If still engaged in head-to-head playoff competition, first of all, congratulations! Clearly you've made a series of sound fantasy-related decisions to date. But now, more than ever, timing is of utmost importance. Optimizing your lineup every night with the best players on hand, or those who are actually playing, is key. Fourteen NHL games are slated for Saturday, Apr. 16, offering most managers the choice of who's in/out from a wealth of options, leaving those rejected on the bench. But what about Friday's card, which features only two games? Or Sunday, the closing date of many fantasy playoff series, when six contests mark the schedule? Fewer games means fewer active players, which in turn means fewer lineup slots filled with assets generating valuable fantasy points.
At this stage, it makes most sense to prematurely peg who won't make your lineup Saturday - your more mediocre assets - and ship them out for bodies active on the sandwiching Friday and Sunday, as means to maximizing games played. Even if Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau only earns 1.1 fantasy points both Friday and Sunday, that's 2.2 more than a benched player on Saturday. Of course, this strategy is subject to individual league's waiver rules and acquisition limits, and doesn't apply to fantasy squads that are already steamrolling the competition.
But if every point counts this weekend, and there's no next round to look forward to if it doesn't get done in the next three days, know that the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders are the only two squads in action both Friday and Sunday, while idle Saturday. Here's a handful of accessible free agents to target from those clubs, if in tight competition, and endeavoring to maximize your odds of success.
Florida Panthers: Up front, your No. 1 free agent acquisition target, if available, is Anthony Duclair (rostered in 54.3% of ESPN.com leagues). On a top line and power play with Aleksander Barkov, Duclair potted two goals on eight shots, including one with the extra skater, in Tuesday's 3-2 win over Anaheim. An even more impressive feat, considering how well Ducks goalie John Gibson performed in the tight overtime loss, stopping 52 of 55 shots altogether. Only Barkov (34) has more goals on the season than the underrated winger (30), with nine contests to go. A handful of fantasy points from Duclair on Friday and Sunday, when most other NHLers aren't engaged, could make the difference between moving on, or calling it a fantasy season on Monday.
Duclair notches 2nd goal of game
Anthony Duclair scores for a second time as the Panthers tie it 2-2 vs. the Ducks.
Third-line center Anton Lundell is another potential fantasy freelancer, who remains widely available. After losing 11 games to illness, the 20-year-old rookie is back to skating on a line with Sam Reinhart and Mason Marchment. Boasting 41 points through 58 games, he'll want to wrap up the regular season on a high note, beginning this weekend against the Winnipeg Jets and Detroit Red Wings. And there's a good chance he's available in your league in exchange for five seconds of tapping the keyboard and mouse.
The Panthers' blue line includes a pair of attractive potentially rogue fantasy options, particularly in leagues that reward hits and blocked-shots. Contributing to several categories, scoring and otherwise, Ben Chiarot has averaged 2.2 fantasy points/game since jetting Montreal for Florida ahead of the trade deadline. The top-pair defender is rostered in only 26.4% of ESPN.com leagues. Teammate Radko Gudas serves as an under-radar gem in fantasy competition that prizes tougher play. In his past 13 contests, the imposing defender has 79(!) hits and 25 blocked-shots (plus three points as bonus). Leading the league in hits with 334 to date - and it isn't even close - Gudas remains widely available.
In Florida's net, Spencer Knight (51.3%) most definitely deserves consideration as a streaming option, if thrown out there against the Red Wings on Sunday. Allowing only six goals total, the rookie netminder has won four-straight. I'm less enthusiastic about Friday's contest against a Jets squad still desperately eyeing a possible playoff berth. Winnipeg has scored four goals in each of their last three contests - two regulation wins and one OT loss to the Avalanche. But veteran Sergei Bobrovsky - who looked solid enough versus the Ducks on Tuesday - could easily earn the nod in that Friday match-up anyway, rendering the point moot. Stay tuned.
New York Islanders: Facing the Canadiens on Friday before visiting the Maple Leafs Sunday - a productive Toronto team that has also allowed an average of 3.6 goals/game since Mar. 29 - the Islanders should make a fair bit of fantasy hay when others are idle over the weekend. Skating on a line with Mathew Barzal, winger Zach Parise (1.2%) scored twice against the Penguins Tuesday, including a power-play goal (assisted by Barzal) and a shorty. Well past his productive prime, the veteran still sports some pop, here and there. He scored against Toronto earlier this season, and earned three assists through two earlier contests with Montreal.
Fellow vet Kyle Palmieri is another feast/famine producer who has three goals and three assists in his seven most recent games. Competing on a line with Pageau and Justin Bailey, and seeing minutes with the man-advantage, Palmieri has the wherewithal to occasionally kick in a rich fantasy total, as he did last Friday in Carolina (3.3) and earlier that week in New Jersey (4.8). Like Parise, he's overwhelmingly available throughout the ESPN.com fantasy universe. Managers desperate for points should give him a thought.
On the Islanders' blue line, Adam Pelech has five assists, including one shorthanded, while blocking 10 shots in his past seven contests. That works out to a solid 1.8 fantasy points/game in standard competition, which is 1.8 points more than a vacant defensive spot will ever get you. Pelech is available in nearly 97% of ESPN.com leagues.
It's also worth noting that aside from the Panthers, Isles, Leafs, and Wings, eight other NHL teams play Sunday in wrapping up the week's H2H series. If stuck behind the fantasy eight ball, with little/nothing to lose by then, peruse those active lineups for any available plug. If miraculously still alive on Monday, you can work on roster reconstruction then.