as well as forward ice time with 20:03 minutes per game. With the Sabres already struggling to score and get wins (14-17-4), I’m afraid the Sabres may have to wait until next year to make a real playoff run now. Maybe Ryan Miller will have something to say about that, though. Tim Connolly and Tyler Ennis are definitely going to have to step it up while most likely seeing increased minutes, and wingers Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville are going to need to consistently find the net in Roy’s absence if they are going to have any chance. Recent callup Luke Adam, who played for Canada at the World Juniors last year and is scoring at a point-per-game in the AHL this season, is a potential deep sleeper who could benefit from Roy’s absence.
Pavel Datsyuk is going to have to miss the next four to six weeks after he broke his hand and wrist in a game versus Vancouver on Wednesday. This is definitely bad news for fantasy owners, as he is one of the game’s elite players. There is a bit of good news here, as he will not require surgery that could have kept him out for much longer. Replacing Datsyuk is nearly impossible, so Detroit will be looking for increased minutes and added production from nearly all of their forwards. Two names that come to mind are Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula, who have not played to expectations this season but have a golden opportunity with the Datsyuk injury. Henrik Zetterberg will definitely be seeing more minutes centering the top line now, so if your league includes faceoff wins as a stat category, expect an extra little boost on that front as well.
Mike Smith just can’t seem to find a break. After finally stringing a couple of good games together, Smith went down again with a left knee injury. He will be out at least two weeks. Dan Ellis will probably get most of the starts for the Lightning in his absence but, due to his rather poor play recently, untested rookie Cedrick Desjardins may be able to steal a couple of games.
And no real fantasy shocker here, but Rick DiPietro is back on IR. Crazy, I know. He did last longer this time around though, as he made it almost three months into the season without any really significant injuries. He is looking for a Week 12 return, but when you factor his injury history with the stats he has accumulated so far this year (4-6-4, 3.63 GAA, .880 SV%), he should be owned in only the deepest of leagues at this point.
Here is the weekly breakdown for this upcoming week, December 27 – January 2:
4 GAMES: Atlanta, Boston, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Montreal, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Jose
3 GAMES: Anaheim, Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville, New Jersey, New York Islanders, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington
After only five days of hockey in Week 11, this week gets back on track with a full slate of games scheduled during Week 12. First thing to notice is that not a single team plays less than three games in Week 12, so weekly leaguers will have plenty of options. The fewest amount of games being played are on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, with each of them containing six games. Friday and Tuesday have the busiest nights with nine games apiece while Saturday has seven games and Sunday has eight games. As you can see, all seven days of the week have a fairly consistent number of teams playing, so those in head-to-head leagues will certainly be busy. For those of you that are in weekly leagues, get ready to send your best guys out there as you normally would.
Now let’s take a look at what should be the most favorable matchups of the week:
Minnesota – The Wild are one of two teams that play four games during Week 12 while not playing any back-to-back games. With a day of rest in between each game, Minnseota should be fresh for all four games. As you may have figured out, they have games on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday versus Columbus, San Jose, Nashville, and Phoenix respectively, with Monday being their only game on the road. Week 12 looks like a nice week to build on that three-game winning streak that they currently have.
Detroit – The Red Wings are the other team with four games and none played back-to-back, but their schedule is a lot tougher without Datsyuk. They play Colorado, Dallas, NY Islanders, and Philadelphia with the first two being played away from home. The only given is the Islanders, while the other three are going to put up quite a fight. I might be iffy with the Detroit goalies, but I would definitely go ahead and roll their scorers on out there as you normally would.
New York Rangers – The Rangers have four games next week and three of them are all against last place (or last-place worthy) teams in their divisions with the Islanders, New Jersey, and Florida on Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday. The only tough one they have on the schedule is versus Tampa Bay on Saturday, but with the way the Lightning goalies have been playing lately, the Rangers’ scorers have a green light all week long.
…And the least favorable matchups of the week:
New York Islanders – Week 12 probably won’t be very fun for the Islanders or anyone that owns their players. They start the week off on Monday on the road versus the Rangers on what is a second game of back-to-backs. They then play on Wednesday and Friday versus Pittsburgh (on the road) and Detroit respectively. Since all the days of the week are rather busy, show these guys the bench.
New Jersey – The Devils have now lost four in a row and nine of their last ten, and Martin Brodeur has looked the worst he probably has in his entire career. Add the fact that Ilya Kovalchuk – recently going on a five-game point streak – is back to his scoreless ways with a (-7) over his past three games, things are looking dreary. With their opponents – the NY Rangers, Atlanta, and Carolina – all looking to stay in the playoff picture, they are going to be hungry to get a win versus the lowly Devils. I would, as usual this year, stay away.
Players that may be flying under the radar that should deserve a roster spot at this time:
Stephen Weiss, FLA – Weiss has been the best forward for the Panthers lately. He is currently has 3g-4a-7pts during a five-game point streak and 5g-5a-11pts, +5, and a SHG over his last eight games. Grab him while he is hot. He might make for a nice temporary replacement for Datsyuk.
Anthony Stewart, ATL – While Chris Stewart is still waiting to get back in action from a hand injury, his brother has been playing just fine recently. Anthony had a nice little four-game point streak going that saw him collect 2g-5a-7pts and a +3. While he didn’t find the score sheet on Thursday, he did find the penalty box with 15 PIM, which is always a nice, unexpected bonus for fantasy owners.
Wayne Simmonds, LA – Simmonds has been looking a lot more like what we thought he could be at the beginning of the season. He has collected 3g-4a-7pts, +5, and 7 PIM while collecting at least a point or a PIM in his last eight games.
Ryan Suter, NAS – Suter just ended a six-game point streak that saw him collect 1g-7a-8pts, +4, and 3 PPP. He now has 1g-13a-14pts in 23 games so far this season and would make a good replacement for Chris Pronger if you are still looking for one.
Bryan Little, ATL – Although very streaky, Little has 6g-4a-10pts, +8, and 17 PIM in the 12 games he has played in the month of December. Most of that time has been spent on a line with the aforementioned Anthony Stewart.
Jeff Tambellini, VAN – Tambellini has really been proving he wants to stay in the NHL ever since his latest call up from the AHL. He currently has 2g-2a-4pts during a four-game point streak and has provided the Canucks with some good secondary scoring in the 13 games during his most recent callup with 5g-5a-10pts and a +6.
Jamie Benn, DAL – Benn has been one of the Stars’ best all-around players lately. He has 2g-3a-5pts, +2, 11 PIM, and 1 SHG over his last 6 games while failing to collect either a point or a PIM in only one of those.
That about does it. As always, post any comments or questions below. Good luck next week and have a fun and safe New Year!
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