Today, From the Press Box:
With one week to go in the regular season, only a few teams are still playing for something. We take a look at some of the remaining races and encourage fantasy owners to focus there as well.
The final week of the NHL season could sometimes resemble the last week of the NFL schedule, where some playoff bound teams rest key starters.
We have already seen the Penguins scratch Sidney Crosby and the Bruins reduce Tuukka Rask's starts in goal over the past week. More teams will engage in these types of decisions so you want to be aware of all those circumstances in case your fantasy team needs to make a final push.
Second and third place teams in the Eastern Conference Divisions
The first round of the playoffs will feature the Canadiens vs. the Lightning and the Flyers vs. the Rangers. Even though we know those matchups, these teams are competing for the home ice advantage. So, I expect all four of these teams to ice their best rosters this week to try to gain that important advantage.
In Montreal, the Canadiens have certainly benefitted from Thomas Vanek's efforts, as he has meshed well with Max Pacioretty. Both are undoubtedly drafted in your fantasy leagues. The third, and least heralded member of that line, David Desharnais (seven points and +7 in his last six games, is more likely to be available in many fantasy leagues and may be worth a final week claim.
On their defense, Mike Weaver has proved to be a valuable addition at the trade deadline, as he has played a very strong two-way game. He is on a four-game points streak, with five points and a +8 rating, by far his best stretch of hockey this season.
In the final week, some starting goalies will get more games off than usual if their teams have nothing to gain from these final games. This is an area where fantasy owners can make the most gains by looking at starters who need to play in the final week.
Both Carey Price and Tampa's Ben Bishop have had strong campaigns and you can bet that they will tend the nets as long as their remaining games have meaning.
We have seen Victor Hedman produce a career year with 50 points to date for the Lightning, but that is overshadowing the steady work of hard rock defender Radko Gudas, who has had a fine sophomore season, with 21 points. He has a +2 rating on the year, but what may be appealing to fantasy owners is his 152 PIMS. He only knows how to play one way and that's a tough brand of hockey. If your pool includes penalty minutes, Gudas is a safe addition and could help you at the finish line.
The Rangers and Flyers are going feed a heated rivalry when they match up in the post-season in a couple of weeks.
In Philadelphia, Kimmo Timonen has rescued his year by turned in a torrid March and early April, with 14 points in his last 17 games. He is a veteran player who seems primed for a strong springtime performance. He has been central to the flyers late season success after mirroring the teams' ordinary start.
In goal, Steve Mason has quieted all of the noise and concern that has been an annual rite in Philadelphia. He has been a year-long model of consistency with a 2.52 gaa and .916 save pct., which have allowed him to produce a 32-18-4 record.
Maybe some poolies have shied away from some players because of perceived physical inadequacies. Mats Zuccarello, at 5'7" and 170lbs, has shown all year long that he can stand up to the grind of the long schedule. He has also been a consistent scorer, notching some of the most important tallies for the Rangers all year long. Even though the recent addition of Martin St. Louis has taken away some of the spotlight away from him, Zuccarello's numbers (19 g, 38 a) and reliability should not be discounted this week.
I always try to find that veteran presence which tends to shine brightest when the stakes are highest and see that Benoit Pouliot has been scoring at a point per game pace in his last seven outing, giving the Rangers some key secondary scoring, a huge plus for a team that struggled in that area during the past few seasons.
The last Wild Card spot in the West
There is a little less uncertainty in the Western Conference playoff races, but the final wildcard position remains hotly contested.
Dallas has leaned on goalie Kari Lehtonen as their number one netminder and the former first round pick has delivered, his 2.48 gaa and .923 save pct., during his last seven games are both very much in line with season-long totals.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes have had to turn to backup Tomas Greiss, while starter Mike Smith has been sidelined. Greiss has responded to a rare late-season opportunity to get every goalie assignment, as he has limited all opponents to two goals or less in five of his last six starts. He looks like a great goalie option for fantasy owners, as long as Smith is out. Be careful to note that Smith is nearing a return and will immediately take back his number one role as soon as he's able.
While the Stars' top players, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are garnering most of the recent headlines, a few other players have chipped in with key contributions. Ryan Garbut, a third year pro at 28 years of age, has enjoyed a late-season offensive explosion to nail down a second line spot on right wing. He has been scoring at a point per game in his last seven outings, to go with a +5 and 18 PIMS - strong numbers across the board. Veteran Vernon Fiddler has also solidified the second line in Dallas with six points in his last seven starts. The Stars are also likely very happy that Trevor Daley, the subject of much trade speculation at the recent deadline, is still in the fold. He has been a solid two-way rearguard with six points and a +9 rating in his last seven games.
The Coyotes do not have many names on their roster who garner much interest in fantasy leagues. They are just one of those well-coached “no-name clubs" who regularly find a way to compete thanks to being well-coached in a team game. So, their top performers in fantasy should be highlighted here. Of late, Mikkel Boedker has lived up to his billing as a gifted scorer. He is pacing the Phoenix attack with five points in his last six and is well on his way toward putting the finishing touches on his best season as an NHLer, with 19 goals and 30 assists. It's the first time, in his five pro seasons that he has scored like you would expect from a former first round pick.
If your fantasy pools allow for daily transactions, the advice for fantasy owners this week is to take a close look at the NHL transaction wires and pre-game notes, to be aware of those players that are getting the night off. For instance, Montreal is leaving a few players out of the lineup for their tilt with Chicago. You want to make substitutions wherever possible to ensure that you are icing the best roster that you can. Focus on the teams and players who have something to play for in the final days of the regular season and god luck if you are still in contention.
Next week we preview the playoffs!