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March 13, 2011
Shots On Goal
Fantasy Week 23

by Timo Seppa

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GREEN LIGHTS

In Week 23, fantasy players from eight teams get the advantage of four games in which to pick up points: Columbus, Minnesota, Montreal, New Jersey, Nashville, Phoenix, San Jose and Toronto.

"Projected rates" = VUKOTA-projected rates for the 2010-11 season, per game
"Recent performance" = Recent performance during 2010-11 season, per game
*Asterisk denotes second game of back-to-back games.

C Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues
Projected rates: 0.29 G, 0.45 A, 0.74 P
Recent performance: 0.38 G, 0.54 A, 0.92 P
Overview: 3 games. 0 home, 3 road. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @ANA, @LAK*, @SJS

It shapes up to be a tough California road trip for the Blues this week, but it's hard to ignore Andy McDonald's scorching play of late—he's been putting up more than a point per game since his return from injury on February 4. If your league counts power play points, McDonald's got six over the past month as well.

LW Andrew Ladd, Atlanta Thrashers
Projected rates: 0.23 G, 0.31 A, 0.55 P
Recent performance: 0.50 G, 0.25 A, 0.75 P
Overview: 3 games. 1 home, 2 road. 0 back-to-back.
Schedule: @NJD, PHI, @BUF

After once again looking like a playoff team in the early going, Atlanta hit the skids in a bad way in January and February, playing as poorly as 3-11-4 (.278) over one span of games. Their captain has tried his best to pull the Thrashers out of their tailspin of late, with a point-per-game clip of a dozen games that was reminiscent of his excellent early season play. Still hanging onto fragile postseason hopes, Andrew Ladd and the Thrashers have managed a creditable 4-2-2 over their past eight contests.

RW Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected rates: 0.47 G, 0.45 A, 0.91 P
Recent performance: 0.38 G, 0.50 A, 0.88 P
Overview: 4 games. 2 home, 2 road. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: TBL, @CAR, @FLA*, BOS

Since going scoreless five games in a row from January 25 to February 7, Phil Kessel's really found his game, contributing significantly to the Maple Leafs last ditch effort to gain a postseason berth. In the 16 contests since February 7, the Madison, Wisconsin native has tallied more than a point per game, helping his team go 8-3-5 (.656).

D Steve Montador, Buffalo Sabres
Projected rates: 0.07 G, 0.24 A, 0.31 P
Recent performance: 0.04 G, 0.33 A, 0.38 P
Overview: 3 games. 3 home, 0 road. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: CAR, ATL, NSH*

Steve Montador's well past the frigid 15-game scoring drought he went through in November through January, back to playing well as he did early on in the season. The Sabres go as Montador goes—or maybe it's the other way around—Buffalo's 6-2-2 over their last ten games, while Montador's surged +10 in plus-minus. Overall, Montador's +17 plus-minus more than doubles up every other Sabres' mark, except that of rookie blueliner Mike Weber, who's at +10.

D Andrew MacDonald, New York Islanders
Projected rates: 0.04 G, 0.16 A, 0.21 P
Recent performance: 0.17 G, 0.33 A, 0.50 P
Overview: 3 games. 0 home, 3 road. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @NYR, @CAR, @FLA*

A free agent in many leagues, you might want to consider snapping up unheralded Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald for the stretch run. If you do have him rostered, keep starting him along with defensive partner Travis Hamonic. Over the past 30 days, MacDonald has 10 points and a whopping +12 plus-minus rating, while Hamonic has nine points, a +9 rating and 66 PIM. They're a big part of the Long Islanders' fine run of play (10-3-4, .706) since early February.

G Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
Base projection: .910 save percentage
Recent performance: .903 save percentage
Overview: 4 games. 2 home, 2 road. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: ATL, @OTT, WSH*, @CBJ

Martin Brodeur's performance has simmered to a boil, posting a .928 save percentage over the past month. With the exception of Saturday's nailbiting overtime victory against the Islanders, the 38-year-old first ballot Hall of Famer had consistently registered save percentages over .900 in all his games since the beginning of February.

RED LIGHTS

Watch out for players from Edmonton and Pittsburgh, who only have two games on the docket. In addition, seven teams—Boston, Colorado, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington and the New York Islanders—have all three of their games on the road in Week 23.

C Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
Projected rates: 0.43 G, 0.84 A, 1.27 P
Recent performance: 0.25 G, 0.42 A, 0.67 P
Overview: 3 games. 0 home, 3 road. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @MTL, @DET*, @NJD

Washington's back up to second place in the Eastern Conference, but that's despite star center Nicklas Backstrom, who's having a season to forget, at least by his lofty standards. Thriving on the awesome Caps power play last season for 11 power play goals, in contrast the 23-year-old Swede hasn't potted a single score on the man advantage since November 20. Now dealing with a thumb injury, it's unclear whether he'll return this week or not, and at what capacity.

LW Ryan Smyth, Los Angeles Kings
Projected rates: 0.31 G, 0.43 A, 0.74 P
Recent performance: 0.13 G, 0.33 A, 0.46 P
Overview: 3 games. 2 home, 1 road. 0 back-to-back.
Schedule: @NSH, STL, ANA

The Los Angeles Kings look to be heading to the playoffs, but that's mainly due to contributions from players significantly younger than Ryan Smyth, the sixth overall pick way back in 1994. While still a relatively young veteran compared to the likes of greybeards like Mark Recchi—who are still functioning admirably in the NHL—Smyth's 0.59 points per game is his lowest since 1998-99. As the 34-year-old has relied on the power play for nearly half of his goals over the past three seasons, it's a pretty bad sign that he now has only one PPG in his last 29 games.

RW Milan Hejduk, Colorado Avalanche
Projected rates: 0.31 G, 0.38 A, 0.69 P
Recent performance: 0.25 G, 0.25 A, 0.50 P
Overview: 3 games. 0 home, 3 road. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @VAN, @CGY*, @EDM

There are at least three reasons to bench Milan Hejduk this week: 1. First and foremost, he's reportedly out for about a week with a shoulder injury, 2. His poor production of late (four points in 16 games), 3. He plays for the Colorado Avalanche. On that last note, you've got to have a pretty damn good reason to be rostering any Avs right now. Even if you're expecting some production from a Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson or John-Michael Liles, get ready for a big hit in plus-minus. Hejduk's an ungodly -16 since February 11, giving you an excellent indication of Colorado's drop into the abyss.

D Jack Johnson, Los Angeles Kings
Projected rates: 0.11 G, 0.40 A, 0.51 P
Recent performance: 0.04 G, 0.33 A, 0.38 P
Overview: 3 games. 2 home, 1 road. 0 back-to-back.
Schedule: @NSH, STL, ANA

It was a silly contract, extending Jack Johnson through 2017-18 at $4.4 million per year. For a while, you might have wondered if the former third overall pick was just too young and inexperienced, or if playing on a poor team was making him look bad. But nope, it's simply that Johnson is a one trick pony, a power play specialist, nothing more. Now while that might not sound so bad in the world of fantasy hockey, realize the bad with the good you're getting. While Drew Doughty's plus-minus sits at +15, Jack Johnson is dead last on the team at -13. A brutal even strength player, Johnson's mark is 13th-worst among all NHL defensemen. Just imagine if he played on the Sens.

D Andrej Meszaros, Philadelphia Flyers
Projected rates: 0.09 G, 0.23 A, 0.31 P
Recent performance: 0.21 G, 0.13 A, 0.33 P
Overview: 3 games. 0 home, 3 road. 0 back-to-back.
Schedule: @FLA, @ATL, @DAL

Refreshingly consistent compared to their up and down play in 2009-10, the Flyers may have hit their worst run of play all season, 3-4-2 in their last nine, including a 7-0 shellacking at the hands to the rival Rangers. Though still at a heady +20 plus-minus for the season, Philadelphia's rough patch has seen Andrej Meszaros lose 9 points off of what was a gaudy +29 at the end of January. Disturbingly as well, the former bolt has one lonely assist over his last 21 games.

G Michal Neuvirth, Washington Capitals
Base projection: .910 save percentage
Recent performance: .915 save percentage
Overview: 3 games. 0 home, 3 road. 1 back-to-back.
Schedule: @MTL, @DET*, @NJD

You'd figure that it would be a great time to have Michal Neuvirth on your fantasy roster, but with the Capitals rolling and Semyon Varlamov still sidelined with a lower body injury, it's rookie Braden Holtby who's gotten the starts while Neuvirth was dealing with an eye injury. With Holtby playing well, Neuvirth might be limited to a single start this week. Oh, and the schedule looks pretty darn tough to boot. VALUE ADD

G Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
2010-11 performance: .931 save percentage
Recent performance: .931 save percentage

If you're really scrambling for a netminder, you could do a lot worse than rookie Braden Holtby, who's gotten four starts in a row for the Washington Capitals. It's true that his status as a starter is very fragile, but if he does get to play, the 21-year-old could pick up a number of wins for the resurgent Caps, who have now won eight in a row.

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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