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FANTASY: THE WEEK AHEAD – November 20th – 26th – Carolina and Colorado with favourable weeks – Goaltending issues rampant

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 27: Carolina Hurricanes Center Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) skates during the second period of the NHL game between the Ottawa Senators and the Carolina Hurricanes on January 27, 2022 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire)

The 2022-23 campaign was amazing for offensive defensemen, but this year might be even better. That’s not a statement that should be made lightly. Erik Karlsson had 101 points last year, the most for a blueliner since Brian Leetch in 1991-92, and seven other defensemen exceeded the 70-point milestone. How could 2023-24 end up being even better?

It starts with Quinn Hughes, who is tied for the overall scoring lead with seven goals and 28 points through 18 contests, but it doesn’t end with him. Cale Makar is also in the top 10 with 24 points in 16 outings and an additional four defensemen (Victor Hedman, Evan Bouchard, Filip Hronek and Karlsson) are averaging at least a point per game while logging 16 or more contests. A total of 12 blueliners have PPGs of at least 0.88 (72-point pace over 82 contests) while making at least 16 appearances.

So, while it’s still early, we are on track to set an even higher bar than last year in terms of offensive defenseman.

Overall scoring is up too, though just slightly. Through Saturday’s action, the league was averaging 3.20 goals per team per game. If sustained, that would make this the highest-scoring season since 1993-94, though it’d represent just a small upgrade from 2022-23 (3.18). Still, scoring has been on an overall upward slope for years and has risen significantly compared to 2015-16 (2.71). It’s a fun time to be a hockey fan.

Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina has a trio of home games ahead of them, hosting Edmonton on Wednesday, Tampa Bay on Friday and Columbus on Sunday. The Blue Jackets are one of the worst teams in the league, the Lightning have been mediocre without Andrei Vasilevskiy (back) and Edmonton did go on a three-game winning streak, but it’s over now and even after that, the Oilers have a lowly 5-10-1 record. In other words, the Hurricanes have a real chance to win all three games.

Goaltending Frederik Andersen remains out indefinitely with a blood clotting issue. Last year, that would have led to Antti Raanta becoming the clear No. 1 goaltender, but Raanta has struggled in 2023-24 with a 4-2-0 record, 3.02 GAA and .877 save percentage in seven contests. Even with Andersen gone, Raanta has warmed the bench for Carolina’s last two games due to his poor play. Instead, Pyotr Kochetkov started in those games, but with a 1-4-0 record, 3.10 GAA and .876 save percentage in five outings, he might not be the solution either.

Keep an eye on Jaroslav Halak. He’s been with the team on a tryout basis, and with the Hurricanes’ goaltending being this shaky, he might end up being signed and get some starts. Alternatively, the No. 1 job is wide open, so either Kochetkov or Raanta could snatch it with a single hot streak.

Up front, Sebastian Aho is riding high with three goals and seven points over his last five games. With the weak goaltending the Hurricanes are set to face this week, Aho and Carolina’s forwards in general could be in for a fun time. That might help Jesperi Kotkaniemi rebound. He has a solid six goals and 13 points in 17 contests but has been held off the scoresheet over the last three contests -- his longest drought so far this campaign.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche will play in Nashville on Monday, host the Canucks on Wednesday, play in Minnesota on Friday, and wrap up with week with a home contest versus Calgary. Vancouver should be a challenge, but the rest of that competition has PTS% below .500.

Colorado endured a rough patch from Oct. 26-Nov. 11, winning just two of seven games, but they’ve bounced back in a huge way, not just winning their last three contests but outscoring the competition a stunning 19-6 over that span.

Cale Makar has been the biggest benefactor of the Avalanche’s offense catching fire, collecting a goal and eight points over the last three contests. Valeri Nichushkin is on fire too, supplying four markers and five points during the same stretch.

Alexandar Georgiev has held his own too, but his save percentage over the last three contests is a merely okay .906. It’s fair to say he’s stabilized after posting a 4.73 GAA and an .842 save percentage over seven outings from Oct. 21-Nov. 11, but there is still some level of concern with him. Still, Pavel Francouz (groin) is not going to play this campaign and Ivan Prosvetov lacks experience, so Georgiev has one of the safest jobs in the league, and the Avalanche offense means he’ll rack up plenty of wins even if he ends up having a subpar campaign.

Nashville Predators

The Predators have a busy week ahead of them. They have home games versus Colorado and Calgary on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. After that, they’ll play in St. Louis on Friday before returning to Nashville to host the Jets on Sunday. The Avalanche and Jets are tough opponents, but the Blues are middling, and Calgary is near the bottom of the pack.

Thomas Novak was off to a great start, providing six goals and 12 points in 14 contests, but he hasn’t played since Nov. 11 because of an upper-body injury and isn’t expected to return until mid-December. Meanwhile, Cody Glass returned Nov. 11 from a lower-body injury. He has no points in seven contests this campaign, but he’s still worth regarding as a short-term pickup. The 24-year-old is averaging 3:46 of power-play ice time, including 5:16 over Nashville’s last two outings.

Cole Smith is another forward who might be good to pick up for a brief period. He’s typically not much of a significant offensive threat, but he did score two goals Saturday, so that could be the start of a hot streak. Even if it’s not, Smith should at least help you in terms of PIM and hits -- he has 24 and 42, respectively, over 16 contests.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils are set to play on the road against the Red Wings on Wednesday before hosting the Blue Jackets on Friday and Sabres on Saturday. Buffalo is playing without Tage Thompson, Detroit has dropped four of its last five and Columbus is Columbus, so New Jersey appears to be in a favorable position.

New Jersey also got Jack Hughes back Saturday, and he picked up right where he left off, providing a goal and an assist versus the Rangers to bring him up to six goals and 22 points through 11 outings this year. However, the Devils are still missing Nico Hischier (upper body) and Timo Meier (lower body), plus Tomas Nosek exited Saturday’s contest with a lower-body injury, so New Jersey’s forward core has some holes.

Michael McLeod has been leaned on heavily, averaging 17:27 of ice time over his last six contests in contrast to 12:09 over his first five. Even with that extra playing time, though, he’s just a mildly okay option in fantasy circles for now, and he doesn’t do enough offensively to make him worth hanging onto long term -- once Hischier returns, McLeod should be dropped in everything but the deepest of leagues.

If you’re looking for someone to grab from New Jersey, Ondrej Palat would be a better option. He’s unlikely to get more than 40 points this season, but he’s factored on the scoresheet for three straight games and four of his last five outings.

New York Islanders

The Islanders are slated to host the Flyers on Wednesday, play in Ottawa on Friday and then return home to face Philadelphia for a rematch Saturday. The Flyers and Senators are decent, but not amazing teams this year, so these should be competitive contests.

That said, the Islanders have also been middling this campaign, and their lackluster 6-6-5 record is largely a symptom of their poor offense -- they're tied for 29th with 2.53 goals per game. However, their offense has shown life recently with the Islanders scoring 11 goals (not including the shootout) over their last three outings.

Mathew Barzal is finally heating up, providing a goal and five points in that three-game stretch, bringing him up to four markers and 15 points through 17 contests overall. Brock Nelson has been a major contributor doing the Islanders’ last three outings too with two goals and four points. He’s unlikely to repeat his career high of 75 points from 2022-23, but a 60-point campaign it’s still reasonable for fantasy managers to hope he finishes with around 60 points. Currently, he has eight goals and 12 points in 17 appearances this year.

Even with the offense starting to do better though, New York is still in a lot of trouble. The Islanders rely on goaltender Ilya Sorokin to be the backbone of the team, and traditionally he’s fulfilled that role admirably. However, through 11 appearances this year, he has a 4-3-4 record, 3.32 GAA and .906 save percentage. He’s also allowed at least three goals in each of his last six outings to further frustrate fantasy managers. He’s an interesting buy-low candidate though. While the team in front of him isn’t amazing, Sorokin is still likely to rebound.

Seattle Kraken (Mon vs. Cal, Wed vs. SJS, Fri vs. Van)

Seattle has won its last two games and will attempt to build off that with home games against Calgary, San Jose and Vancouver on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, respectively. The Canucks should be a tough matchup, but the Flames and Sharks are vulnerable teams.

Like the Islanders, Seattle’s offense has underwhelmed this year -- it ranks 28th with 2.63 goals per game -- and has similarly shown life recently with 10 non-shootout goals over the last three contests. In the Kraken’s case, it’s been Jordan Eberle leading the charge. He had a rough start to the campaign, supplying just a goal and three points over his first 12 games, but that seems to be behind him after scoring a goal and six points over his past four outings. Despite his initial slump, he’s still a vital part of the Kraken, averaging 17:14 of ice time, including 2:29 with the man advantage, and is likely to finish the campaign with 50-60 points.

Matthew Beniers seems to have turned a corner too. He had just three assists in 11 contests to start the campaign, but since then he went on a three-game scoring streak from Nov. 4-9 (one goal, four points) and has collected two goals and three points over his last two contests. The 21-year-old’s pace of three goals and 10 points through 19 contests is still down compared to his 2022-23 Calder Trophy-winning 57-point campaign, but there’s potential here.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues will play in Arizona on Wednesday, return home to play the Predators on Friday and finally travel to Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Sunday. The Coyotes have done alright with an 8-7-2 start to the campaign, but Nashville and Chicago have a combined 11-21-0 record, so getting at least four of six points this week should be the goal for St. Louis.

That said, the Blues have been awfully inconsistent. Five of their nine wins have been by three or more goals, but at the same time, St. Louis has also lost by three or more goals six times. To put that into context, they’re the only team with at least five in each of those categories. You consequently never really know what you’re going to get with the Blues.

If you’re looking for a St. Louis player to consider taking for the week though, Brandon Saad is likely available. After all, he has just three goals and five points through 16 contests this season, so he hasn’t given fantasy managers a lot to be excited about. That said, he still has a top-six role and gets deployed on the second power-play unit, so with the schedule being favorable, he might do well in the short term.

If you already have Jordan Binnington, this should be a good week for him. Joel Hofer gave him a breather Sunday, so Binnington is likely to start in all three of the Blues’ upcoming contests. The starting goaltender is off to a strong start this season with a 2.47 GAA and a .922 save percentage in 12 games. The competition also ranges from middling to poor offensively, with the Coyotes being the best of them with 3.24 goals per game, which puts them in a tie for 16th in the league.

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks get to play against the 3-13-1 Sharks twice this week, first at home Monday and then in San Jose on Saturday. Between then, the Canucks will also play in Colorado on Wednesday and Seattle on Friday.

Vancouver has dropped its last two contests, but it’s still an impressive 12-5-1. Incredibly, three of the Canucks players already have 28 points (J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes). Brock Boeser isn’t too far behind with seven goals and 21 points while defenseman Filip Hronek has a goal and 18 points through 18 contests. That’s right: Vancouver has two defensemen averaging at least a point per game.

The Canucks’ current offensive output isn’t likely to be sustained, but it might last at least another week given Seattle ranks 24th defensively, allowing 3.47 goals per game, and San Jose is in the basement with an average of 4.24 goals allowed.

Beyond the usual suspects, that might be good news for Nils Hoglander. He’s averaging just 10:32 of ice time this season, so not a lot should be expected of him long term, but he’s going into the week on a bit of a roll after scoring a goal in back-to-back games. Defenseman Tyler Myers is hot too with four helpers over his last four contests, bringing him up to two goals and nine points in 18 appearances this year.