On one hand, the Boston Bruins were dominating the NHL in shot attempts (Corsi) this season, with a plus-573 differential in shot attempts for versus shot attempts against. That's more than 100 better than the second place Los Angeles Kings. On the other hand, the Bruins weren't getting it done where it matters most -- in the standings.
While fired coach Claude Julien will almost certainly land another coaching gig down the line, the Bruins are changing direction by promoting assistant Bruce Cassidy to be the new head coach. Unlike other recent NHL coaching changes, Cassidy didn't miss a beat in changing the well-established Bruins scoring lines.
David Backes was promoted to the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Matt Beleskey was promoted to the second line with David Krejci, while David Pastrnak was demoted there from the Bergeron-Marchand line. Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano fell out of the top six to the third line.
The result was overwhelmingly positive on Thursday in a 6-3 dismantling of the San Jose Sharks, with the Bruins' power play going two-for-three on the night. The power play was left intact, with Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak and Spooner on the main unit. The new top line was responsible for three of the even-strength goals, with Backes earning a point on all three. The fourth line chipped in the other goal.
The headline here is what looks like a return to elite fantasy play by David Backes. Bergeron and Marchand have been red hot lately and Backes fit right in on Thursday. Backes had been a minus-11 with just one assist in his past 12 games. He played 19:28 on Thursday and had seven shots to go with two goals and a helper. His ownership has sunk to below 75 percent in ESPN leagues, but it's time to get back on board the Backes train. He's a well-rounded dominant fantasy asset when being deployed in favorable fashion, and Cassidy appears to be all-in on Backes.
Pastrnak, who is in the midst of a true breakout campaign, won't be hurt too much by the move to the second line. He still gets power-play time with the crucial Bergeron-Marchand duo, and his two power-play goals on Thursday back up that line of thinking. It's not as if his even-strength linemates are slouches either, with Krejci capable of being an elite playmaker at times.
Beleskey is the most interesting commodity for deeper leagues -- where Backes is likely spoken for. He's been playing bottom-six minutes all season under Julien, and gets his first chance to be on a scoring line since last season. As a reminder, he posted a respectable 15 goals and 37 points on a Bruins scoring line last season, and scored 22 goals in only 65 games the season prior with the Anaheim Ducks.
Spooner was already playing third-line minutes to go along with occasional power-play usage, so his modest shine doesn't change much. Vatrano's sleeper value on the second line is almost completely eliminated with this move to the third.
Cassidy has promised a more run-and-gun attack, which might cause owners of Tuukka Rask to become a bit squeamish, but remember that the Bruins can give up a fair number of additional shot attempts against and still be the NHL's best team in Corsi. If Rask's ratios take a slight tumble, his value will balance out with a few additional wins thanks to the additional offense.
As discussed before the firing of Julien in this past week's Open Ice, Bergeron and Marchand are primed for a big finish to the season, because they've been doing everything right and just not getting all the bounces they deserve. That applies on a team level as well. PDO -- measured by NHL.com as SPSV% -- is a team's shooting percentage plus its save percentage, and will typically regress toward 1,000 at the big picture level. In other words, higher than 1,000 means a team has been getting good luck and lower than 1,000 means they are getting bad luck.
The Bruins are the unluckiest team in the NHL this season with a SPSV% of 967. That's lower than even the woeful Colorado Avalanche. One more time to sum this up: The Bruins lead the NHL in SAT (Corsi), are the unluckiest team in the league for SPSV% (PDO) and have a new bench boss looking to spark their play. If you were looking for a basket in which to place all your eggs to turn around a losing fantasy hockey season, this is it.
Fantasy Forecaster: Feb. 13 to Feb. 19
Of course, the Bruins are one of the NHL teams heading into their "bye" week on the schedule. Pardon the oxymoron, but it's a busy week for byes in the league. The Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals all get extra time off this week.
The Bruins and Canadiens are the only teams with only one game, while the other "bye" week teams manage to squeeze in two on the weekend.
Despite all the byes, there are still 11 teams with a four-game week on tap, meaning it's going to be a feast-or-famine situation for games played, depending on your fantasy team's makeup.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
Buffalo Sabres: If your scooped up any Sabres for last week's five-game mania, let 'em ride. The Sabres face the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche prior to a back-to-back set against the St. Louis Blues and Blackhawks. That's about as rock solid an outlook as an offense can get. Evander Kane remains your primary target. Available in 48 percent of ESPN leagues, Kane was promoted to the second line alongside Jack Eichel for Thursday's contest, and boasts eight goals and five assists in calendar year 2017.
Minnesota Wild: After Charlie Coyle was kicked down to the third line by coach Bruce Boudreau, he responded by catalyzing the unit to account for all four goals on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets. Following that outing, Zach Parise joined Coyle and Jason Pominville on what is arguably the third line for the Wild for Wednesday's game against the Blackhawks. He managed to earn an assist on a Parise tally. As third lines go, this one is about as good as they get. But the key here for fantasy owners may be Pominville. Available in 72 percent of ESPN leagues, he has 14 points in his past 10 games.
Los Angeles Kings: Now with a healthy forward group and a couple shutout losses behind them, the Kings exploded for six goals against the Florida Panthers on Thursday. The lines were adjusted prior to the contest, with Dustin Brown joining Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson. The trio combined for nine points in the game. Pearson and Brown can both be used by fantasy owners in need of a forward for next week.
The storyline is all primed for Connor Hellebuyck to play right back into the No. 1 job in Winnipeg. Ondrej Pavelec suffered an injury on Tuesday, and Hellebuyck got back into the crease to make the final 10 saves against the Wild, including a clear breakaway by the red hot Mikael Granlund. Pavelec has been serviceable in the crease, but the Jets would be better served by Hellebuyck finding his form with the opportunity afforded to him by Pavelec's injury.
This is likely your final warning to consider grabbing Jimmy Howard and/or Craig Anderson ahead of their returns. Both are likely to assume the starter's mantle for their respective clubs, possibly by this time next week.
Likely in an effort to get something out of a slumping James Neal, the Nashville Predator shook up their scoring lines this week. So far, the best consequence of the move has been Calle Jarnkrok's three points through two games on the second line with Viktor Arvidsson and Colin Wilson. That brings Jarnkrok to eight points in his past seven contests.
Michael Grabner is tied for fourth in the NHL in goals, and eighth in the NHL in plus/minus, yet somehow it doesn't feel wrong that he's only owned in 56 percent of ESPN leagues. He's still playing on the New York Rangers' third line, his shooting percentage is a ridiculous 21.3 percent, he has zero power-play points and is on pace for only 14 assists. Those holes in his game play out on the ESPN Player Rater, where Grabner ranks 104th for fantasy value this season.
Speaking of third lines making an impact, the Capitals have been getting more than the expected scoring production out of Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. All three were highly touted scoring prospects coming into the NHL, starting with Eller in 2009-10, followed by Connolly in 2011-12 as an 18-year-old rookie and then Burakovsky in 2014-15. However, none have ever scored more than 17 goals in a season. This season, Eller is on pace for 15, Burakovsky 17 and Connolly for 20. Of the trio, it's Connolly and Burakovsky who fantasy owners might want to take notice a bit more. Connolly has 12 points in his past 16 games, which is more than 70 percent of his scoring this season. In those same 16 games, Burakovsky has managed 14 points. Note, however, that he left Thursday's game early with an upper-body injury.
Tomas Hertl's ice time has spiked into top-line territory in the past three games, reflecting his role alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski for the Sharks. He potted a pair of assists on Thursday to give him four points in six games following a lengthy absence for a knee injury.
Watch for news about Paul Stastny's injury in Thursday's game and, if it's not too negative, pick him up immediately. Coach Mike Yeo has finally made some line changes to what Ken Hitchcock had been using all season, and the result was a "super line" with Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen and Stastny. They looked dynamic together during this road trip, prior to Stastny's lower-body injury on Thursday.