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Who to Start and Who to Sit in Fantasy Hockey (Week of Feb. 21)

Jason Chen gets you started with your best fantasy picks of the week, including why the Blue Jackets and Kings are great bets.
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For the first time in a couple of weeks, every team will play at least two games in Week 18. Saturday is the biggest night with 10 games on tap, highlighted by the Stadium Series between Lightning and Predators in Nashville. The home team has been victorious in three of the past four games, though the away team still holds the edge all-time, 6-5.

Note Sunday is a little busier than usual with eight games, and combined with Saturday it means 18 of this week’s 48 games will be played over the weekend, which is a little higher than Week 17 (15 of 46) and the second half of Week 16 (12 of 38). That also means that perhaps Wednesday should be the day fantasy managers make their pickups for the rest of the week; it’s an under-the-radar day because there’s only five games that night, and pouncing early means getting first crack at the 10 teams playing back-to-backs sometime between Thursday and Sunday.

Legend:
P% = season points percentage
Opp. P% = opponents’ season points percentage
Diff. = difference between P% and Opp. P%
Green is good. Red is bad. All advanced stats courtesy naturalstatrick.com.

Week 18

Start

Columbus Blue Jackets

Admittedly, it has been a pretty easy stretch playing the Sabres and Habs twice, the Blackhawks, and the struggling Capitals. But their 5-1-0 record over the past two weeks certainly deserves some props, and they’re doing it by scoring. Even in Rick Nash’s heyday, the Jackets were never known to be a high-scoring bunch, but they’ve scored 27 goals (and allowed 21) during that six-game span, and rank third behind the Flames and Panthers in GF/GP and third on the power play.

Fantasy managers who stuck with Patrik Laine should be absolutely giddy with his production right now – six goals and six assists in six games, including three power-play goals and two game-winners. The best part is, Laine’s pulled everyone up with him; Boone Jenner has nine points in six games, Jakub Voracek snapped a 30-game (!) goal drought with his second goal of the season, Oliver Bjorkstrand has scored three goals in six games and trade bait Max Domi is raising the asking price with five points. 

Despite facing tough opponents in Week 18, hosting the Leafs and then playing back-to-back on the road against the Panthers and Hurricanes, the Jackets’ players feature some intriguing options while their scoring is hot. They’re ranked last among the seven teams to play four games this week, but I daresay the Jackets far more enticing options than the Kraken, Isles or Sharks.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings play two of their three games on the road for Week 18 but there’s barely any travel between L.A. and Arizona or Anaheim. They play a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday, but they’ll be hosting the Isles in the middle of yet another brutal road trip. The Kings don’t have any elite fantasy options, but there’s more to them beyond Anže Kopitar and Drew Doughty; Adrian Kempe (team-leading 23 goals), Phillip Danault (working on another 40-point season), Viktor Arvidsson, Andreas Athanasiou, Arthur Kaliyev and even the little-used but very talented Quinton Byfield would be good options.

Sit

Edmonton Oilers

Obviously, fantasy managers should never ever sit Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, but their loss Sunday against the Wild was pretty concerning for the Oilers because it showed that even the magic of Jay Woodcroft stops working when the goaltending is horrendous. Mike Smith was pulled but the Oilers ended up allowing seven goals, anyway, and this week will be a very tough stretch against the Lightning, Panthers and Hurricanes. Based on opponents’ points percentage, the Oilers have the second-toughest matchups this week, trailing by the tiniest of margins (.004) to the Wings, who face the Avs and Leafs.

McDavid and Draisaitl – as efficient as they are – won’t have as many chances to score as usual if their opponents dominate puck possession, and if the Oilers' goaltending continues to bleed goals, their peripherals won’t look very good either. Their depth has taken a hit, too, with Jesse Puljujärvi injured for multiple weeks, and their defense continues to be in rough shape with only Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci averaging over 20 minutes per game.

Philadelphia Flyers

If the above advice is heeded and pickups for Week 18 are made on Wednesday, that leaves the Flyers with just one game for the rest of the week, and it’s not even a good one against the Caps. (The Sens are the only other team to play just once after Wednesday). The only way the Flyers are a viable fantasy option – Claude Giroux and maybe Cam Atkinson aside – is if they play at least four games in a week. 

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