Then, despite his teammate fanning on the ensuing shot, Kovalchuk didn't give up on the play. The Devils' sniper swooped around the Capitals' net, parked himself on the left wing and cashed in on a feed from Marek Zidlicky to win the game and keep Washington winless this season.
While it may only be a single play in a 48-game season, it really represented what has been a contrasting opening week for fantasy owners who spent first-round draft picks on either Kovalchuk or Ovechkin. Kovalchuk, 29, has fully lived up to fantasy expectations (2 G, 2 A, plus-5, 6 PIM, 1 PPP, 13 SOG), but Ovechkin is off to the least productive four-game start of his NHL career (0 G, 1 A, minus-1, 4 PIM, 0 PPP, 13 SOG). Both averaged better than a point per game playing in the Kontinental Hockey League during the work stoppage, but only Kovalchuk has risen to the occasion since returning to NHL action.
With hockey talk surrounding key injuries to Joffrey Lupul and Scott Hartenll, fantasy owners finally received some relieving news: Forward Jamie Benn agreed to a five-year deal with the Dallas Stars.
Drafted on average with the 79th overall pick in Yahoo! Leagues, Benn will be a welcome sight for his owners after he had an extremely productive and well-rounded 2011-12 season -- 26 goals, 63 points, plus-15, 55 penalty minutes, 10 power play points and 203 shots on goal in 71 games.
Benn, center and left wing eligible in Yahoo! Leagues, is not expected to make his season debut until Monday, where he'll likely center the team's top line with Jaromir Jagr and Loui Eriksson as his wings. That's an extremely talented group of forwards and it could turn Benn into an elite fantasy player for the remainder of this condensed season.
The 23-year-old forward has all the tools to become one of fantasy hockey's most dominant players -- he has size and grit and plays a physical game, which will result in solid penalty minutes; he will see more power play time this season after averaging 2:17 last year; he has a quality team around him which will result in a good plus/minus; he has unbelievable hands which should result in plenty of points (just check out this goal from last season, and how about this pass?); and he has improved his stats every year he's been in the NHL (22 G, 41 points as a rookie in 2009-10, 22 G, 56 points in 2010-11, 26 G, 63 points last season). There's literally no flaw in his game from a fantasy standpoint.
Many fantasy owners have already reaped the benefits of waiver wire pickups less than a week into the young season. With injuries piling up (Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, etc.) and a jam-packed Thursday night of NHL action now in the books, here are three forwards that fantasy owners should be conscious of based on their consistent production during the opening week of the NHL season.
The offensive clinic that rookie Vladimir Tarasenko and Andy McDonald have put on in the early going can be attributed to the stellar play of Steen (owned in 14 percent of Yahoo! leagues), St. Louis' second-line center. Through four games, Steen has assisted on four goals and seen nearly two and a half minutes per game on the man advantage (1 PPP). He also sports a plus-4 rating and is second on the team in shots on goal (14), behind only Tarasenko (16). After playing in only 43 games last season for the Blues due to recovering from a concussion, the dual-eligible forward has returned to form in a hurry -- a trend that fantasy owners searching for offense should latch onto.
Last season Joffrey Lupul had a breakout fantasy season, finishing the year with 25 goals, 67 points, a plus-one, 48 penalty minutes, 21 power play points and 191 shots on goal. This year, things aren't going quite as well.
Lupul was held without a point his first two contests and then on Wednesday night he suffered a broken right forearm after his teammate Dion Phaneuf's shot struck him while camped out in front of the net. This is a rough loss for Lupul fantasy owners, as six weeks in this 48-game schedule is extremely costly.
While Matt Frattin is expected to be called up to replace Lupul's roster spot, Clarke MacArthur could be the player to see an increased fantasy role for the six weeks. If last night is a sign of things to come, MacArthur will be slated on the top line alongside Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
In three games this season, MacArthur has one goal, one assist, a minus-one, two penalty minutes, one power play point and 12 shots on goal (last season he had 20 G, 23 A, plus-3, 37 PIMs, 9 PPP, 148 SOG). Don't expect MacArthur to produce at a level like Lupul did last season, but playing alongside Kessel could make him a nice stop-gap for the six weeks -- he's available in 89 percent of Yahoo! Leagues.
The Phoenix Coyotes already sport a top-15 fantasy defenseman in Keith Yandle, but could soon see another one of their blueliners join the elite ranks at the position as early as this season.
The Coyotes already sport a top-15 fantasy d-man in Keith Yandle, but could soon see Oliver Ekman-Larsson also join the elite ranks at the position. (Photo: Getty Images)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Swedish blueliner who burst onto the scene last season with 13 goals (5th among NHL defensemen) made an early statement on Wednesday night in the Coyotes' first win of 2012-13. The 21-year-old exploded with a well-rounded stat line (2 G, 1 A, plus-3, 2 PIM, 1 PPP, 6 SOG) against the Columbus Blue Jackets, proving he can serve as a remedy for Phoenix's often inconsistent offense on any given night.
Through three games, Ekman-Larsson (3:59 PP TOI/G) has even logged more time with the man advantage than Yandle (3:42), a significant upgrade after the youngster saw just over two minutes per game in such situations last year. This may only be an early trend, but the fact that Ekman-Larsson is being given such valuable minutes indicates Dave Tippett has big plans for the d-man moving forward.
The reigning AHL most valuable player and rookie of the year has made an immediate impact in his first three games with the Bolts, reeling off two goals, three assists, a plus-3 rating, four PIM, one power-play point and five shots on goal in an average of 14:41 ice time per game. On Tuesday night, the 23-year-old Conacher beat Cam Ward on the rebound for a first-period goal that was made possible by a nifty move to the net by Vincent Lecavalier.
And it's those sequences that are what make Conacher's situation so promising. In a matter of days, the dual-eligible (C/LW) fantasy forward's value has spiked as he's gone from owned in less than 1 percent of Yahoo! leagues to 18 percent on Wednesday morning.
Is a borderline top-20 fantasy goalie that was taken on average in the eighth round of fantasy drafts really the most productive player in the land? The numbers certainly don't lie, and Anderson has seen an exponential value spike as a result.
Anderson, even after posting 33 wins in 63 outings last year, was perceived as a mediocre fantasy netminder at best coming into 2012-13. He was outside the top-20 in both GAA and save percentage last season, and had more than enough to worry about if he was to start the season slow.
These are small sample sizes, but this pattern indicates that backups are worth storing on your bench for these situations. Owners who drafted Fleury, Corey Crawford and Niklas Backstrom would be wise to snag their backups off the waiver wire, as this strategy can brace your team for potential injuries while also ensuring your maximum goalie starts each week.
Gabriel Landeskog was named the youngest captain in NHL history Tuesday -- yet another reason why he deserves to be on your fantasy team's radar.
The reigning Calder Trophy winner was tabbed the leader for the Colorado Avalanche after excelling in all six offensive categories (22 G, 30 A, plus-20, 51 PIM, 12 PPP, 270 SOG) during his stellar rookie campaign. NHL.com's team of fantasy experts ranked Landeskog as the No. 54 overall fantasy player in its latest set of overall rankings released earlier Tuesday.
Left Wing - COL
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 52
SOG: 270 | +/-: 20
Landeskog's finish to the 2011-12 season saw him emerge with near point-per-game production, as he tallied 13 goals and 17 assists over his last 34 games. The 19-year-old phenom showed tremendous chemistry with late-season linemates Steve Downie and Ryan O'Reilly, posting a plus-20 rating for a non-playoff team in the process. He was owned in 59 percent of Yahoo! leagues at season's end -- a number that is bound to rise after upcoming drafts take place.
Taking into account his PIM production and ever-expanding role for the Avs' power-play unit, Landeskog already warrants keeper consideration in such leagues and should be on every team's draft watch list from the third to fifth rounds -- depending on league size and format.
While the New York Islanders' secondary scoring spike over the past few games is likely "too little, too late" for the team's playoff hopes, it could be just what the doctor ordered for any fantasy team in the midst of a championship run.
Every point is crucial this time of year as the vast majority of fantasy leagues have reached their final playoff round, so the play of Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo should not be overlooked. The Isles' current secondary line -- comprised of three forwards owned in less than 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues -- has kicked it into high gear over the last week and a half.
New York remains mathematically alive in the playoff race entering Friday's action after sweeping a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins -- who endured a major setback in their pursuit of the East's top seed. Despite facing Marc-Andre Fleury twice this week, the Isles managed to post 10 goals in two games en route to a pair of 5-3 wins over their Atlantic Division foes.
Bailey (LW - 2 percent) put forth a 5-point game in Thursday's win over the Pens and has accumulated 3 goals, 9 assists and a plus-8 rating over his last six games. The ninth pick in the 2008 NHL Draft is only 22 years old and has looked confident moving the puck over the past few games. His linemate, Nielsen (C - 5 percent), has centered the secondary unit for most of the season, but has recently seen a major spike in his production as well with 4 goals and 5 helpers over the six-game stretch.
Flanking Nielsen on the right wing is Okposo (RW - 9 percent), who has taken his goal-scoring to new heights with 5 goals over his last four games, adding an assist in Tuesday's road win in the Steel City. The story for Okposo, 23, has been his ability to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career despite failing to register a goal in his first 15 games this season. Okposo has accomplished that feat by scoring 14 goals since the turn of the calendar year.
The inconsistency of these three players is still a glaring concern in the long-term, as the Islanders have sought a lift from their depth lines all season long -- to the point where the team's top line of Matt Moulson, John Tavares and PA Parenteau has accounted for 42.6 percent of the team's goal-scoring. But as the team finally seems to be reaping the benefits of its young core players late in the season, fantasy owners would be wise to take notice.
Over the last two games, though, the team's primary unit has gone pointless -- despite the team sweeping a home-and-home with the star-studded Pens. The secondary unit has shouldered the load and has been extremely promising from a fantasy standpoint. For any injury-plagued or underperforming fantasy roster during championship week, any of these three offensive players could provide a boost.
The Islanders have a pair of home games this weekend against the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, and still have five remaining regular season contests overall. Therefore, time is of the essence for fantasy owners to catch on to this potentially rewarding trend.
To submit a question for NHL.com's weekly Fantasy Mailbag, contact PJensen@NHL.com.