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On tap: It's the final full week for the NHL until Feb. 2-8 (Week 18), as the All-Star break eats up much of Week 16 and a day of Week 17, but unlike in seasons past, this isn't quite as action-packed a week as you might think. Seven teams play four times; that's the same number as last week. But in a welcome change, only one team -- the Panthers -- plays two games, making for a more balanced schedule.
The grid below details all 30 NHL teams' Week 15 schedules. In order to help those of you targeting quantity of games, teams with the most games this week are listed first. Ties are first broken by greater number of home games -- a home game is almost always better than a road one -- and then alphabetically by team.
Quantity might be all well and good for some fantasy owners, but not for all. Quality matters, too, so if you're picking and choosing from individual matchups -- most important in daily leagues or for those with caps on games per position -- I'd take a look at the following four teams as strong Week 15 stat sources:
Canucks (NJ, PHO, CLS): Vancouver is the league's top defensive team in home games, having allowed a league-low 1.84 goals per game at GM Place, and none of these opponents boasts a particularly scary offense. New Jersey is the highest-ranked for the season, at No. 11 (2.88 goals per game), but the Devils are in a mini-funk, having tallied only 20 goals in their past nine contests (2.22). Here's the problem: It's a little hazy as to who will be the team's goalie this week, Jason LaBarbera or Roberto Luongo, who has resumed practicing. LaBarbera has some deep-league appeal due to the favorable schedule, but he might be a smarter daily-league play, with Luongo perhaps ready to play late in the week. In other Canucks news, Mats Sundin made his season debut this past Thursday, so feel free to activate him.
Flames (STL, @SJ, PHO, @COL): This team is 9-1-1 in its past 11 games, and it's actually not entirely a result of improved play by goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. His record has matched that of his team during that span, but his goals-against average is 2.71 and his save percentage is .908 -- hardly elite numbers. No, Kiprusoff has been the benefactor of inspired offense by the Flames, who have totaled 44 goals -- four per game -- during the hot streak. Still, the goalie is better than he has performed to date and is a must-start, given the schedule. So are red-hot skaters Todd Bertuzzi (3 goals, 5 assists in his past 6 games), Rene Bourque (4 G, 6 A in his past 7) and Daymond Langkow (6 G, 6 A in his past 7). Monitor Bertuzzi's back injury, though; he was held out of this past Thursday's game.
Thrashers (OTT, TOR, @NSH): The Thrashers' three opponents are dreadful defensively; since Dec. 1 the Maple Leafs have allowed 3.67 goals per game, the Senators 3.59. The Predators, meanwhile, have served up three or more goals in five of their past eight contests. As such, red-hot Thrashers like Slava Kozlov (3 goals, 11 assists in his past 13 games), Bryan Little (8 G, 2 A in his past 10) and Todd White (4 G, 11 A in his past 14) are must-starts. Goalie Kari Lehtonen has some sleeper potential, too, coming off a Thursday shutout of the Devils and battling two of the game's four weakest offenses (Predators, Senators) this week.
Wild (PHO, EDM, ANA): Three home games against teams that rank in the bottom half of the league in goals per game represents a dream schedule for Niklas Backstrom and his mates; plus-minus should be no team-wide issue this week. Backstrom, incidentally, is 11-1-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 14 games against these foes between this and last season. Feel free to take some chances on Wild skaters -- even with this being a thin offense -- including Pierre-Marc Bouchard (4 assists in his past 5 games) and Owen Nolan (4 goals in his past 5), who seems fully healed from his leg injury.
In picking and choosing matchups, I'd do my best to avoid players from the following four teams. Keep in mind that stud players -- like Olli Jokinen -- on teams with poor matchups shouldn't normally be benched, but it's worth keeping their schedules in mind if you're deep in high-quality alternatives.
Coyotes (@MIN, @VAN, @CGY, @EDM): Such a stark contrast between home and road performance by this team: Phoenix averages 2.25 goals scored and 3.40 allowed per game on the road, compared to 2.73 and 2.27 at home. Daniel Carcillo, Ed Jovanovski and Peter Mueller, the Coyotes' three more matchup-susceptible fantasy skaters, have combined for six goals, 17 assists and a minus-21 rating in 20 road games this season. Sit all three.
Ducks (DET, @PIT, @MIN): This team has it rough on both sides; Anaheim gets to tangle with both the No. 1 offense (Red Wings) and No. 2 defense (Wild), not to mention a Penguins squad that's a heck of a lot more talented than its year-to-date numbers. Corey Perry will be back from his suspension, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger are must-starts regardless of matchup, and Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan are getting prime opportunities in light of Teemu Selanne's quadriceps injury, but beyond those five there's not a lot to like here.
Panthers (PHI, @TB): This is an easy one, because it's the NHL's only two-game schedule of Week 15. But before you point out that a game against the Lightning is hardly a challenge, allow me to remind you of the Panthers' Dec. 26-27 home-and-home series results against that team: loss, loss. Don't make eggnog-hangover excuses for Florida, either; those were miserable performances, period. You can count the Panthers' fantasy options for this week on one hand: David Booth, Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton and Bryan McCabe. That's it.
Rangers (@NYI, @CHI, @PIT): No matter how you feel about Henrik Lundqvist, fact is he's a much more ordinary goalie in road games (20-16-8 record, 2.65 GAA and .905 save percentage between this and last season) than at home (37-20-5, 2.17 and .915). The Rangers know this; perhaps for that reason they have granted him 63 home starts, 44 on the road, during that span. By the way, since Dec. 10, Lundqvist and backup Steve Valiquette have split the team's six road starts evenly, while Lundqvist has started all six home games. Something to think about, especially as it pertains to plus-minus, which might be a real issue for the Rangers this week.
For those of you in leagues with daily transactions, I've picked a strong matchup on each side of the puck for each day of the upcoming week. My "defensive choice" doesn't always mean simply "play the goalie"; it means the goalie is a strong pick but also indicates every bit as much that the team will be safe and potentially productive in plus-minus. When possible -- and remember, some days have fewer games than others -- obvious teams have been avoided in favor of sleeper-type selections.
• Devin Setoguchi, RW, Sharks: After a brief stint in which he and Joe Thornton were split up, the two were reunited in practice this past Thursday, a precursor to that kind of arrangement in a game, presumably. Stand-in Mike Grier excelled in Setoguchi's spot for a time, with three goals in his past two games, and don't overlook that Setoguchi had five goals in a nine-game span from Dec. 11 to Dec. 31. The Sharks are entirely at home this week and are too potent offensively for opponents to hold back. Load up.
• Kyle Quincey, D, Kings: Quincey, picked up off waivers from the Red Wings in October, has been quite a find for these Kings, managing a 47-point pace through 37 games of his first full NHL season. He's skating more than 22 minutes per game, and 3:13 of those on the power play, fifth most on the team. Los Angeles hosts Tampa Bay, a mediocre defensive team, and Detroit, an overrated defensive squad, and then travels to Dallas to battle the league's No. 27 defense (3.41 goals allowed per game). Sounds like an awfully offense-friendly schedule to me!
• Wojtek Wolski, LW, Avalanche: Skating on the top unit with Milan Hejduk and Ryan Smyth is paying huge dividends for Wolski, who has three goals, three assists and a plus-3 in his past six games, during which time he has averaged better than 18 minutes of ice time. His Avalanche play four games in Week 15, and three of them are against teams ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in terms of goals per game allowed (Blues, 26th, 3.33; Oilers, 24th, 2.97; and Flames, 23rd, 2.93).
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.