The postponement of the New York Islanders’ games was a stark reminder that COVID-19 continues to play a big role even though only a handful of players remain unvaccinated.
It’s the second time this season the league has been forced to step in, and it once again brings to the forefront that there is a possibility that we may not finish an 82-game schedule. The emergence of a new variant may give the NHL some pause about sending their players to the Olympics, which of course may affect the schedule for the remainder of the season.
The Isles are set to resume play on Thursday, but it remains to be seen how many of their players will pass COVID-19 protocols and be available to play, and even if they can play, how effective will they be? The Sens are 0-4-0 since returning to action and the Blues lost five of six games after Ryan O’Reilly and Brandon Saad cleared protocol and returned to the lineup earlier in the season.
Teams on the schedule matrix are sorted by the number of games played in the week and then the difference between their points percentage against their opponents’. This narrows down the teams to target, which is further ranked by the quality of competition.
1w P% = rolling one-week points percentage
2w P% = rolling two-week points percentage
P% = season points percentage
Opp. P% = opponents’ season points percentage
Diff. = difference between P% and Opp. P%
All advanced stats courtesy naturalstatrick.com.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Flames find themselves at the top of the schedule matrix but they’ll also be playing three road games in four nights, and none of their opponents are easy outs. The Jackets likewise have a busy schedule and their opponents’ points percentage is skewed by matchup against the Capitals, but they always have a lot of under-the-radar players who could prove very useful.
The rookie pairing of Cole Sillinger with Yegor Chinakhov with Jakub Voracek serving as the ‘dad’ of their line has since been broken up, but they’re getting contributions from elsewhere now, including Max Domi, who has scored five points in four games and now playing on the top line; Gregory Hofmann, the former Swiss league star who is now playing with Sillinger and has three points in four games; and five points from promising young defenseman Adam Boqvist. Because the Jackets tend to sprinkle their talent throughout their lineup, it’s hard to find a dependable line stack, but there’s no lack of options.
Alex Newhook, C, and Devon Toews, D, Avalanche
The Avs play all three of their games on the road, including a back-to-back, but they’ve been really hitting their stride and the Leafs should be their only tough test. Newhook’s fantasy value keeps increasing every week, and a new-look line with Nicolas Aubé-Kubel and Tyson Jost has given the Avs even more quality depth as they await the return of Nathan MacKinnon. They combined for six points in four games in Week 7.
Toews started the season on injured reserve and was kind of forgotten, but since returning has re-affirmed his status as a top-pairing defenseman with 10 points and a plus-13 rating in nine games playing with Cale Makar. It’s a pairing that may anchor the Canadian Olympic team’s defense and remains rostered in only 76 percent of Yahoo leagues even though he’s been playing like a top-five defenseman.
Dryden Hunt, LW/RW, Rangers
Hunt is one of three players on this list who have hit the equivalent of the fantasy hockey lottery, playing on an elite scoring line even though they really have no business being there. Hunt’s playing with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, and three of his four assists on the season have come in the past four games. His ice time has obviously increased playing on a scoring line, though for obvious reasons he doesn’t play on the power play. Note that Hunt’s possession numbers aren’t very good and seems to drag Panarin down rather than really helping him, according to naturalstattrick.com, but the Rangers’ possession numbers are bottom-five in both Corsi and Fenwick, so it’s not really a point of concern until they start to lose games, if at all.
Aliaksei Protas, C, Capitals
Protas should have dual-position eligibility soon, who is playing on the wing opposite Alex Ovechkin, and he has become a huge beneficiary of Peter Laviolette’s reworked lines with Lars Eller returning and Connor McMichael moving to the left wing. Protas, a Belarussian playmaker who won a WHL title with Prince Albert and a former third-round pick, notched two assists in his second game on the top line and looks like he might remain there for the time being. After a Tuesday road date against the Panthers, the Caps face the Hawks and Jackets, two games that should be scheduled wins.
Rem Pitlick, C/RW, Wild
Kirill Kaprizov’s awesome stretch – 11 points in five games, including two four-point efforts – has definitely rubbed off on Pitlick, who registered three helpers in the same span. The Wild have won three straight so Pitlick’s spot is safe for now, but like Hunt with the Rangers, both are punching well above their weight and playing on scoring lines because they have the ability to win puck battles and do the dirty work scorers never like to do. Fortunately for fantasy managers, all they really have to do is touch the puck once for them to get an assist. The Wild are one of six teams to play all of their Week 8 games at home, where they are 7-2-0.
St. Louis Blues
The Lightning are now 3-1-0 without both Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and also with Alex Barré-Boulet playing on the top line, a tweener prospect whom they had waived at the beginning of the season because they didn’t know where to play him in the lineup. the Lightning’s only loss was on the road against the Wild, whom they had just beaten a week earlier. Their surprisingly good performance is bad news for the Blues, who will play them twice in a home-and-home series, and then visit the Panthers, who are a league-best 11-1-0 at home.
After ranking eighth in October in GA/GP, the Blues dropped to 19th in November and their penalty kill continues to be below average. It’s no coincidence that the mercurial Jordan Binnington is part of the reason for this, who went from .926 Sv% in October to .903 Sv% in November, and Ville Husso, who started the season with one goal allowed in two starts, has allowed three goals in each of his past two starts with a combined .878 Sv%.
The schedule matrix says the Canucks face – on an aggregate level – the easiest competition in Week 8, but there’s zero confidence in the Pacific’s last-place team. In any other season, road visits to Montreal and Ottawa may be easy wins, but they definitely won’t be this season and a home date against the Pens will be a very tough test. The Habs have suddenly found their scoring touch again with two six-goal games in their past four while goal-scoring continues to be an ongoing issue for the Canucks, and the Sens went 3-4-2 against them last season in a division many expected the Canucks to be fare much better than they actually did. Their continual losses even makes playing Thatcher Demko difficult, because the only way he can win games is if he’s otherworldly and manages to steal the game.