This column is the opposite of "evergreen", as we say in the writing biz. We're at that stage of the fantasy season where there is no tomorrow without winning today. It's crunch-time for contending playoff managers, who must first clear this week's head-to-head hurdle before settling in for the penultimate round, if not the marathon final battle in determining this campaign's champion. Nobody cares if you've dominated, or not, to date. Now it comes down to a handful of individual games over approximately 75 hours, beginning Thursday evening. In endeavouring to move on, the NHL schedule to wrap up this week matters a lot.
Only six teams are slated to play three games each in the four days spanning Thursday and Sunday, when this round wraps. Which means members of those six following teams boast an increased chance of making fantasy hay when it matters most. Especially for fantasy managers in a tight fight. As usual, the focus is on figures available more than not across the ESPN.com fantasy spectrum.
Any contending fantasy manager with current goaltending issues (invested in Carey Price, Philipp Grubauer, Maple Leafs netminding perhaps?) must at least consider joining "Team Tokarski" in the short term. The Sabres' only (essentially) healthy netminder is boasting a .938 SV% and wholly respectable 2-2-1 record through five straight starts, including a back-to-back set with the Penguins. Averaging 4.1 fantasy points per game through that span, Dustin Tokarski is pegged to start all three matches before Sunday - a tilt with the Rangers in addition to a pair against the Bruins - unless a recovering Carter Hutton heals up in a greater hurry than anticipated. Up front, Buffalo center Casey Mittelstadt continues to appeal as a largely available asset while enjoying his most productive (by a colossally wide margin) month of his NHL career.
Not buying in on Tokarski? Then have a look at whether second-line forwards David Krejci or Craig Smith remain unaccounted for in your H2H league. On defense, Matt Grzelcyk strikes as a dangerous - and healthy again - commodity on the Bruins' top pair and No. 1 power play. Grzelcyk is only spoken for in 28% of ESPN.com leagues. After facing Buffalo twice, Boston battles the Penguins on Sunday. The B's scored seven goals (one empty-netter) in their last meeting with Pittsburgh in early April.
Unfortunately, schedule aside, there isn't too much to love of late about most Flyers' fantasy contributors. Since Mar. 31, the team has won three of 11 contests, averaging only two goals per game. One exception, for managers in need of a blue-line boost, might be Travis Sanheim. Via shots, blocked-shots, hits, and the odd goal/assist, the Philly top-four defender is averaging 1.9 fantasy points since Apr. 5. While hardly a show-stopping sum, it translates into almost six points through three games. Any manager that has lost a week by a point or two - haven't we all? - should appreciate the potential difference even such a slight cushion can offer. Sanheim is available in nearly 84% of ESPN.com leagues. Looking past their pair with the Rangers, it's also worth noting the Flyers face New Jersey in four-straight, beginning Sunday. No team has come close to giving up as many goals as the Devils (4.64 per game through 11 contests) in the month of April.
After "edging" the Devils 7-6 Tuesday, the Penguins face New Jersey again Thursday and Saturday before hosting the Bruins Sunday. Fantasy managers who remain reluctant to hook up with members of Pittsburgh's second line should quickly reconsider - particularly Jeff Carter and Jared McCann. The former scored his first as a Penguin Tuesday on three shots, earning 3.8 fantasy points. McCann, meanwhile, operates as an additional threat on the team's No. 1 power play. As long as Evgeni Malkin remains out - and the center's return from a lower-body injury before next week would serve as a big shock - the Carter/McCann combo sports great fantasy potential over the next few days. The overwhelmingly available Mike Matheson presents as an intriguing, if volatile, asset on the blue line.
On the subject of those Devils, who face the Penguins twice and Flyers once between Thursday and Sunday, Nico Hischier merits thought as a late-season fantasy addition. The second-line center and top power-play performer has two goals on 11 shots in his past couple of contests. Forward Yegor Sharangovich is enjoying another productive mini-stretch with two goals and three helpers in three games. He could be useful in deeper H2H leagues. Only please, steer clear of all Jersey netminders, under all circumstances. Again, this club is allowing nearly five goals per game in April.
With Jacob Trouba sidelined until at least Thursday with a suspected concussion, K'Andre Miller becomes even more important to the Rangers' blue line. An increase in quality minutes is guaranteed for the rookie defenseman, who's already a participant on New York's secondary power play. Rostered in only 5.6% of ESPN.com leagues, Miller could be in for a quality weekend altogether. Of those available in fantasy play, forward Colin Blackwell has the greatest upside. Skating on a scoring line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, the lesser-known entity has six goals and six assists in his most recent 13 games. The Rangers host the Flyers twice in the next 24 hours before welcoming the Sabres on Sunday.
For those who aren't reading this material until after Thursday evening, it's worth mentioning the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, and Los Angeles Kings are slated to play twice Friday through Sunday, along with the half-dozen clubs touched on above. The bulk of the league is scheduled a solo outing each over that span. The Edmonton Oilers don't play at all until Monday.
One last note: The Colorado Avalanche returns to action Thursday after sitting idle since Apr. 14 in stride with the league's COVID-19 protocol. Colorado has 13 games remaining on their schedule before the conclusion of ESPN.com's fantasy competition on May 13, tied for the most in the NHL. With Mikko Rantanen still out, Andre Burakovsky - rostered in 33% of ESPN.com leagues - is pegged to skate on the Avalanche's top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Veteran Carl Soderberg presents as another interesting asset as participant on the club's top power play and second scoring line. The Avs face the St. Louis Blues twice to wrap up the week and once again Monday.