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Who to Start and Who to Sit in Fantasy Hockey (Week of Jan. 17)

The NHL schedule is finally starting to get back to normal, and it's a good time to get your fantasy team back on track. Jason Chen explains why you should explore New Jersey, Buffalo and Florida this week.
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The Anaheim Ducks played its 41st game of the season Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks, making them the first team to officially reach the halfway mark. 

After a blazing half-month in November where they won seven in a row from Nov. 2-16, the Ducks have now won only two games since Dec. 17 (2-6-2), with only one in regulation.

It’s about time where we separate the pretenders from the contenders, and any team worth their salt should be able to ramp up their play from now until the playoffs. The Ducks had overachieved, and even though there was some evidence that they were a good team, it’s become apparent that they had simply flown too high, and their subsequent fall hasn’t been all that surprising for a team many had pegged to finish near the bottom of the league.

The Islanders bring up the rear with only 30 games played, and with the NHL declining to participate in the Olympics, it’s now assumed that many of the league’s postponed games will be played during what would’ve been their Olympic break. The Isles, who are 6-3-1 in their past 10 and ranked sixth on Week 14’s schedule matrix with four games, three of which are against potential lottery teams, are a good example of a team that may be overlooked due to their poor start but have plenty of room to gain a lot of ground in the standings.

Week 14 should be a competitive week because the games are more spread out than usual. Monday and Friday feature eight games, the same as Tuesday and just one fewer than Thursday. Even Sunday offers up five games, offering up opportunities for late-stage comebacks in tight matchups. Saturday remains the busiest with 11 games, while Wednesday is the laggard with only three games in a mid-week lull, though it gives fantasy managers a breather as they plan for the remainder of the week.

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 14

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Start

Florida Panthers
This one’s obvious, but I also just want to point out that the Panthers played the Flames and Canucks over the past two weeks and outscored them 11-4, and on Friday and Saturday pumped seven goals against the Stars and nine against the Jackets. With the Oilers and Kraken also on the docket this week, is 24 goals actually a conservative over/under? The difference of +.267 in points percentage against their opponents is by far the biggest in Week 14, followed by Colorado (+.209) and Dallas (+.159).

Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres have the eighth-worst matchup based on difference in points percentage, but could offer better fantasy options than the Flyers, Isles, Kings and Jets, all of whom rank ahead on the schedule matrix but play tougher opponents. Tage Thompson (rostered in 23 percent of Yahoo leagues) has been a reliable offensive player all season and offers up three-position eligibility along with the ability to contribute in multiple categories. 

The return of Alex Tuch (22% rostered with dual-wing eligibility and gets both hits and blocks) has undoubtedly made scoring a lot easier, and the third member of their top line, Jeff Skinner (6% rostered), has scored four goals in his past five games. Thompson’s guaranteed to play a ton of minutes because reliable depth is a big problem for them. Dylan Cozens, Victor Olofsson and top prospect Peyton Krebs are also options as they host two very bad road teams (Stars, Wings) and also the fifth-worst (Flyers) and ninth-worst teams (Senators) in GA/GP since Jan. 1.

New Jersey Devils
The Devils are the only team in Week 14 to play on Wednesday and Sunday, the two lightest slates of the week. I don’t think the league is trying to showcase a bottom-10 team on purpose, but it is a weird quirk because their availability makes them desirable on those empty nights. All three games will be at home, which features a visit from the league’s worst team.

Jack Hughes will be a superstar and scoring at a point-per-game pace yet he’s only rostered in 78 percent of Yahoo leagues. His presence elevates everyone else on the team, and takes some pressure off Nico Hischier, who can be a major fantasy asset ranked 14th in the league in faceoff wins. Jesper Bratt (32 points in 34 games, 52 percent) is an underrated option, Damon Severson (14%) should be very valuable once they return from COVID protocol, Yegor Sharangovich (2 goals in 2 games, 7%) can be a high-reward play, and Alexander Holtz (eligible for NA spot) is always just waiting in the wings in case a roster spot opens up.

Sit

Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers have lost seven straight, which trumps their fifth-place ranking in the schedule, which is inflated because they play four games. 

Except their opponents won’t be weak; the Isles have won four of their past six and might be turning a corner, the Jackets should be super rested and motivated after allowing nine goals against the Panthers with a four-day break, and the Sabres won both of their most recent games by a combined 11-4 score. Scoring may not be a problem for the Flyers, but their goaltending will turn from orange to red with all the goals that they will be bleed. 

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