Scoring success -- or more accurately, a lack thereof -- of NHL players can cause fantasy managers and NHL coaches to ask a similar question while setting their lineups: "What have you done for me lately?"
Regardless of how successful certain combinations have been this season, they aren't guaranteed to stay together through a cold spell. Point in case, three of the top four lines in the NHL this season were not playing together during the past week, and injuries weren't a part of those decisions.
The top scoring line at even strength this season to date has been the Philadelphia Flyers' trio of Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, tallying 23 goals together. But when the Flyers' losing streak reached 10 games on Dec. 2, coach Dave Hakstol broke up the line for a western Canada road trip. The resulting turnaround was proof in the pudding that even the best line in the league needs to be separated sometimes to kick an offense into gear. The Flyers won all three road games this past week, scoring at least four goals in each contest. Both new scoring lines contributed. Michael Raffl has goals in three-straight games while playing on a line with Voracek and Valtteri Filppula, while Wayne Simmonds has goals in three straight after being elevated to a line with Giroux and Couturier. Despite the absolute dominance of the original trio, the spread-out approach is getting it done for now. And while this lasts, fantasy managers will want to have Raffl in lineups.
While this Flyers line was No. 1 in the league for even strength scoring, the Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues have combinations tied at second (17 goals). The lines from the Blues and Bolts were both broken up during the past week, despite their success so far this season.
The Lightning's top trio of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov were split up three games ago following a run of four losses in six games. The move landed Kucherov on a line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat, while Tyler Johnson was plucked from the bottom six and placed next to Stamkos and Namestnikov. Johnson's fantasy value goes from zero to hero in no time, as playing with Stamkos is a major upgrade from his grinding line with Chris Kunitz and Ryan Callahan. The results flow from that, with five points in three games since the move. And if you were worried about Kucherov, don't be. He has four points in those three games, as well. Johnson is an immediate add in fantasy leagues for as long as this combination sticks, while Palat and Point go from benches to starting lineups.
Then there is St. Louis' top trio of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko. Following a pair of losses to visiting California franchises on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1, the Blues opted to switch up the scoring lines. Alexander Steen was moved to a line with Schwartz and Schenn, while Tarasenko settled for Vladimir Sobotka and Paul Stastny. The move certainly kicked Schenn into gear, who now has four goals in two games following a five-game scoreless drought. Assuming this sticks, Steen and Stastny should get promoted from benches to starting rosters. Meanwhile, Sobotka can probably safely be ignored. His numbers in the NHL weren't great before a three-year sojourn to the KHL, where his numbers still weren't great, before returning to the Blues this season.
I'm sure you've figured out the Kings' line that is also tied for second in even strength goals, but just a friendly reminder here that Alex Iafallo screams as a breakout candidate at some point. He's never left that line with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar and is getting more than his fair share of chances.
Fantasy Forecaster: Dec. 11-17
Get ready to watch a lot of hockey next week, as we have 12 NHL teams on a four-game schedule and only three franchises limited to a two-game week. As usual, the abundance of extra contests and dearth of light schedules mean there are fewer advantages to be found by grabbing busy players from the waiver wire. However, a schedule like this does leave players on two-game weeks at more of a disadvantage.
Given their two-game slates, weekly leagues can probably sit all Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens (save for Carey Price) and can make a real argument for benching all San Jose Sharks, too. Although it would be a shame to have the Habs benched for the outdoor NHL 100 Classic next Saturday, you probably have better options available to start for the week.
Of the 12 teams with four games, the Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders, Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets play three of them at home. Additionally, the Vegas Golden Knights, Flyers and Detroit Red Wings play three of three games at home.
Note: 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.
In the notes -- team, goalie and player -- below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Being rostered in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, and I'll try to include players below 10 percent whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
The Jets score offensive 10s across the board next week for a four-game schedule that includes three home games. Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine, on separate lines at even strength, are fueling a scorching run by the offense with nine and eight points, respectively, in the past four games. Kyle Connor can be inserted back into lineups, as he returned from a one-game absence to resume his role on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Wheeler. Tyler Myers might also be worthy of a start for those in need of defensive help. He has two goals, both on the power play, in his past four games.
Tampa Bay Lightning
As previously mentioned, the line changes for the Lightning have opened up a lot more options for fantasy managers. Johnson, Palat and Point are all available to some degree in leagues and should all be in lineups for the Lightning's visits to St. Louis, Arizona and Colorado next week.
New York Islanders
Only about two-thirds of fantasy leagues are using Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal, but the Isles' potent second-line duo should be in all lineups. For that matter, Andrew Ladd should join them on rosters when the schedule is favorable (like next week). The Isles' first and second lines are tied with 12 even-strength goals apiece this season. While the top line with John Tavares has allowed 11 goals against, the trio of Barzal, Eberle and Ladd has only allowed three.
Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers (rostered in 55.8 percent of ESPN leagues)
Streaky Elliott appears to be making a return to fantasy lineups this season. His season has gone up and down in waves and appears to be on a crest at the moment following some mid-November doldrums. The Flyers face the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars next week, with Elliott possibly in line for all three starts.
With Roberto Luongo sidelined indefinitely, Reimer is getting yet another chance to establish himself in the Panthers crease. A previous injured-reserve stint for Luongo this season did not go well for Reimer, but we can't rule him out for value with the starts all to himself. That said, another poor showing will open the door for AHL journeyman Harri Sateri to get a chance at the NHL level. The Panthers' offense can win games, so if either of these goaltenders can start allowing fewer than three goals per game, there is going to be fantasy value.
The Ducks have a semblance of a top line again, with newcomer Adam Henrique settling in with Corey Perry and the recently-returned-from-injury Rickard Rakell. Henrique has a point in every game that he's played as a Duck so far. The good times should continue to roll for at least another week, as Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler's returns loom.
Honorable mentions: Looking to breathe some new life into a sputtering offense, the Carolina Hurricanes moved Jordan Staal to a line with Jeff Skinner and Justin Williams, while replacing him between Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen with Derek Ryan. ... Similarly, the Chicago Blackhawks have shifted Brandon Saad to the wing with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, while Jonathan Toews is playing with John Hayden and Ryan Hartman. The Hawks desperately need their offense to get going and will likely continue to tinker. Anyone not named Kane or Toews can probably be on benches. ... The Canucks' initial line combos following Bo Horvat's injury lasted less than two periods in a loss to the Flyers on Thursday. Brock Boeser started the game with Alexander Burmistrov and Nikolay Goldobin, but before the end of the second, Boeser was with Sven Baertschi and Sam Gagner. Boeser's role is the one to follow for fantasy value while Horvat is shelved for several weeks.