Looking ahead to the next week of NHL games from a fantasy perspective, here are some recommendations on which players to start and which to avoid.
Fantasy Forecaster: March 18-24
Highlights from teams playing four games: There are 11 teams which get the extra game in the coming week, which is the penultimate week of the head-to-head season. That also means we're down to fewer than a dozen games remaining for any of your players in rotisserie formats. If you are playing H2H, take advantage of the schedule to set yourself up to move on to the finals. If you are in rotisserie, give your games-played limits a look and make sure you are coming close to maximizing your starts. ... The offenses for the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets all rate at 9 (or better) on the Forecaster and play four games next week. Supplementary parts of these offenses that could be available to you include Brendan Perlini (on fire with Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat), either Andrei Svechnikov or Micheal Ferland (whoever gets the second-line gig on Friday), Jakub Vrana (a nice finish to the season on the second line), Carl Hagelin (five points and a plus-4 in seven March games) and Jacob Trouba (still hanging out available in one-quarter of ESPN leagues). ... All 11 teams with four contests have a back-to-back set in the mix, so no single goaltender is likely to start four times. ... Braden Holtby looks like the big schedule winner here, especially if the Capitals decide to let him start against the Devils instead of the Lightning for the team's early-week back-to-back. ... As good as Petr Mrazek has been in creating some separation as the playoffs loom, this may not be the week to lean on him. The Hurricanes start the week against the Penguins and Lightning, then finish with a back-to-back against the Wild and Canadiens. ... Robin Lehner is healthy enough to play again, so it takes some of the bloom off what looked like a solid overall week for Thomas Greiss. As usual, whoever starts on any particular night is going to give you solid goaltending numbers. That's a tough path to navigate in the fantasy playoffs, but having either of these guys as a third goalie to toss into the mix in daily roster leagues makes a lot of sense. ... Carter Hart is back for the Flyers and looked fine in a loss to the Capitals. How Brian Elliott fares on Friday will go a long way to determining the rotation going forward, as the Flyers haven't yet given up yet on a final postseason charge. Either way, it's a complicated situation for fantasy and the schedule isn't awesome next week with some hungry Blackhawks, Canadiens, Islanders and Capitals on the slate.
Teams playing two games: The Buffalo Sabres won't factor into a lot of decisions this week. They only play twice, at home to Toronto and in Montreal. Jack Eichel can rise above a two-game handicap, but no one else is going to be essential to your lineup. ... The New York Rangers only host the Red Wings and visit the Maple Leafs next week. The roster has cooled down, top to bottom, so there isn't much to see here. Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider could come through in a pinch, but you're better off making other plans for those roster spots.
Highlights from teams playing three games: Whether you start David Pastrnak in a weekly lock format is going to be a matter of personal risk acceptance. We don't have definite news either way on whether he could be in the lineup or not. On the positive side, the Bruins play the defensively sound Islanders first, then get softer matchups on Thursday (Devils) and Saturday (Panthers). ... Evander Kane could be nearing a return, both from an injury and a personal leave. He's worth starting whenever he is on the ice. There's no reason to hold back on deploying him if he decides he's ready to go. ... Vladimir Tarasenko is a risky start for the week as his 10-day declared absence coincides with lock time for weekly lineups. We might not know for sure if he'll back be back for the week until Tuesday's game. If Tarasenko is in, Brayden Schenn is also a must-start. ... Anton Khudobin is an option for fantasy teams that have lost Ben Bishop for an undetermined length of time. Bishop's success has flowed from an overall strong defense for the Stars this season -- as evidenced by Khudobin's more than passable ratios when called upon. It's not the best schedule for the Stars and you should look elsewhere first but, in an absolute pinch, Khudobin is there and steady. ... Did Pekka Rinne help you get to a good position heading into the stretch run? Watch out. The Predators play the Maple Leafs, Penguins and Jets this week -- all top-seven teams in both goals-per-game and power-play percentage.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based on a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's season-to-date statistics, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, and its opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the Florida Panthers have a stable hand in net. It's not James Reimer and it's not Roberto Luongo. Sam Montembeault is up after being the starter for the Panthers' AHL affiliate this season and he hasn't looked out of place. Montembeault has started four games, won three of them and posted a 2.24 GAA along the way. The matchup with the Bruins at the end of the week looms large, but Montembeault could post solid numbers against the Stars and Coyotes before that.
Torey Krug is injured. That will thrust Charlie McAvoy into the spotlight for the Bruins, notably on the first power-play unit. McAvoy has already been coming on strong of late, but with Krug out of the lineup he skated a crazy 27 minutes against Winnipeg on Thursday, scoring a goal in the process.
Erik Brannstrom made his NHL debut for the Senators this week as Thomas Chabot is down with a broken toe. He got time on the second power-play unit and skated 17 minutes. That's not enough to warrant much attention right now, but Brannstrom is going to be "keeper gold" in no later than two years.
Would it be a shock at this stage if Kris Letang, Dustin Byfuglien and Erik Karlsson didn't play again in the regular season? Frankly, no, as all three of their clubs are playoff bound and these guys have proven fragile in recent seasons. Go digging on the wire for defensive help. Try Damon Severson (if you can stomach the plus/minus), Shea Theodore (his power play is looking sharper), Justin Schultz (he's doing Letang's job) or Cam Fowler (someone has to run the man-advantage). ... Also keep an eye out for a last-minute Matt Dumba return, as his three-month window for recovery has now passed and he has been back on the ice again.