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March 31, 2013
Shots On Goal
The Rundown, Week 11

by Ryan Schwepfinger

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This is an eventful week in the hockey world. With the trade deadline set for Wednesday, teams have just a few days remaining to stock up for a playoff run, or sell off assets and rebuild for the future. Many head-to-head fantasy teams, meanwhile, have just this week remaining in their regular seasons.

The relationship between the dates is appropriate; after this week, for the most part, we will know what NHL teams look like as our fantasy teams head to the playoffs. We will know who has entered a full-blown rebuild, and we will know who has decided to go for it. For our purposes, that will inform us who might see a role reduction, or who might be called upon to fill the shoes of traded players. We saw a bit of action last week on the trading front, and responding to those real-life NHL trades is another way that active, informed fantasy managers can get a jump on their competition.

For now, let us focus on this week—our matchup grading saw the biggest correlation between possession and goals against all season long, as a whopping 10 teams each grade as either "hot matchups" or "cold matchups." Meanwhile, only seven teams graded as either "hot offenses" or "cold offenses."

Simply put, that means that in the sample size of this short season, now up to around 35 games per team, possession has correlated more strongly to goal prevention than goal scoring. Indeed five of the top 10 teams in goal scoring frequently have poor shot differentials (Tampa Bay, Toronto, Anaheim, Washington, Calgary), and only one of the top 10 in goal prevention ranks outside the top 15 in possession (Ottawa—and they rank 16th).

What this means: the best teams at possessing the puck the NHL are getting tons of shots but not as many goals as one would expect, given their outputs. Examples of contending teams featuring a high close-game Fenwick rank but a comparatively low goals for rank: Boston, New Jersey, Vancouver, New York Rangers, Detroit, San Jose, Winnipeg.

Of course, over an 82-game season, there would be more time for the percentages to even out, but in this sprint to the finish, it might encourage those teams to chase offense at the deadline. Perceptions mask the reality in this instance, and with just a few games to go, short-term sparks will likely be searched for in bunches.

It can also work in reverse—the Penguins are an example of a team that has outplayed their possession: they currently rank first in goals for per game, but 13th in close-game Fenwick. For those calling the Jarome Iginla acquisition extraneous, here is your best piece of evidence. It certainly was not a bad trade for the Penguins, but by swooping over the Bruins, Pittsburgh sure did make life harder for Boston, who definitely had a stronger need for the former Flames captain than the Pens did.

Here are the matchup data results for this week:

Cold Matchups: Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Vancouver, New York Rangers, Montreal, Detroit (New Jersey, San Jose, Pittsburgh).

Hot Matchups: Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Colorado (Edmonton, Toronto, Washington, Calgary, Philadelphia, New York Islanders, Dallas).

Cold Offenses: Edmonton, Columbus, Nashville, Colorado (Buffalo, Philadelphia, Ottawa).

Hot Offenses: Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago, Montreal (Boston, Carolina, Pittsburgh).

Now to the tables:

  Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
  4/1 4/2 4/3 4/4 4/5 4/6 4/7
FLA   @TBL       WSH OTT
DET COL     @PHX @COL   STL
WSH   @CAR   NYI   @FLA TBL
TBL   FLA   @CAR   @NYI @WSH
ANA @DAL   DAL   DAL   LAK
VAN @SJS     EDM   CGY  
NJD NYI     @BOS   TOR @BUF
LAK   @PHX   MIN   EDM @ANA
NYI @NJD WPG   @WSH   TBL  
SJS VAN   MIN   CGY   DAL

The Florida Panthers deserve a lot of credit. After three weeks of the season, they ranked 25th in close-game Fenwick. They stayed in the bottom 10 for several weeks thereafter. Without making much of a dent on their record, they have now moved all the way up to 10th in the league. Among the top 15 clubs in the league in the NHL in possession, Florida is the only one not in playoff contention—you can blame their goal prevention for that. Curiously enough, the Panthers also rank far too low in goals for per game—they would have made the above list of high possession/low scoring teams easily if they were in contention.

What does this mean for fantasy? For those in keeper leagues, Florida offers a great source of cheap talent to stash now and keep for next year—Drew Shore and Peter Mueller have been phenomenal together, and are two of the unluckiest players in the league, with 5v5 on-ice shooting percentages each under six percent. Dmitry Kulikov has much improved his shot differential to the point where he has to be considered an up-and-coming fantasy defenseman moving forward. Even Brian Campbell's plus/minus is unluckier than it should be. A great illustration of the importance of shooting percentage luck in fantasy—Shawn Matthias has been the one Panther who has been scoring lately, fueled by his 10.2% on-ice shooting percentage. He ranks far behind Shore, Mueller, and Huberdeau in possession—I know who I want in fantasy leagues for the years to come.

Cory Conacher had a nice run. It was evident his ice time was slipping for a little while now, and I was curious to see if Jon Cooper would re-entrust him with a top six role given his familiarity with the former AHL MVP. In Cooper's first game on Friday, Conacher notched 8:22 of ice time, by far the lowest forward output on the club. Alex Killorn, meanwhile, played over 20 minutes (again), and recorded two points. Killorn has replaced Conacher on my fantasy radar as a pickup no one is talking about—as a linemate of Stamkos and St. Louis, he deserves more attention.

The Devils have made two similar acquisitions in players that have talent but for some reason had fallen out of favor at their old clubs. Andrei Loktionov has already made his mark with New Jersey and Matt D'Agostini has a chance to do the same. He posted an 8.4 GVT just two seasons ago in St. Louis, and New Jersey, a strong possession team with not much offensive punch, could definitely stand to give him a favorable role down the stretch. The two have been skating together with Adam Henrique. I loved the D'Agostini trade for New Jersey when I saw it, and I love that they are putting him in a position to score.

  Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
  4/1 4/2 4/3 4/4 4/5 4/6 4/7
CGY @EDM   EDM   @SJS @VAN  
CAR @MTL WSH   TBL   NYR  
MTL CAR   @PHI WPG   BOS  
PHI     MTL @TOR   @WPG  
CHI NSH     STL   @NSH NSH
EDM CGY   @CGY @VAN   @LAK  
OTT   @BOS     @BUF   @FLA
CBJ       @NSH @STL   MIN
TOR       PHI   @NJD  
PIT   BUF @NYR   NYR    

The Penguins clearly made the most pre-deadline noise in quite some time. Here is how I read into their moves for fantasy: when the Brenden Morrow trade was announced, I thought the Pens had found the winger they wanted to play alongside Malkin, and I raced to add him in my league. When they acquired Jarome Iginla, I immediately dropped him. I was initially concerned about Pascal Dupuis, but it appears Dan Bylsma will be keeping him with Crosby and Kunitz, and slotting Iginla with Malkin and Neal. With a third line/second power play role, Morrow is not much of a fantasy option, even on this team. You can certainly do better; the Pens have 12 games remaining, I can't see more than a few goals for him, being realistic playing alongside Brandon Sutter and Matt Cooke.

  Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
  4/1 4/2 4/3 4/4 4/5 4/6 4/7
WPG @NYR @NYI   @MTL   PHI  
NYR WPG   PIT   @PIT @CAR  
BOS   OTT   NJD   @MTL  
PHX   LAK   DET   COL  
DAL ANA   @ANA   @ANA   @SJS
BUF   @PIT     OTT   NJD
STL @MIN     @CHI CBJ   @DET
MIN STL   @SJS @LAK     @CBJ
COL @DET @NSH     DET @PHX  
NSH @CHI COL   CBJ   CHI @CHI

I recently wrote that the Kings should acquire Jordan Leopold as a mid-pairing defensive upgrade. Instead, St. Louis got him, and would apparently like to use him in all situations alongside Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk. Talk about an upgrade. If your league is incredibly deep, or if you need a defenseman, look to Leopold, who will receive a value boost just from wearing a Blues sweater.

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