Looking ahead to the next week of NHL games from a fantasy perspective, here are some recommendations on which players to start and which to avoid.
Fantasy Forecaster: Mar. 11-17
Highlights from teams playing four games: The Columbus Blue Jackets have been about as cold as anyone in the NHL of late. Since rattling off two consecutive shutout victories -- immediately after acquiring Matt Duchene on the weekend of Feb. 22 -- the Blue Jackets are 2-4-0 while scoring only nine goals, getting shut out twice, and neither of the wins coming in regulation. The Jackets don't have an easy week on tap with the defensively sound New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins (twice). ... The Dallas Stars are giving rookie Roope Hintz some run in a plum spot. He's skating with Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov at even strength and on the power play, where they are joined by Jamie Benn. ... The nature of Robin Lehner's injury hasn't been revealed, but his absence clears the path for Thomas Greiss to be a dependable fantasy asset with control of what has been a steady timeshare in the crease. He looks like a top goaltending option for next week with the Islanders playing four times. ... While Evander Kane appears to be nearing a return to the San Jose Sharks lineup, it looks like Erik Karlsson won't be joining him anytime soon. Karlsson is resting in order to be ready for the postseason, which will free up a spot on the Sharks power play for the rest of the regular season. It will probably go to Kane when he is healthy, but until then, Kevin Labanc gets a boost. ... Even though Jaden Schwartz was playing well on the top line in his stead, Brayden Schenn returned from an injury to the top line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O'Reilly -- and he picked up right where he left off. Schenn has had four points in two games since getting healthy. ... Mikko Koskinen has been on fire for the Oilers, and that won't change next week. A four-game set includes lighter matchups, including the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, not to mention the Arizona Coyotes, who have been streaking on defense, but their offense isn't quite as scary. Available in many ESPN leagues, Koskinen could be the top dog next week.
Teams playing two games: The Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights are the only two squads with a reduced schedule next week. There really isn't anyone you must start from the Kings here, as they've been an absolute bummer for fantasy anyway. As for the Golden Knights, it's a personal judgment call. They face two red-hot goaltenders in Ben Bishop and Koskinen, for what it's worth.
Highlights from teams playing three games: We are getting close to the time David Pastrnak was supposed to get the cast off his injured thumb, but that doesn't mean his return is imminent. We are likely to get an updated timeline to start the week. In the meantime, Danton Heinen continues to get play on Boston's top line. ... Dylan Larkin is missing this weekend for the Detroit Red Wings, which takes most of the minimal shine off of other Red Wings players for fantasy purposes. While we don't have a timetable beyond this weekend, some of the discussions were around not shutting him down for the season, which doesn't make it sound like he'll be back for next week's games. This probably takes Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou out of the mix for fantasy until his return. ... Dustin Byfuglien appears no closer to a return to the Winnipeg Jets lineup, which means Jacob Trouba remains firmly entrenched as a No. 1 fantasy defenseman for at least another week. ... Grab some shares of Petr Mrazek. Curtis McElhinney may have finally turned back into a pumpkin, having allowed 12 goals in his past two games. While this has been a timeshare, the playoff-minded Hurricanes will want to go with the hot hand here. Mrazek has won four straight and six of eight contests.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based on 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, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, and its 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.
Gabriel Landeskog will miss at least four weeks with an upper-body injury, which means his fantasy season is essentially over. This is an opportunity for some other members of the Avalanche to step up their game in the meantime. Derick Brassard is getting a look with Nathan MacKinnon on the top line, while J.T. Compher looks to also skate with MacKinnon at even strength and maintain his role on the top power play. Both could get deep-league play for fantasy for the stretch run if they can find a spark.
Reunited at even strength with regularity for the first time in a few seasons are Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Kane needed a jumpstart after going back-to-back games without a point. I know, we expect so much of him now. They both had a couple of points in a win on Thursday, so the move worked. Maybe they are back together again after a little trial separation? If they aren't, Toews gets a bit of a downgrade.
Zack Kassian is enjoying a run as a winger for Connor McDavid, scoring a goal in four straight contests. Kassian is also a nightly threat to earn a misconduct for your penalty minutes. He is also firing plenty of shots on goal and will be a plus-player with McDavid.
Oskar Lindblom has fallen into a top-line role for the Philadelphia Flyers. Skating with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux while Jakub Voracek was hurt, he looks likely to stay with Couturier and Voracek, with the latter's return to the lineup this weekend.
As the Coyotes make a little run here at the end of the season, Jakob Chychrun has made himself an option for your team's blue line. Over the past two-plus weeks, Chychrun has six points in eight games, with two coming on what has been increased power-play minutes. That's enough to be among the top-20 fantasy defensemen over that span.
Jared McCann is getting a run with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the former Panther is responding, with four points and a plus-6 rating over his past three contests.