We're almost there. This is the final week I'll be including last season's statistics in the formula for the Forecaster's offensive and defensive ratings. Sample sizes to this point have been too small to rely simply on this season's data, and heck, some teams hadn't played home or road games until this week. Even though the numbers from last season are still in the formula, they've been weighted down significantly so you can start to see some of this season's trends emerging in the numbers.
For example, the Buffalo Sabres' new defense-first philosophy plays out in the calculation to give them a "perfect 10" for the week on defense. The shutdown play by the Sabres has been exceptional this season. In four games, Ryan Miller has had to face fewer than 23 shots per game and has turned them aside to the tune of a .945 save percentage. Of the five goals Miller has allowed, only two of them were even-strength tallies. Coach Lindy Ruff isn't the longest-tenured NHL coach without good reason; he has taken a team that clearly lags behind the competition in terms of scoring punch and played to its strength in its own end. It has resulted in a 3-0-1 record for the club and excellent numbers for Miller.
The Sabres are on a road swing through the state of Florida, with matchups against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning this week. Both opponents have lacked firepower this season and should extend Miller's strong start. If he keeps up the gaudy statistics, there will come a sell-high time for Miller owners, but we certainly aren't there yet.
With the added weight of this season's numbers, there are a few more extremes in the Forecaster this week.
O (offense) and D (defense) matchup ratings are based on a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 21 days' statistics, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, and its opponent's numbers in those categories. The Games T/H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games and lists the cumulative rating of that week's matchups.
No Daniel, no problem: The Vancouver Canucks shouldn't miss Daniel Sedin and his broken foot too much this coming week, as they have a terrific schedule offensively. Games against the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs are bookended by a home-and-away series versus the Edmonton Oilers. While Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows might be the only usual suspects for fantasy owners, include Steve Bernier and Mikael Samuelsson in your lineup and expect at least a five-point week. Even Mason Raymond is a sneaky play on the second line with Samuelsson and Ryan Kesler.
Another week, another Shark attack: The San Jose Sharks remain one of the busiest teams in the league and have another strongly rated week on offense during their Eastern Conference road trip. The highlight of the week will be Saturday's stop against the Atlanta Thrashers, which has an offensive rating of 10. Given the four-game schedule, Jamie McGinn and Benn Ferriero become sleepers. McGinn is playing with Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe on the second line, while Ferriero has those same linemates on the second power-play unit.
Get off the Broadway show: The New York Rangers have been a revelation on offense so far this season while pacing the NHL with their 28 goals through seven games. But the Forecaster doesn't like the matchups against the Sharks, New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens this week. Stick with the players who share the ice with Marian Gaborik -- Vaclav Prospal, Ales Kotalik, Michael Del Zotto and Brandon Dubinsky -- but some of the great plays from last week, like Daniel Girardi and Ryan Callahan, won't be your best options.
Ignore the Leafs' "perfect 10": The one game the Maple Leafs have this coming week has the strange combination of rating a 10 on offense and a 1 on defense. Basically, the numbers call for a final score more resembling that of a baseball game than that of a soccer game. While normally you should take advantage, the Forecaster rating appears to be slanted by this season's small sample size and the fact that Roberto Luongo has been less than spectacular to this point. Also, the Leafs' mishmashed offense means you never know who is going to have a good game. You can roll out Alexei Ponikarovsky in daily leagues, but it's a full slate of games Saturday and you'll be able to find other players to start over some of the lesser Maple Leafs despite their offensive rating.
It's Miller time: ... and only Miller time. Despite the 10 defensive rating for the Sabres implying the chance for a strong plus/minus rating for the players, Ryan Miller might be the only fantasy beneficiary. With only a two-game schedule, a poor offensive Forecaster rating and the possible absence of Thomas Vanek, it might be just empty plus/minus points for most Sabres, and that is not worth going after in your lineup. So despite the strong D rating, Miller, Vanek (if healthy) and possibly Derek Roy might be the only strong plays.
Blue Jackets for real? So far, Rick Nash and Steve Mason have been the only really strong fantasy plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets, even though the team has opened the season 4-1. This four-game week with a strong defensive rating should separate the men from the boys -- that is to say, the fantasy assets from the waiver-wire fodder. The offensive rating might be only average, but Kris Russell, Jakub Voracek, Nikita Filatov and especially Derick Brassard will have some opportunities to take chances thanks to the above-average defensive rating of their road schedule against the Calgary Flames, Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. While it's starting to look like Voracek and Filatov will be duds under the rookie-stifling thumb of coach Ken Hitchcock, Brassard and Russell have been given power-play and first-line opportunities, and need to start capitalizing on them.
Bonus plus/minus from peripheral Penguins: With a solid 8 defensive rating for a three-game week, some of the nonobvious Pittsburgh Penguins will be able to help your plus/minus numbers this week. Specifically, the line of Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke packs the right amount of defensive acumen and offensive flair to benefit from a schedule that favors the defensive side. Alex Goligoski and Jay McKee also are must-plays for fantasy owners, as the pairing is a combined plus-13 this season.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.