Every Monday during the season, NHL.com contributor Matt Sitkoff will provide you with fantasy hockey advice in his weekly piece: "Fantasy All-Access." From the waiver wire watch to roster trends and prospect rumblings, Sitkoff is here to help you all season long.
With 20 days left until the end of the NHL regular season, it's crunch time in fantasy hockey. The NHL Trade Deadline has passed, which means teams have run out of time to make that last crucial addition, but that doesn't mean you should be resting on the laurels that got you into the playoffs.
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One piece of advice we have for players in the playoffs is to pay attention to schedules and matchups, and always be looking to gain an advantage. The schedule can become your best friend or your worst nightmare when setting a lineup. There are seven teams with four games this week (Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning) and on the opposite side there are three teams with only two games this week (Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and Winnipeg Jets).
We're not suggesting cutting all of the players you have on the teams with only two games but keep that in mind when scouring the waiver wire if you're deciding between whom to pick up or, in a weekly league, on whom to start. Lastly, look at the balance of the schedule as the Bruins, Hurricanes and Avalanche play three games in the first four days this week. The weekend favors the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues as they play Friday-Sunday, while the Lightning and Sabres play back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.
SOG: 30 | +/-: 0
Marcus Johansson (owned in 8 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) -- Lost in Alex Ovechkin's return to fantasy dominance and the Washington Capitals' surprising trade for Martin Erat is the red-hot play of the 22-year-old Johansson. The 24th-overall selection of the 2009 NHL Draft has seven points in his last five games played on the top line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Since returning on March 10 after missing 12 games due to an upper-body injury, he has had points in all but six games. The Capitals have three games this week (@MTL, CAR, TBL) and Johansson has 19 career points against those opponents.
Matt Carle (owned in 47 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) -- The season did not start off on the right foot for the defenseman brought in on a big contract, but the 28-year-old Carle is starting to get hot right in time for fantasy playoff season. He is on a career-high five-game point steak with seven points (1G-6A) during that span. He is the bona-fide top defenseman on the Lightning, leading them in total minutes (898:17), power-play time on ice (110:03) and short-handed time on ice (95:10). With four games this week (OTT, PIT, @WSH, @BUF) and two of them against teams in the lower half of goals against and penalty kill over the weekend expect Carle to be a big contributor.
Mika Zibanejad (owned in 6 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) -- The sixth-overall pick of the 2011 NHL Draft who struggled in the AHL at the beginning of the year and did not start the season with the Senators is finally hitting his stride. The 19-year-old had only six points in his first 15 games played in the NHL, but now has 13 points in his last 17 games. He is now playing on a rookie line that has a lot of chemistry with Jakob Silfverberg and the newly-acquired Cory Conacher. The Senators have three road games scheduled this week (@TBL, @PHI, @NJD) and all three on the new rookie line are to be owned for the fantasy playoffs.
SOG: 72 | +/-: -1
Eric Hartzell and Drew LeBlanc -- The Frozen Four begins Thursday in Pittsburgh as Yale faces off against University of Massachusetts-Lowell in one Semifinal and St. Cloud State goes against top-seeded Quinnipiac in the other. The second semifinal also features two players who could be hearing their name called on Friday as the Hobey Baker Award winner and should be on the radar of fantasy players. Quinnipiac Senior goalie Eric Hartzell, who led the nation in minutes played and wins (29), and St. Cloud State Senior forward Drew LeBlanc, who led the nation in assists (37) and was named WCHA Player of the Year. Both of these players went undrafted and are college free agents. After one of them potentially leads their team to a National Championship, they could be making an impact on NHL and fantasy teams for years to come.