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Fantasy Hockey: Head-to-Head Primer Week 2

The first few weeks are always a little whacky in fantasy hockey, and it might be time to take advantage of hot starts around the league before it's too late.
Author:
Jeremy Swayman

The first few weeks are always a little whacky. 

Not all teams are at even strength, sometimes due to injury or contract holdouts, and everybody’s still getting a feel for each other and gathering some game tape for future study. You get really surprising results thanks to the small sample sizes – the Sabres, Sharks and Red Wings were among the best teams in Week 1 – but supposedly bad teams can get hot and surprise everyone, just as there are also supposedly good teams who struggle right off the bat. It’s important to take note because it may affect the tight playoff races every season.

Note the new schedule matrix is now updated to show each team’s records in the previous week and the points percentages from the current season. If the final three columns are shaded green, that’s usually a good indicator for favorable matchups during the week, though we’re only one week into the season. That being said, the Oilers, Blues and Wild – with an excellent Cam Talbot – feel like strong teams to pick from in Week 2. The Wild are big beneficiaries in a schedule quirk in which all three opponents they host will be playing the final games of their road trip.

All advanced stats are courtesy of naturalstatrick.com.

Week 2

START

Boston Bruins

The Bruins’ three upcoming opponents combined for the second-highest points percentage, and it sounds intimidating until you realize two of them are the Sharks and Sabres, who will be without No. 1 center Casey Mittelstadt. Jeremy Swayman was solid and made 27 saves in the season opener, and he has a chance to earn two more wins in Week 2 with Linus Ullmark getting at least one start, so at least Ullmark gets his chance to show his wares despite a horrific season that cost him the start on Opening Night. Swayman is available in one-third of all Yahoo leagues and should be picked up right away just in case he runs away with the starting job; at the very least, he’s likely to get two matchups this week against lesser opponents.

Detroit Red Wings

It was an impressive performance against the Lightning but it didn’t detract that they’re still a very leaky defensive team, allowing at least 40 shots in their first two games, though Moritz Seider really looks like the real deal. He’s worth picking up if he’s going to keep playing 20-plus minutes a night in a top-four role, depending on the size of your league, and note the Red Wings seem to prefer playing two defense on their power play with Seider alongside Filip Hronek, with Seider actually leading in PP TOI 3:41 vs. 2:55. Nick Leddy was a distant No. 3 option (1:55) even though the Red Wings showed a lot of him on their power play during the preseason.

The Wings are one of four teams playing four games this week, the last two of which are back-to-backs on the road, but it’s also against the struggling Habs and Blackhawks, who are 0-5-1 collectively after Week 1. Dylan Larkin has also served his suspension and will be back in his usual No. 1 role and the Red Wings offense can be feast or famine, but at least Filip Zadina, Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond all off to good starts. Keep an eye on them since their minutes may increase as the season progresses.

Los Angeles Kings

Anze Kopitar looks as good as he’s ever been and the Drew Doughty redemption tour is in full force. It’s just a hunch, but the Kings might look good for the second week in a row. 

The argument against: all three of the Kings’ games are on the road, including a back-to-back against the Stars and Blues, both of whom will be coming off two days’ rest when the Kings visit. 

The argument for: it’ll be Viktor Arvidsson’s revenge game when he returns to Nashville on Tuesday, the goaltending has been pretty good and they get two days’ rest before their back-to-back, which includes facing the banged-up Stars. The Kings were better on the road last season, winning three more games (12) than they did at home (9).

AVOID

Colorado Avalanche

Nathan MacKinnon’s season debut has been put on hold after he tested positive for COVID-19, and he will not travel with the team to face the Caps on Tuesday, though he may join the team later when they face the Panthers and Lightning. It has not been an ideal start for Darcy Kuemper, either, who has a .902 Sv%, or Gabriel Landeskog, who will also miss Tuesday’s game due to a suspension. Expectations are high and this is their longest road trip of the season until early December, and it’s a preview of who their opponents may be should they reach the Finals. It’s been a mixed bag with the Avs so far, including a 5-3 loss to the Blues, whom they had swept in the playoffs. We shall have to see what kind of lines Jared Bednar will conjure up without two of his best players unavailable with injuries already to Valeri Nichushkin and Devon Toews, and it could be a young and inexperienced group with 26-year-old Dylan Sikura as the elder statesman and 23-year-old Tyson Jost as the veteran. Specifically for those who play more DFS games, we could get our first glimpse of Mikhail Maltsev, the 23-year-old Russian prospect they received from New Jersey for Ryan Graves who currently leads their AHL affiliate in scoring with four points in two games.

Dallas Stars

Jason Robertson did not travel with the team and missed the first three road games, and it looks like he will be missing his fourth. John Klingberg was injured in the season opener and did not play in their back-to-back games over the weekend, so his status is also questionable. That’s two big pieces missing from the Stars lineup, who are once again having trouble scoring early on with just six goals in their first three games and converting just one of their 10 power play opportunities – ironically, thanks to Radek Faksa, who had scored only five power-play goals in 406 career games prior to that. With just two games in Week 2 against a surprisingly good Pens squad on Tuesday and then the also surprisingly good Kings for the home opener on Friday, the Stars aren’t an appealing fantasy play at all. Something to watch: I expect Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin to split the games, but it’ll be very telling if Rick Bowness goes to Holtby both times.

New York Islanders

The Isles are losing key points early in the road trip, and as the trip gets longer the more difficult it will be to earn points. They’ve allowed an uncharacteristic 11 goals through two games, looking nothing like the structured, disciplined team that we had gotten accustomed to. The Isles don’t play until Tuesday, so that gives Semyon Varlamov an extra day to recover in what should be a gruelling Week 2 with four games, including a back-to-back on the weekend. I don’t think there’s much confidence in backup Cory Schneider, who has not played a game since March 6, 2020, which means Ilya Sorokin has to really turn his game around or otherwise the Isles are going to end up falling really behind in the playoff race early on. Sorokin’s provided one of the worst returns early on among fantasy goalies (92 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues). The Isles won’t have their home opener until Nov. 20 with UBS Arena still putting on the finishing touches.

Vegas Golden Knights

Max Pacioretty will miss at least six weeks and Mark Stone did not look good after leaving the game against the Kings. That’s two-thirds of Vegas’ top line and depth is already an issue partly because of the way they allocate so much of the cap to their top players. The Knights have two days’ rest before facing the Blues on Wednesday, but not having two of the best offensive players in the league will make it really tough to beat Connor McDavid and the Oilers when they visit on Friday. Look for the Knights to lean on William Karlsson’s line with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault a lot; they’ve been together since the franchise’s inception and have always been very reliable, and this also potentially opens up more opportunities for both Evgenii Dadonov and Nolan Patrick, both of whom are looking to capitalize on a fresh start with their new team, and also prized prospect Peyton Krebs. 

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