Those who enjoy scoring (and let's be honest, who doesn't?) have surely enjoyed the first two nights of the 2017-18 NHL season. Through just 12 games, we already have four hat tricks on the books and one team with double-digit goals.
Although it happened twice last season, 10 goals in a game is a rare feat. It's been accomplished only 13 times this century during the regular season. The Montreal Canadiens allowed 10 to the Columbus Blue Jackets last November, then promptly came out and scored 10 of their own in December. Prior to those games, you have to go back to March 2011 for the St. Louis Blues' 10-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
The Chicago Blackhawks' 10-1 shellacking of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday was the first 10-goal game by a team in the month of October since Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings pulled one off in 1993. It's also the first time that a team hit double digits without the help of a power-play goal since the Calgary Flames steamrolled the San Jose Sharks 13-1 in 1993.
Among those leading the charge were Nick Schmaltz (two goals and an assists) and Ryan Hartman (a goal and four assists). Neither player was being drafted by fantasy owners heading into this season, and rightly so, as much of the discussion was around Patrick Sharp's potential role with Patrick Kane and/or Artem Anisimov. But it's Schmaltz (rostered in 8.8 percent of ESPN leagues) and Hartman (21.5 percent) who are spending time on the ice with Kane, while Sharp (49.9 percent) and Anisimov (38.2 percent) are forming a third line with Alex DeBrincat. Those ownership percentages should flip quickly. Schmaltz is the stronger pickup of the two, as he closed last season with 21 points in the final 28 games while playing increased minutes.
Brandon Saad also made a triumphant return to the Blackhawks by recording the fourth hat trick of the young NHL season. Connor McDavid and Wayne Simmonds each scored three goals on Wednesday, while Alex Ovechkin scored three earlier in the evening on Thursday. It took us until the 33rd game of the season last year to see four hat tricks.
It was very important to see three of those four players get off to such a terrific start to the campaign (hat tricks are just another night at the office for McDavid). For Saad, he was a big sleeper this season after two ho-hum campaigns with the Blue Jackets. He has the potential to put up career numbers back in Chicago and in his prime. Simmonds is working with new linemates to begin the year (Nolan Patrick and Jordan Weal), and it's good to see he can still take advantage of the time he gets on the power play. Ovechkin only scored four goals in all of October last year, so three in the first game is very promising. He skated with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana, and perhaps some fresh linemates can spur Ovechkin's production following a down year.
All told, the NHL has 6.75 goals per game through the first two nights, which is meaningless for such a small sample size, but nonetheless offers just a glimmer of promise for an uptick in offense.
Fantasy Forecaster: Oct. 9-15
The first full week of the NHL season has a lot of teams with schedules away from the mean, which could be good or bad for your fantasy team depending on where your chips fall. Ten teams get a boost from a four-game schedule, but seven suffer from a two-game slate.
Some quick boilerplate here: The forecaster chart needs statistics to eat to get stronger. The more data it has to consume, the stronger its evaluations become. Right now, with minimal data to input, the forecaster is still living off its pre-hibernation stores from last winter. So take the ratings with a grain of salt to begin the season, as the numbers being generated still rely on last season's data. Once we get about three weeks in, we have enough fresh data to remove last season's numbers from the calculations. For the Vegas Golden Knights, we averaged the league-worst statistics from the last five seasons in each category, as we aren't expecting much from the expansion franchise.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations of the below chart: "O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon 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, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
In the notes -- team, goalie and player -- below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Ownership below 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff. I'll try to also include players below 10 percent ownership whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
The Ducks get four games and plenty of home cooking with three of them at Honda Center. Their opponents' defenses rate as pliable on the forecaster, but remember that those stats are from last season. The Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres, in particular, should be much improved. Still, this is a case where you may want to go a little deeper for some starters. Ryan Getzlaf is practicing and should be back for the week, despite missing the season opener on Thursday. It's not 100 percent clear how the lines will shake out when he is back, but Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell looked solid on a line with Andrew Cogliano on Thursday, with the trio combining for nine points. If it looks like that combination will stick, Cogliano (rostered in 1.9 percent of ESPN leagues) could have some short-term fantasy value. Brandon Montour (4.1 percent) spent time on the top power play, manning the point with Cam Fowler. That should be the case until at least November, as Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen are sidelined.
The Bruins spend the second week of the season feasting off the NHL's perceived have-not teams. With a home-and-home against the Colorado Avalanche, followed by visits to the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas, the Bruins are primed for a hot week. You're probably too late for the Charlie McAvoy train, but double check his availability. The Bruins aren't leaving any training wheels on, as he skated 22 minutes and notched two points on Thursday. Torey Krug could be back for next week, so check on his status and downgrade McAvoy a touch if that's the case. David Backes is out for about a month with diverticulitis, and Patrice Bergeron missed the opener with an undisclosed lower-body injury. That leaves plenty to choose from among rookies Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Spooner -- all of whom would enjoy a big week with both players out. If Bergeron returns, Spooner slides out of the top six.
Other teams with at least four games total and at least two at home include the Blackhawks and Avalanche. Other teams rating at least an eight on the forecaster for offense include the Penguins (three games), Blues (four) and Washington Capitals (four).
Jimmy Howard, G, Detroit Red Wings (rostered in 37.5 percent of ESPN leagues)
While the natural inclination for fantasy owners will be to continue to look for Petr Mrazek to rebound into form, that can only happen if Howard decides to cede his starting role. Howard had a terrific season in 2016-17 when he was healthy and kicked things off with a 37-save win against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. A set of back-to-back games should limit him to two starts next week, but until he shows us otherwise, Howard can be trusted.
Robin Lehner, G, Buffalo Sabres (36.7 percent)
A save percentage monster last season despite untenable numbers in the wins and goals against average departments, Lehner should be in position to earn at least No. 2 fantasy goalie status this season. Next week includes four games with only one back-to-back set, which should leave him with three starts. He only allowed two goals to the Canadiens on Thursday in a shootout loss, but the 40 shots against was not an improvement from the defense in front of him. With goalies like Martin Jones, Carey Price, Cam Talbot and Devan Dubnyk only possible for a maximum of two starts next week, Lehner can pick up some of the slack for your fantasy squad with a possible spot start against the New Jersey Devils on Monday. You may end up holding on to him depending on the results after the week.
Antti Raanta, G, Arizona Coyotes (17.8 percent)
It wasn't awesome to see the Coyotes allow 41 shots to come Louis Domingue's way in their season opener on Thursday, but that shouldn't be the norm. Raanta was cleared to play, but was just getting over a lower-body injury, so he watched the first game. Don't mistake that for a sign about his status as the team's No. 1. He should get the opportunity to tend twine for the Coyotes on most nights. The Coyotes face the Golden Knights, Red Wings and Bruins next week with nights off in between, which should allow us to see Raanta three times and get a better understanding of how much fantasy value he could have this season. If you have the room to roster him without risk, a preemptive add is recommended.
Jakub Vrana, C, Washington Capitals (4.4 percent of ESPN leagues)
A resurgent Ovechkin and ever-improving Kuznetsov will boost Vrana's production into fantasy-relevant territory -- at least that was the game script from the Capitals' season opener on Thursday. Vrana played 17:16 on the top line and finished with a pair of assists, five shots and a plus-3 rating. Meanwhile, Ovechkin managed a hat trick with Kuznetsov earning a helper on all three goals. This new balance to the offense still leaves Nicklas Backstrom with T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky to work with, so the lines have some potential staying power. With four games on the docket for next week, Vrana is arguably the top fantasy waiver add in the NHL after two nights of action.
Mike Green, D, Detroit Red Wings (41.9 percent)
As promised, Trevor Daley took over for Green on the top power play for the Red Wings, but it was Green, nonetheless, who picked up the offense. Notching four assists (on all four of the Red Wings' goals), Green pushed the second power play unit to score twice and picked up two more helpers at even strength. His stats would have been fantasy relevant last season if not for the atrocious minus-20 rating. Plus/minus is extremely mercurial from season to season, so it may be worth adding Green to your roster for now to see if those woes are behind him. The Red Wings are on the road for three contests and get to face the Coyotes and Golden Knights next week.
Jaromir Jagr, RW, Calgary Flames (43.0 percent)
Even in the unlikely scenario that Jagr's immigration issues still aren't dealt with for next week, he could still potentially play two road games with his new club in California. No disrespect to Micheal Ferland, but one has to think the Flames are bringing in the veteran Jagr to give them a stronger presence on the wing opposite Johnny Gaudreau on the top line. Sure, Jagr is 45 years old, but he didn't show signs of slowing down last season. Jagr did wonders for Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau with the Florida Panthers, so here's betting that he has a similar positive impact on Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
Kevin Labanc, RW, San Jose Sharks (9.7 percent)
The Joes may be a little bit older, but they're not done yet by a long shot. Labanc started the campaign on Wednesday with two goals, one on the Sharks top line with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton and one on the second power play unit. His 13:12 of ice time may seem low, but the Sharks rolled four lines fairly evenly in the game (no forward topped 18:10 and none fell below 12:03). With minutes on the top line, supplemented by secondary power play work, Labanc has the early lead as the breakout fantasy winger to fill Patrick Marleau's vacuum for the Sharks. It may be wise to wait until mid-week for a pickup, though, as the Sharks have the first half of the week off and only play two games.
Honorable mentions: Morgan Rielly (40.6 percent) played 18:21 and stuck with Auston Matthews' unit on the power play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's conceivable he overtakes Jake Gardiner (81.3 percent) if that deployment holds. ... Mika Zibanejad (34.3 percent) played a forward-high 21:15 in the Rangers' first game on Thursday, scoring both of his team's goals. ... Jason Pominville's (10.3 percent) second goal on Thursday came from a brilliant pass by Jack Eichel while Evander Kane was causing a distraction in front of the goal. That's going to be a repeatable script for the Sabres' top line this season. Buffalo has a four-game week on tap ... Their ratings on the forecaster are atrocious thanks to last season's forgettable totals, but the Colorado Avalanche fared well on Thursday and have a four-game week on the schedule. No action is warranted yet, but be ready to consider Matt Duchene (54.5 percent) or Gabriel Landeskog (25.9 percent) if the trend continues.
To the bench: Jeff Skinner (91.6 percent) doesn't look to be a part of the top two lines for the Carolina Hurricanes, and the team only plays twice next week. Don't drop the 37-goal scorer, but he probably doesn't warrant a start in weekly formats. ... Ryan Strome (13.4 percent) is droppable for now, as he landed on Edmonton's third line, and the team only has two games next week. ... Nolan Patrick (67.2 percent) is safe on your bench for next week. With only 13:55 in average ice time through two games, he doesn't offer much for a two-game schedule that features Pekka Rinne and Braden Holtby in the opposing goal.