Looking Ahead: Week 1

10/02/2010 6:29 PM - 

Contributed by Garrett Rees

After several long months, it’s finally that time again! 

The NHL regular season is about to kick off on Thursday, so it’s time to get your fantasy lineups set.  For those of you in weekly leagues, this means have your lineups set by Wednesday night at the latest.  After that, be sure to check back at fantasyhockey.com every week for the Weekly Planner, where I will help you create the best team that you can, one week at a time.

As has been the trend for the past several seasons, the NHL starts off the first weekend of the 2010-2011 season with games being played in Europe, and this year there will be six of them.  First off we have Carolina and Minnesota playing a pair of games in Finland, followed by San Jose and Columbus playing a pair of games in Sweden, and Boston and Phoenix playing a pair of games in the Czech Republic.  All of these games will also be played in back-to-back fashion, so keep in mind when setting your rosters that these six teams will no doubt be jetlagged by the time they get back to North American soil.

Since the first games of the season are starting on a Thursday instead of a Monday for normal fantasy weeks, our first official week of fantasy hockey is an unusually long one.  Here is the weekly breakdown for this upcoming week, October 7 – October 17:

6 GAMES:  Anaheim, Buffalo, Chicago, New Jersey, Pittsburgh

5 GAMES: Atlanta, Colorado, Detroit, Montreal, New York Islanders, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Washington.

4 GAMES: Calgary, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Florida, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville, Phoenix, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto

3 GAMES: Boston, New York Rangers, San Jose

As you can see, there should be no shortage of stats this week, which could definitely make for a fun one.  In weekly leagues, owners of players in Anaheim, Buffalo, Chicago, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh should most certainly be looking to get their guys in the lineup, as each of these teams has six games scheduled. On the other hand, all but the best players on Boston, New York Rangers, and San Jose should most likely take a seat on the bench this week.

First things first, though.  Before the season has even begun it’s looking like the injury bug is making its presence felt and is already affecting some teams’ opening day rosters, which more than likely will affect fantasy opening day rosters as well.  With that said, none have felt the wrath more than the New York Islanders.  What was looking like a promising young lineup for the Isles is already back to the “oh great” situation we have come to expect from them over the past several seasons.  Already the Islanders are looking like they are going to have to play a large chunk of their games without two of their best players, top defenceman and powerplay quarterback Mark Streit and first line winger and rising star Kyle Okposo.  For those of us that drafted these two players expecting a productive season are surely going to be missing them, with Okposo expected to miss 2 to 3 months and Streit missing an agonizing 6 months, both to the infamous shoulder injury.  If Nino Niederreiter can make the roster out of camp, which is looking more and more likely, you’ve got to think he is going to be given every chance to instantly crack a top-6 roster spot.  Monitor this situation, as he could be worthy of a pick-up, especially in deeper leagues and keeper/dynasty leagues.

The Philadelphia Flyers are also dealing with a rather significant loss as well, with starting goaltender Michael Leighton out for a month with a back injury.  Brian Boucher instantly becomes worthy of a pickup in most leagues as he fills the void and steps in as the Flyers’ starter while Leighton is out.  The Flyers also have a decent looking schedule this week containing five games with no back-to-back games, but they are playing teams with some potent offenses.  Depending on how well he handles the starting goalie situation, Boucher could be giving Leighton a run for his money when Leighton returns.  In the meantime, it’s looking like rookie Sergei Bobrovsky is going to settle in as the backup behind Boucher during Leighton’s absence, as he has looked very good in the preseason.

Two more noticeable injury concerns to start the season are that of Peter Mueller of the Colorado Avalanche and Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins, both dealing with concussion-related injuries.  It was revealed before training camp that Savard is still dealing with post concussion syndrome, and the latest prognosis does not look good as it is possible that he may take a seat for the entire season.  Not good news for fantasy owners at all.  Mueller, on the other hand, was looking to get back on track to the pace he set before he suffered a concussion that ended his season last year by playing alongside soon-to-be star Matt Duchene and Milan Hejduk on Colorado’s top line to start the season. However, it looks like he could be out for quite some time as well as he suffered a second concussion in less than six months during a preseason match versus the Kings.  His official time out is still listed as indefinite, and it’s looking as if Mueller is going to be out for a rather significant amount of time, especially since his last concussion required around four months of recovery time.  Look for Patrice Bergeron and possibly Tyler Seguin to step it up in place of Savard, while Ryan Stoa is looking like the best bet to fill Mueller’s spot at this time. (Editor’s note: Stoa was demoted to the AHL on Sunday.)

And finally, the most recent major injury concern is in Chicago, where Brian Campbell is expected to  miss at least 4 to 6 weeks with a knee injury caused by a collision with Eric Tangradi of the Pittsburgh Penguins during a preseason match.  Look for Brent Seabrook to get a rise in minutes in his absence, especially on the power play where he will be seeing more power-play quarterbacking duties.

Now that we’ve cleared that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the more favorable and also the least favorable matchups of the week:

Strong Schedules

Chicago:   The Blackhawks get to start off their Stanley Cup defending run with six games in the first fantasy week with only one back-to-back scheduled against Columbus and Minnesota.  The only downside of their schedule is that they are constantly going to be traveling between every game.  Even with that, though, I would definitely be looking for Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews, Duncan Keith, and company to rack up the points this week as they are going to want to get out of the gate early since they are going to have a target on their back this season.  I would also definitely be looking for some solid outings from Marty Turco as well as getting to see Corey Crawford in action this week.

Philadelphia: The Flyers have five games to play in the first week, all the while having no back-to-back games and three games in a row at home making their schedule one of the best during the first week.  This may not be the easiest week in the world for Brian Boucher, as the Flyers are facing what are looking to be some high scoring offenses in Pittsburgh (twice), Colorado, and Tampa Bay. However, all of these teams have questionable defenses as well which should provide plenty of offensive opportunity for the Philly forwards.  I would definitely recommend inserting Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger, Mike Richards, Danny Briere, etc. into your lineups this week.

Buffalo, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh:  As mentioned earlier, all of these teams are playing six games this week, which gives their players the ability to really rack up some points this week for their fantasy owners.  I’d definitely be looking to get players owned on any of these teams into your lineup, especially the must start players in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Ryan Miller, Martin Brodeur, and friends.

Weak Schedules

Columbus:  This is probably not going to be a very fun week for the Blue Jackets, aside from being able to experience playing some games in Europe.  They start out the week by facing the Sharks in back-to-back fashion in Sweden, and then get to come back to the States to play a home game versus the Blackhawks and a road game in Minnesota in back-to-backs.  If I were a Steve Mason owner, I would definitely be thinking sit in both weekly and daily lineup leagues.

Boston:  As mentioned earlier, all three of the rest of these teams have only three games in this 11-day span, so set your expectations low.  However, of all the three game teams the Bruins might have it the worst.  First they are playing two games back-to-back in the Czech Republic versus a Phoenix team that will be full of surprises this year.  I honestly don’t know what to expect from Phoenix this year, but it’s hard to believe they will have as good of a season this year as they did last year.  The Bruins’ third game is against what is looking to be a very strong New Jersey team.  To top it off, the Bruins are playing all away games this week.  I’d probably stay away.

New York Rangers:  The Rangers don’t have the toughest schedule in the world this week.  However, playing their first two games away from home and having the light schedule of only three games, it may be best to pass up on all Rangers players not named Marian Gaborik.

San Jose:  I’m calling this a “weak schedule” because the Sharks are only playing three games this week, but they probably don’t deserve to belong in this group because the matchups of those three games are indeed favorable for the Sharks.  The three teams they are playing against seem very enticing from a fantasy perspective:  the Blue Jackets for back-to-back games in Sweden, and then a home date with the Thrashers after a six-day layoff.  Weekly leaguers may want to bench anyone not named Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau simply due to the amount of games played. In daily lineup leagues, get ready to play your Sharks as regular on those three days.

For those of you that don’t recognize me, that’s because this is officially my first article on fantasyhockey.com!  I may be playing with the format at first to get a feel for things, so please hang with me.  I hope you all enjoy it, and I am looking forward to helping you with your fantasy needs every week. 

Good luck with your seasons everyone!

Follow Garrett on Twitter for fantasy hockey information, especially the latest in starting goalie info.

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