There is a reason that the call is "he shoots, he scores!"
Not only are shots on goal a category unto themselves in the ESPN standard fantasy hockey game, but shooting is also a prerequisite for scoring. It's not a coincidence that in most seasons, goal leaders are also among the leaders for shots on goal. "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take" is another cliche, but in the NHL, players tend to miss 92 percent of their shots anyway because of goaltenders. So perhaps the saying for hockey should be that "you miss scoring a goal on about 8 percent of the shots you don't take."
It's no surprise that Alex Ovechkin, Zach Parise, Evander Kane and Jeff Carter are leading the way for shots on goal. They are known for taking a lot of shots and scoring a lot of goals. But you know what else they do? They play a lot of minutes. It seems hardly fair to say they are better at getting open for shots than a guy playing five fewer minutes per night. Luckily, per-minute stats can help even the playing field.
Ovechkin, Parise, Kane and Carter are still the top four when you break shots on goal down to the per-minute level. But after that, we start to get some changes. Let's have a look at some of these efficient shooters:
Kyle Palmieri, F, Anaheim Ducks: Palmieri ranks 142nd in the league with a lowly 21 shots on goal this season. However, since he has only played an average of 11 minutes per game this season, his shots on goal per minute rank him among the best in the NHL. The reason this is interesting is that the Ducks and coach Bruce Boudreau do not appear to be settled on a linemate for Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf on the team's top line. Patrick Maroon, Nick Bonino and Dustin Penner have all had chances, and Bourdreau even separated his star players against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. That means the door remains open for Palmieri to earn his way onto that line, and into the additional ice time he would need to be a shots on goal asset in fantasy hockey. No, he won't help you right now, but keep an eye on him.
Alex Chiasson, F, Dallas Stars: While Palmieri won't help you right now, Chiasson just might. Playing on the Stars' second line with Ray Whitney and Cody Eakin hasn't been all that exciting for his production (until a spike on Thursday), but Chiasson also has a prominent role on the team's power play with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Thanks to his three-point outburst on Thursday, Chiasson now has nine points in nine games and already has a role that should keep the ball rolling. He only has 33 shots on goal this season, but on a per-minute basis, he is ninth in the NHL. Playing an average of 16:30 per game so far this season, he could earn an additional two to three minutes per night for additional production.
Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins: Two Bruins defensemen have multiple goals this season, and neither one is fantasy darling Zdeno Chara. While averaging more than five more minutes of ice time than the rookie Krug, Chara has fired fewer shots on goal. Is it too early to call for the passing of the torch on the Bruins' blue line? Krug has three goals and Dougie Hamilton has two. Chara has just one goal and two helpers through nine games. On a per-minute basis, Krug has taken more shots on goal than any NHL defenseman except for Dan Boyle and Matt Irwin. In fact, his per-minute shots on goal are better than many forwards, including Chris Kunitz and Anze Kopitar. Given the fact that Krug has the potential to increase his minutes by as many as five to seven per game, there is enormous upside if he wins more love from coach Claude Julien.
Brendan Gallagher, F, Montreal Canadiens: With the injuries to Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere, there is room for increased ice time among the Habs' ranks. Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller continue to make their case for a bigger workload. They have reaped some rewards of that, such as leading the team in ice time during a tight game with the Edmonton Oilers this week. While Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta and Michael Bournival get to lay the claim to being the team's first line right now, the Gallagher-Eller-Galchenyuk trio has a chance to earn more minutes as well. This would be good news for Gallagher. Remember our list of total shots-on-goal leaders? It's Ovechkin, Parise, Kane and Carter. Well, fourth in the NHL, when you break it down to shots-on-goal per minute, is Gallagher.
Speaking of the Canadiens, the team is probably the best place to look for help off the waiver wire in the week ahead.
Looking for offense
Montreal Canadiens: As casually mentioned, Michael Bournival is on the Habs' de facto top line. While Bournival's talent would probably be more helpful as a two-way forward on a checking line, the Habs are without Pacioretty and Briere right now, and they have to make due. That isn't to suggest that Bournival doesn't have offensive upside. He does have scoring ability, but it isn't his specialty. A two-way forward in the QMJHL with Shawinigan, Bournival showed off that ability with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL last season, too. But as long as he plays with Plekanec and Gionta on the Canadiens' top line, Bournival's skills will translate to points. He has five points in four games in that role thus far. The Canadiens have a four-game week with an O:9 on the Forecaster (and a D:10, for that matter). Bournival is worth a shot.
While you are at it, Gionta has some upside in deeper leagues when the schedule is favorable like this. If you are really looking to eke out some power-play points, Rene Bourque replaces Bournival on the top line when the Habs have the man advantage.
New York Rangers: With Rick Nash on the sideline with a concussion, only Brad Richards has been doing his job for fantasy owners. The rest of the Rangers, though ripe with potential, have been useless to fantasy owners. Now Ryan Callahan has hit the injured reserve with a broken thumb for a few weeks. The Rangers have a favorable schedule, drawing an O:9 on the Forecaster for a four-game week. If there is going to be some improvement in the offense without Nash, it's going to come while the schedule is smiling on the team. With Richards as the only catalyst, his linemates are the only place to look for possible production.
On one hand, Derek Stepan is universally owned in fantasy, but on the other hand, rookie Chris Kreider is up from the AHL and ready to go. Still technically a rookie -- even though he has 49 games of NHL experience (mostly in the playoffs) -- Kreider has a chance to shine with his current opportunity. Already with an assist in one game, there is no reason coach Alain Vigneault won't let Kreider loose on the top line to see what he can manage, at least while Nash is out. And if he does well enough in his audition, there could be a significant role for him even when Nash returns.
Looking for defense
Hampus Lindholm, D, Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks don't have a particularly favorable schedule, but we need to highlight this situation because all the conditions are there for a Lindholm breakout, and soon. First off, with Sheldon Souray sidelined potentially until the calendar flips to 2014, there has been no one to step up and fill his skates as an offensively savvy blueliner for the Ducks. Through 10 games, Sami Vatanen, Francois Beauchemin and Cam Fowler have all tried (and failed) to put up points both on and off the power play. That is despite the fact that these blueliners are playing a ton of minutes on the man advantage and the team has been scoring at a decent clip. Lindholm is a high-upside offensive prospect that already has his defensive game polished. It would not be shocking to see Boudreau move him into a more prominent role very soon. There doesn't seem to be another option for the Ducks at this point.
Looking for goaltending
Carter Hutton, G, Nashville Predators: Sometimes it's not so much about the goaltender, but about the situation in which he plays. For the Predators, it's a happy coincidence that Pekka Rinne is an all-world goaltender while also playing for a stifling defensive team. While Hutton may not be an all-world goalie like Rinne, he will inherit the reins to a stifling defensive team for at least four weeks. Rinne is out following minor (the Preds hope) hip surgery, and Hutton is a must-add in fantasy leagues. Now, Hutton's overall numbers may be slightly skewed by facing the Winnipeg Jets twice, but rest assured that the Predators defensive system ensures that there is a lot less pressure on whoever is in goal. Hutton will be tested this week against the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings. Even if he doesn't posses the same potential for wins as other goaltenders, Hutton's ratios should be sparkling for the Predators.
Magnus Hellberg, G, Nashville Predators: But didn't we just suggest adding Carter Hutton and point out that the Predators only have two games this week? Yes, but we also pointed out that it is less about the goaltender and more about the team when it comes to the Predators. Hellberg may be starting as the backup to Hutton, but one stumble by Hutton and Hellberg might not let go of the reins until Rinne returns. Hutton is a good backup goaltender in the NHL, but Hellberg has potential to be a future No. 1. Hellberg finished last season with the fourth best goals-against average and fourth best save percentage in the AHL as a rookie. Hutton was 33rd in that league for GAA and 31st for save percentage. Guess who actually has more upside? If you have the room to add Hellberg or missed out on Hutton, this young Swede is worth a shot.
• Loui Eriksson's absence from the Bruins' top six due to a concussion is a chance for Brad Marchand to remind Julien that he is a deserving top-six forward. If you are still hanging on to Marchand in deeper leagues, hold on just a little bit longer.
• If you have been riding the Calgary Flames bandwagon early this season, it is notable that Mike Cammalleri's return not only pushed Sven Baertschi off the top line with Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler, but it pushed Baertschi right into the press box.
• If you have watched an Ottawa Senators game lately, you will notice that the "second" line of Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur looks just as good (if not better) than the first line. While Turris and Ryan are appreciated adequately in fantasy leagues, MacArthur could be a sneaky depth addition.
• Coach John Tortorella is using Ryan Kesler on the top line with the Sedin twins lately. The unfortunate trickle down from any kind of permanency to this top-heavy depth chart would be that no other Canucks forward would have much relevance in any shallow or medium fantasy formats. Hopefully Kesler is returned to his even strength role as the anchor for the second line as soon as Alex Burrow is back. That could be late next week.
Each week the Fantasy Forecaster will also include some advice for the ESPN Hockey Challenge. This is the salary cap game that allows you free reign over your fantasy hockey decisions within a $100 million fantasy budget. For more on the game and to sign up, click here.
So, you have probably now had a chance to enjoy the new wrinkle to the Hockey Challenge this season: the rising salary cap. Have you managed to earn some extra spending money thanks to grabbing a hot player at the right time? Even if you have only managed to tack on a couple extra million at this point, it should be enough to allow you to roll a similar lineup to the start of the season. The star players have seen their salaries rise by as much as half a million fantasy dollars or more, and they will likely continue to rise. Make sure you are cashing in at the right time, holding a player when it's beneficial, but not holding on too tightly. Remember that the primary focus of the Hockey Challenge is to accrue points, not have the highest salary cap. A higher cap will help you achieve more points, but it should not be your focus.
Four-game teams: Four-game weeks are on the docket for the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Obviously, this makes leaning on the Penguins' powerful offense a natural choice for the coming week. Sidney Crosby ($9.4M), Evgeni Malkin ($9.1M), Chris Kunitz ($8.7M) and Pascal Dupuis ($6.7M) are all great choices for the game. Marc-Andre Fleury ($11.8M) should be a top consideration for your goaltending as well. If you are looking at the blue line, Matt Niskanen ($5.2M) is the way to go. Carey Price ($11.7M) and Corey Crawford ($11.5M) would also make wise choices in net for a chance at an extra two points.
Streaking players with four games: Another top line with four games that will come a bit cheaper than the Pittsburgh options is that of the Canadiens. Tomas Plekanec ($6.8M) and Brian Gionta ($4.0M) will cost considerably less money. Alex Chiasson ($5.4M) has also been hot for the Stars and has four games this week.
The blue line: P.K. Subban ($7.8M) is an absolute no-brainer if you can clear the salary cap space for him. With four games on the schedule, this should make him easily the most productive defenseman. Given the favorable schedule, it may be worth taking a shot at Andrei Markov ($7.5M) as well.
My roster for next week:
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, PIT - $11.3M ($11.8M on market)
Carey Price, G, MTL - $11.7M
Andrei Markov, D, MTL - $7.5M
Erik Karlsson, D, OTT - $7.5M ($7.8M on market)
P.K. Subban, D, MTL - $7.8M
Matt Niskanen, D, PIT - $5.2M
Jamie Benn, F, DAL - $8.2M
Tyler Seguin, F, DAL - $8.7M
Tomas Plekanec, F, MTL - $6.8M
Sidney Crosby, F, PIT - $8.8M ($9.4M on market)
Daniel Sedin, F, VAN - $8.3M ($8.2M on market)
Chris Kunitz, F, PIT - $8.7M