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NHL: DADOUN – THE FANTASY WEEK AHEAD (February 26th to March 3rd) – Matthews at the center of Maple Leafs run – Favourable schedules and players to target

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26: Toronto Maple Leafs Center Auston Matthews (34) chases the play during the regular season NHL game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs on April 26, 2022 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, ON.(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

The Maple Leafs haven’t just won their last six games, they’ve outscored their competition an incredible 33-14 over that span. At the center of that run has been Auston Matthews, who’s provided 10 goals and 13 points over his past five contests. That gives him 52 goals and 76 points through 55 outings in 2023-24.

There was a time when Sam Reinhart was challenging Matthews for the goal-scoring lead, but Matthews’ edge in that battle has jumped to 13 goals. Not only did Matthews reach the 50-goal milestone before any other player hit 40, but there are still just 10 other skaters with at least 30 tallies this year.

Even after factoring in the Toronto game Matthews was unavailable for, the star forward is on pace for 76 markers. If he could actually do that, it would leave him in a four-way tie for fifth in the all-time single-season goal-scoring list. Along the way, he would also become the first player to reach the 70-goal mark since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny in 1992-93.

Of course, his pace has been skewed by his recent hot streak, but part of what makes Matthews impressive is how consistent he is. Dating back to Dec. 2, Matthews hasn’t had a goal drought last longer than two games (Dec. 30-Jan. 2, Jan. 13-14), and he’s provided at least one marker in 12 of his last 15 appearances.

It'll be exciting to see what he can do over the final weeks of the campaign and his pursuit of the 70-goal milestone adds an interesting wrinkle to a Hart Trophy conversation that’s been largely dominated by Nikita Kucherov and Nathan MacKinnon, who are leading the Art Trophy race with 95 points (36 goals) and 93 points (34), respectively.

Arizona Coyotes - TUE @ MTL, THU @ TOR, FRI @ OTT (BTB), SUN @ WSH

The Coyotes are on the road next week and are set to play in Montreal on Tuesday, Toronto on Thursday, Ottawa on Friday and Washington on Sunday. Although an extended road trip is far from ideal, three of those four adversaries are well outside a playoff spot.

Arizona has lost 11 straight games, so it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that there aren’t many Coyotes players who have looked great recently. That said, it’s worth keeping an eye on Dylan Guenther. With the team focused on the future, the 20-year-old is serving on the first line and top power-play unit, leading to him averaging 18:17 of ice time, including 4:39 with the man advantage, over his past four contests. He hasn’t been good, but not great so far, providing six goals and 11 points across 19 outings this season, but given his high-end offensive upside, and the choice minutes he’s been receiving, Guenther has the potential to finish the campaign on a high note.

At the other end of the spectrum, veteran forward Jason Zucker has seen his role fade, to the point where he’s logged just 10:47 per game over his last three appearances, compared to his season average of 14:06. Although the Coyotes are likely to shop him ahead of the deadline, his $5.3 million cap hit might scare off contenders, and even if he does get moved, his new team likely wouldn’t use him as more than a third liner. Zucker has had periods this campaign where he’s performed well enough to be worth utilizing in fantasy, but only managers in particularly deep leagues should be using him at this time.

On the goaltending front, Connor Ingram has been dealing with an undisclosed injury, but based on his original 7-10 day timetable from Feb. 14, he should be about ready to return. The 26-year-old goaltender has been one of the bright spots for Arizona this campaign with a 17-13-2 record, 2.76 GAA and .912 save percentage across 35 outings. He’d be worth starting in fantasy on any night next week except for Thursday versus Toronto.


The Stars will play in Colorado on Tuesday, but outside of that, they’ll be at home, hosting matches against the Islanders on Monday, the Jets on Thursday and the Sharks on Saturday. It’s one of the tougher schedules I’m highlighting, but Stars players will at least get plenty of opportunities to make an impact next week with four games ahead of them.

This hasn’t been a great campaign for Jake Oettinger, who has a 20-10-4 record, 2.98 GAA and .902 save percentage through 35 contests and he’s been particularly rough recently, allowing 10 goals on 65 shots (.846 save percentage) over his past three games. Scott Wedgewood, who has a 13-6-4 record, 2.97 GAA and .899 save percentage in 13 outings, isn’t an ideal alternative, but perhaps the backup goaltender will get some additional work next week so Oettinger can rest and regroup. If nothing else, Wedgewood should start either Monday or Tuesday. If he gets the Avalanche assignment, then it would be best to avoid him, but the Islanders are in a three-way tie for 21st offensively with 2.93 goals per game, so that would be a favorable adversary for the backup goaltender.

Goaltending hasn’t been Dallas’ only problem. The Stars have also been held to just two goals over their last two contests. Joe Pavelski has done alright in that span, providing a goal and an assist. He went through a slump from Jan. 23-Feb. 19 in which he was limited to four assists across 10 games, but the veteran forward seems to be heating up again. Even at the age of 39, he’s one of Dallas’ top performers with 20 goals and 48 points in 58 appearances.

Jamie Benn has also managed to stand out during the Stars’ recent struggles, supplying an assist in each of his last three games. He has just nine goals and 33 points through 58 outings this season, which is a major step down from his 78-point 2022-23 campaign. However, he’s been playing alongside Pavelski at even strength and serves on the top power-play unit, so Benn is in a position to be productive down the stretch.

Edmonton Oilers - MON VS LAK, WED VS STL, SAT @ SEA, SUN @ PIT (BTB)

Edmonton will host the Kings and the Blues on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. After that, the Oilers will travel to Seattle on Saturday and Pittsburgh on Sunday. LA and St. Louis are having decent, but not amazing campaigns while Seattle and Pittsburgh are behind in the battle for a wild-card spot.

The good times for Stuart Skinner appear to be behind him. He’s posted a 2-2-1 record, 4.20 GAA and .863 save percentage over his past five games, making this his worst stretch since his early season struggles. While Skinner still might shake this off and get hot again, this might create an opening for Jack Campbell, who has been paying his dues with AHL Bakersfield, to get a fresh opportunity. The veteran netminder has a .919 save percentage over his last 12 AHL appearances, so he’s settled down and would be worth keeping a close eye on if Edmonton calls him up.

While goaltending is something of a question mark for the Oilers, their offense is as strong as ever. Connor McDavid has been leading the charge as usual, providing an unreal 14 assists over his last five games alone. Meanwhile, Corey Perry seems to be fitting in with the Oilers, supplying three goals and four points over his past four contests. He hasn’t seen much power-play ice time, but he has shared the ice with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at even strength.

Perry should be a good pickup for as long as he’s seeing time on either of the top two lines, but you’ll want to continue to monitor that situation. Edmonton might still add another skilled forward before the March 8 deadline, and if they do, then Perry might shift to serving primarily on the third unit, which would significantly hurt his fantasy value.

Florida Panthers - TUE VS BUF, THU VS MTL, SAT @ DET

The Panthers are one of the rare teams I’m covering with just three scheduled games, but they’re well-positioned to win all three contests. They’ll host the Sabres and the Canadiens on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, before heading to Detroit for a match on Saturday. Of those adversaries, the Red Wings are the only ones still with playoff aspirations.

Florida has won 10 of its last 12 games, but the Panthers were dealt a potentially massive blow Thursday when Gustav Forsling and Matthew Tkachuk were forced to exit the match due to undisclosed injuries. At the time of writing, it’s not clear how significant those injuries are, but those are two key players for the Panthers.

If Tkachuk, who has 20 goals and 65 points through 57 games, is forced to miss time then William Lockwood will likely draw into the lineup for the first time since Jan. 19 and play regularly. The 25-year-old would serve primarily on the fourth line, so he wouldn’t at all be directly replacing Tkachuk, but Lockwood is a good source of hits when he is in the lineup, so he’s worthy of note in very specific fantasy circumstances.

We might also see Evan Rodrigues shift into a top-six role and move up to the first power-play unit if Tkachuk is unavailable. That would be a meaningful boost for Rodrigues, who has eight goals and 33 points through 57 appearances in 2023-24.

Forsling has eight goals and 27 points in 56 contests this season, but he’s only used sparingly with the man advantage, so his absence wouldn’t meaningfully impact the Panthers in that regard. In terms of even-strength minutes, though, we might see Oliver Ekman-Larsson asked to do significantly more. Josh Mahura would also likely start playing regularly after spending Florida’s past two contests as a healthy scratch.

Minnesota Wild - TUE VS CAR, THU @ NSH, SAT @ STL, SUN VS SJS (BTB)

Minnesota will host the Hurricanes on Tuesday, and then the Wild will have a two-game road trip with games in Nashville on Thursday and St. Louis on Saturday. They’ll conclude the week with a home contest versus the Sharks. Carolina is a tough opponent, but the Predators and the Blues are middle-of-the-road squads while San Jose is near the bottom of the pack.

With a 26-24-6 record, the Wild are running out of time to prove to management that they shouldn’t be sellers at the deadline. If they’re able to convince the front office of that, it will be thanks in large part to the efforts of their top line.

Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson Ek and Matt Boldy are three of the hottest forwards in the league. Kaprizov is on a six-game scoring streak in which he’s provided five goals and 14 points. Over the same span, Eriksson Ek has supplied seven goals and 13 points while Boldy has contributed four goals and 11 points. Minnesota has gone from 17-20-5 on Jan. 13 to 26-24-6 at the time of writing, which is a significant climb, but the Wild are still on the outside looking in on the wild-card race. The Wild have little margin for error, which might serve to further motivate that star trio.

If Minnesota does start selling, though, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will likely be among those moved. The 39-year-old is having a rough campaign with an 11-10-3 record, 2.96 GAA and .897 save percentage across 27 contests, but contenders will appreciate the added goaltending depth he can provide coupled with the wealth of playoff experience he brings to the table. It’s worth monitoring the situation because, with a strong team playing in front of him, Fleury might have some use down the stretch, although his playing time will likely be limited.

Should the Wild deal Fleury and write off this campaign, it will be interesting to see if they give Jesper Wallstedt another shot. He had a disastrous introduction to the NHL, allowing seven goals on 34 shots to Dallas on Jan. 10, but that’s obviously a small sample size and the 21-year-old is a highly regarded goaltending prospect, so it might be worth it to give him some starts down the stretch to provide him with more NHL experience. Alternatively, if the Wild believe his development is better served remaining with AHL Iowa, then veteran journeyman Zane McIntyre might finish the campaign with Minnesota. In that scenario, Filip Gustavsson would likely be leaned on massively down the stretch, as would McIntyre in Iowa.

New Jersey Devils - TUE @ SJS, FRI @ ARI, SUN @ LAK

The Devils will spend the week on the road, playing against the Sharks on Tuesday, the Coyotes on Friday and the Kings on Sunday. Although they’re playing in just three games, Anaheim and San Jose rank 30th and 31st, respectively, in the standings, which makes Devils players especially appealing next week.

Nico Daws has allowed 11 goals over his past two games, bringing him down to 6-8-0 with a 3.32 GAA and .895 save percentage through 14 appearances this season. Vitek Vanecek (lower body) might return soon, but he has a 17-9-3 record, 3.18 GAA and .890 save percentage in 32 contests, so he’s hardly an ideal alternative.

New Jersey will likely make a strong push to get a goaltender before the deadline. Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom seems like one possibility, provided he’s willing to waive his no-movement clause to facilitate a trade. If they get him or another netminder, then Daws will likely be sent to the minors while Vanecek, who is in the second season of his three-year, $10.2 million contract, would be relegated to the backup role.

At least the Devils have a strong forward corps. Tyler Toffoli isn’t the headliner of it, but he’s certainly a noteworthy component. The 31-year-old is on a four-game scoring streak (two goals, four points), which brings him up to 24 goals and 39 points in 55 contests this season. Jack Hughes is also dialled in with three goals and six points over his past six appearances.

Ottawa Senators - MON @ WSH, TUE @ NSH (BTB), FRI VS ARI, SAT @ PHI (BTB)

Ottawa will open the week with road contests versus the Capitals on Monday and the Predators on Tuesday. The Senators will then host the Coyotes on Friday before playing in Philadelphia on Saturday. None of those opponents is high-end, though Nashville still has playoff aspirations while Philadelphia is currently in a reasonably secure position in the battle for a postseason berth.

The Senators won’t make the playoffs, but that won’t be for lack of trying on the part of Claude Giroux. The 36-year-old forward is on a seven-game scoring streak in which he’s collected three goals and nine points. That gives him 18 goals and 51 points through 54 outings in 2023-24. Giroux’s three-year, $19.5 million contract runs through 2024-25, and he has a no-movement clause, so he’s unlikely to be traded before the deadline, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s any temptation there for him to reevaluate his plans. He’s never won a Cup, and Ottawa might not be able to provide him with a great shot at a serious playoff run before his contract is up.

Still, that’s a decision Giroux is more likely to make next season. Instead, Vladimir Tarasenko, who is playing through a one-year, $5 million deal, is far more likely to be moved in the coming weeks. It is worth noting that he has a full no-trade clause, so Tarasenko will have a lot of sway over where he goes. The 32-year-old winger has 15 goals and 37 points over 52 contests this season and would be a great middle-six forward for most contenders.

As Ottawa sells and looks toward the future, Ridly Greig might also start playing an expanded role. The 21-year-old has nine goals and 21 points in 44 outings while averaging 14:27 of ice time, including a modest 0:43 with the man advantage. In particular, that power-play time might expand down the stretch, which could aid Greig in finishing the campaign on a positive note.

Washington Capitals - MON VS OTT, TUE @ DET (BTB), FRI VS PHI, SUN VS ARI

The Capitals will spend most of the week at home, hosting Ottawa on Monday, Philadelphia on Friday and Arizona on Sunday. The Capitals will also have a brief excursion to Detroit for a contest Tuesday. The Senators and the Coyotes are set to be sellers at the deadline, making them the more vulnerable of the Capitals’ upcoming adversaries.

Alex Ovechkin was limited to just six goals and 20 points across his first 33 games in 2023-24, but that rough stretch is well behind him. First, he provided an impressive two goals and seven points through six games from Dec. 30-Jan. 11, then the 38-year-old truly caught fire starting on Jan. 24, contributing eight goals and 14 points over his past 10 appearances.

Ovechkin’s resurgence isn’t shocking -- he always seems to find a way to bounce back when people start writing him off -- but Connor McMichael’s recent success is eyebrow-raising. The 23-year-old has supplied four tallies over his last two games and five goals in his past four appearances. That brings him up to 12 goals and 22 points through 53 contests this campaign. It helps that he’s been playing in a somewhat expanded role recently, averaging 16:11 of ice time over his past eight contests compared to 15:07 prior to that point. Keep an eye on him because while McMichael has been somewhat slow to establish himself in the NHL, he does have serious potential.

It's not all good news for Washington, though. T.J. Oshie sustained a lower-body injury Thursday. If he ends up missing time, then Sonny Milano might serve in an expanded role. Milano has five goals and 10 points in 26 contests, including two points over three games since returning from his own injury.