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Fantasy Hockey Head-To-Head Primer And A Look Ahead to Week One

Michael Clifford

Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and FantasyTrade411.com. He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions.

Welcome to the first of my weekly posts for the guys here at Sports Jerks! In these posts, I will be covering what you need to know for the upcoming week in fantasy hockey in reference to Head-To-Head leagues.

It seems to me a lot of people are trying fantasy hockey for the first time this year because of both the prevalence of fantasy sports and the timing of the start of the season. With that in mind, it would make sense that people are giving Head-To-Head hockey leagues their first crack as well.

There are a few things you need to keep in mind going into your H2H hockey match-ups every week. Rules differ a bit for skaters and goalies, so I will start with goalies first:

  • The number of games a team plays in a week is very important for your goalies. If you have to lock your rosters at the start of a week, you want your goalies to have as many opportunities to start as possible. Typically, a coach won’t announce the next game’s starters until the day of, or the day before a game. Without this information, it’s impossible to determine every Sunday who the starters will be so you should almost always go with your studs.
  • The value of clear-cut #1 goalies is more important in H2H than in rotisserie leagues. You can expect guys like Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price and Ryan Miller to get the vast majority of their team’s starts (40+ this year), while teams that are a bit uncertain in goal, like Toronto, Washington, St. Louis and Ottawa add that much more risk. And the goal in any fantasy sport is to minimize risk.
  • You have to try to play match-ups, but don’t live and die by them. While you will want to minimize your exposure to teams like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago, if your choice is between a goalie whose team plays five games and one who plays three, go with the greater number of games.

Keep those things in mind when picking your goalies for a given fantasy week. Here are some guidelines when it comes to your skaters:

  • I feel that match-ups play a bigger role for skaters than goalies. If you have a few Boston Bruins on your team and they play Toronto twice, load up on Boston. Bad defensive teams typically don’t go on streaks where they completely shut down the opponent. A game here or there, but not for a week.
  • The idea of playing teammates on the same roster is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you have Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and they absolutely go off (and they can), then you can blow your opponent out of the water. However, if they go a couple games putting up goose eggs, you’re putting yourself way behind the eight-ball. This is where match-up playing can become very important and it depends how much risk you’re willing to stomach.
  • Know your team’s strengths/weaknesses. You have Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins both playing? That’s great. But you might want to have a guy like Steve Downie (Col, LW/RW) to stuff the penalty minute category.

These are guidelines I like to follow. Obviously you have to know your team. If your choice is between James Reimer for four games or Henrik Lundqvist for three, don’t be a hero. Also, when I talked about match-ups in the Getzlaf/Perry scenario, I wouldn’t recommend ever sitting them. But lesser players on the same team like Cody Hodgson and Drew Stafford from Buffalo, sure—if you don’t like their match-up.

 

Week 1: January 19 – January 27

Because of the timing of the start of the season, the first week of fantasy hockey is extended by a couple of days. I will give you how many games each team plays and a few notes about some of the team at the end. To this end, there are teams that have a busy schedule off the top, so here are the number of games each team plays in the first week of the fantasy hockey season:

 

Six-Game Teams: Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia

None of these teams excite me as far as goaltending goes. Corey Crawford (CHI) and Ilya Bryzgalov (PHI) are both shaky and St. Louis will be splitting starts. However, if you own skaters off of these teams, load up. Chicago has a tough schedule to start; they get Jon Quick (LA), Mike Smith (PHX) and St. Louis with Detroit at the end of the week—but it gets easier with Dallas and Columbus in the middle. As much as I don’t like Bryzgalov, it gets easier for Philadelphia after the season opener against Pittsburgh: none of the other four opponents (Rangers, New Jersey, Florida, Buffalo) finished in the top-1o in goals scored last year. The same cannot be said for St. Louis, however. Their first four games are against teams that all finished in the top-10 in scoring last year (Nashville twice, Detroit, Chicago). 

 

Five-Game Teams: Buffalo, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, Winnipeg

Playing on the road in the NHL is tougher than most people think. Last year, only eight teams (NYR, PHI, VAN, NSH, BOS, NJD, OTT, PIT) won more games on the road than they lost, in regulation or otherwise. In this sense, I’m a tad (TAD) worried about Pittsburgh. They start the season with four of their first five games on the road, where they scored nearly a ½ goal less than at home. Obviously don’t sit the big stars, but if you wanted to leave guys like Pascal Dupuis or Matt Niskanen on the bench I couldn’t argue. Vancouver starts off the season with three straight home games against Anaheim, Edmonton and Calgary who ranked 29th, 14th and 26th respectively in goals scored on the road last year. If you own any skaters from Ottawa, start ‘em. They have a soft-ish schedule to start the season with Winnipeg, Florida twice, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. Florida was good at home last year, but bottom-10 on the road in terms of goals against. Tampa was the league’s worst home team last year for goals-against while Pittsburgh was middle-of-the-pack on the road. Finally, while I wouldn’t recommend sitting Henrik Lundqvist, be ready to take some pain. The New York Rangers get Boston twice, Toronto, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, all of whom finished in the top-10 in the NHL last year in goals scored with Pittsburgh, Boston and Philadelphia finishing 1-2-3. Ouch.

 

Four-Game Teams: Anaheim, Boston, Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Los Angeles, Montreal, New Jersey

This is a rough start to the season for some people. Los Angeles, Calgary, Colorado and Anaheim all finished in the bottom-third of the league in terms of goals scored last year and the only two teams cracked the top-15: New Jersey (15th) and Boston (2nd). This is where match-ups will really come into play. Although you might have someone like Jarome Iginla (CGY) on your team, I would probably recommend starting someone like Milan Michalek (OTT) ahead of him. Another thing you have to worry about is goalie starts. If your league has a minimum number of starts to make in a week (say, six), and your two goalies are from these four-game teams, I would be sweating a bit. This is where you take a dive into the waiver pool and add a third goalie just to be safe, assuming your rosters aren’t locked. If they are, put your goalies in and cross your fingers.

Final Thoughts

I also want to share two other things with you that tie into each other:

  1. This is the first week of the season, so we don’t have a whole lot of information to go on right now. The best we can do is look at last year and attempt to project for this week. It’s a very imperfect science, so if you have a really bad or really good first week, don’t get too low or too high.
  2. Starting next week I will include a “Match-ups I really like” segment where I go into players or goalies whose match-ups are favorable for the week ahead. I just feel I should not do that this week because, like I just said, we just do not have enough information to make any sort of accurate judgment.

I hope this has helped you head-to-headers and best of luck in the first week of your league! As always, you can reach me on Twitter –  – for your fantasy hockey questions.