Fantasy hockey: Forecaster for the week of Nov. 18-24

With Sidney Crosby out, should fantasy players trade Jake Guentzel? Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire

Balance is the name of the game this week as a 49-game NHL schedule has all teams playing a minimum of three games and only five teams playing four times.

Among the teams playing only three times are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are playing a home-and-home with the New York Islanders and then hosting the New Jersey Devils.

While the Forecaster rates the week as slightly above average matchups for the Penguins fantasy prognosis, the Forecaster formulas don't know about Sidney Crosby.

Out with six weeks after core muscle surgery, the Penguins probably wouldn't rate as well if his absence was taken into consideration. Crosby has five goals and 17 points this season, clearly driving the bus for this Penguins offense that has already missed Evgeni Malkin for more than half its games.

The trickle down of his absence is going to be felt in the fantasy world. Chiefly, Jake Guentzel has a rapport with Crosby that can't be made up for with another center on the depth chart. Heck, it kind of looks like the Penguins aren't trying to. While the initial reaction might be to pair Guentzel with Malkin (best winger with best center), that didn't happen in the Pens first game post-Crosby.

Crosby has assisted on five of six Guentzel goals at even strength this season (first assist on four of them). Last season, Crosby assisted on 26 of Guentzel's 37 goals at even strength (first assist on 20 of them). This is going to be a long six weeks for Jake Guentzel ... and anyone rostering him in fantasy.

The power play obviously suffers, too. Already going less than full strength for the season with Malkin missing 11 games, Patric Hornqvist's injury and Kris Letang currently sidelined, the Penguins man advantage is already lagging. The team has seven power-play goals on 51 opportunities; The goals rank 27th in the league and the conversion rate ranks 25th. Against the New York Rangers on Tuesday, only Malkin and Guentzel were on the power play from the five-man unit that the Penguins would have at full health.

But should you sell Guentzel as damaged goods? Maybe. Six weeks is a long time. It will take us into January. Can Crosby be fully recovered by then? More importantly, can your fantasy team recover from losing out between now and then? It's tough to try trading an already underrated fantasy asset that now has a couple of actual dents. I don't know that you could easily get appropriate value for Guentzel even if Crosby was healthy. He has a - somewhat deserved - star-by-association label that downplays the fact he's on pace for 35 goals for the second consecutive year. (Although six weeks without Crosby will bring that pace down). Maybe Guentzel could get you an Anze Kopitar or Andrei Svechnikov in trade? I'd happily taken that deal now that Crosby is out for an extended stretch.

As for the rest of the fallout for the Penguins, this becomes a game of chase the Malkin. If a player isn't lining up with Malkin at even strength or on the power play, they have no fantasy relevance. Unfortunately, zero players played both with Malkin on and off the power play on Tuesday. But perhaps some lineup shifting will result in someone landing a plum spot here. I'd have my eye on Bryan Rust and Jared McCann. Three of Malkin's five assists at even strength have come on Rust goals. And, obviously, things look rosier for Guentzel if he lines up with Malkin with regularity.

Letang needs to hurry back for this power play, too. And it wouldn't hurt to have Hornqvist on the man advantage in front of the opponent's crease. These poor Penguins sure can sympathize with the Colorado Avalanche for injury woes.

Fantasy Forecaster: Nov. 18 to Nov. 24

The Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers each play four games next week. Every other team plays three times.

Daily-roster leagues can look to target the Coyotes, Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals, who all play two games this week on the "off" schedule days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday). Grabbing some extra help from these teams will help maximize your games played, as the majority of teams will play Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Top of mind, that means Jean-Gabriel Pagueau, Chris Kreider, Filip Chytil and Jakub Vrana are good pickups in H2H. Anders Nilsson and Ilya Samsonov could be Hail Mary goaltenders to use if their matchups break right.

For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense), which is on the left for each game, and "D" (defense), on the right, 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 to 10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.

In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players that are available for potential use. Ownership below 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff. I'll try to also include players below 10 percent ownership whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.

Team notes

Tampa Bay Lightning: It sure looks like the Bolts have worked through their early-season yips, exploding for nine goals against the Rangers on Thursday. The power play drove this team to success last season, so it was great to see it back at full strength. They doubled their power-play goals for the season (eight to 16) during a current three-game win streak that included both games in Sweden against the Buffalo Sabres. Maybe some home cooking was all Victor Hedman needed? The big fantasy takeaway is that the power play is back and Alex Killorn is along for the ride again. Pick him up and deploy him immediately. He's out there with Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Hedman on the man advantage.

Detroit Red Wings: Is Jonathan Bernier becoming a thing? He's started four straight for the Red Wings, winning three of them (and earning points in all four). The ratios aren't rosy for the season, nor even for this short stretch of games - but the Wings can't look a gift horse in the mouth here. The schedule this coming week is ripe for the picking with the Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes (OK, this last one is not so soft). Bernier has had stretches in his career where he has looked like a world-beater, so it's not like this is a one-off, out of nowhere performance (ahem, Adam Werner). If you are a believer in the matchups mattering - as I tend to be - Bernier could be useful for a short stretch here.

Up front, Fabbri definitely has my interest with his change of scenery move to Detroit. A once-intriguing prospect with the St. Louis Blues, Fabbri fell out of favor with a multitude of injuries over the past three seasons that limited him to playing just 33 percent of the Blues regular season games. With a fresh start on the Red Wings, he checks the first and most important box on the depth chart: playing inside the orbit of Dylan Larkin. Fabbri joined the top power play with Larkin and Co. in his first game, popping two power-play goals. He's on the radar in 12-team leagues and a must-add in deeper pools. His 19 points in 26 games to close out his rookie season in 2015-16 still lingers at the fringes of my memory.

Player notes

Sean Walker, D, Los Angeles Kings: Currently checking in as the No. 56 defenseman on the ESPN Player Rater, ahead of Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Zach Werenski, Erik Gustafsson, Shayne Gostisbehere and Tyson Barrier, just to name a half-dozen, Walker is benefitting from playing as the defense partner to one Drew Doughty. His pace sits at 40 points and a beneficial plus/minus, which is more than worthy of a lineup as you wait for some other defensemen to turn their game around on your bench.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, Ottawa Senators: If ever there was a sell-high for what you can situation, this is it. Pageau is not going to score 50 goals and he's not going to finish at plus-87 on this Senators team - though those are both his current pace. He has zero power-play points and his shooting percentage is 24.4 percent. There aren't many examples of players in the NHL scoring at minimal rates until their mid-20s and then exploding with a non-superstar supporting cast. While William Karlsson may come to mind as a recent example, the Ottawa Senators are not the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights and are not headed for the Stanley Cup Final. If you haven't been riding the Pageau wave already, don't bother. It has to be cresting sooner than later.

Quick hits

  • The Edmonton Oilers set Adam Werner straight. After a 40-save NHL debut against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, the Oilers scorched him for five goals on 18 shots in half a game. The reality is that Philipp Grubauer has fantasy value in the Avs crease, but no one else on the roster is likely to while Grubauer is hurt.

  • Torey Krug's status needs to be monitored for the coming week. If he's out, Matt Grzelcyk becomes a commodity for his use on the Boston Bruins power play.