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NHL: DADOUN – THE FANTASY WEEK AHEAD – A look at the playoff race – Teams with favourable schedules and players to target

Last week I touched on Detroit’s losing streak, but the Red Wings’ situation has since stabilized. The Red Wings have won three of their past four games and earned a 6-3 victory in a key contest against the Islanders on Thursday. The Red Wings (36-28-6) now have a three-point edge over Washington (33-26-9) in the battle for the second wild-card spot, though Washington has two games in hand, so Detroit still has no margin for error.

At this stage, it looks like the fight for the final playoff seed in the East will come down to Detroit and Washington, but the Islanders (29-25-15), New Jersey (34-32-5), Buffalo (33-33-5) and even Pittsburgh (30-29-9) all have an outside chance of squeaking into the playoffs. Would it be shocking if, say, the Penguins earned a postseason berth? Absolutely, but it’s at least a mathematic possibility at the time of writing.

The final wild-card slot in the Western Conference is slightly more secure. Vegas (37-25-7) has a four-point edge over St. Louis (37-30-3) and a five-point lead over Minnesota (34-28-8) despite playing in one game less than either team. The Golden Knights likely still need to be solid down the stretch to secure their playoff berth, but at least they have a bit of breathing room.

The Blues and Wild are Vegas’ only real competition, but there is still an outside chance of a Cinderella story involving Calgary (33-30-5) or Seattle (28-28-12).

The Golden Knights still also have a path to earn the third seed in the Pacific Division over Los Angeles (36-22-11), though I’d almost say it doesn’t matter. Getting the third seed would put the Golden Knights on track to face Edmonton in the first round instead of Winnipeg, Colorado, Dallas or Vancouver. All five of those potential adversaries are great, so Vegas will have a tough first round either as a wild-card team or as the third seed in the Pacific Division.

Either way, the battle for the last playoff spots should be fun.

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 24: Anaheim Ducks goalie Lukas Dostal (1) in warm up before a game between the Boston Bruins and the Anaheim Ducks on January 24, 2022, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Anaheim Ducks - TUE @ SEA, THU @ SEA, SAT @ EDM, SUN @ VAN (BTB)

Anaheim is set to play on the road all of next week. They have back-to-back contests against Seattle on Tuesday and Thursday, followed by games in Edmonton on Saturday and Vancouver on Sunday. It’s certainly not an easy schedule, especially on the back half, but the Ducks are one of the few teams scheduled to play four games, so they’re still worthy of mention.

Trevor Zegras hasn’t been in the lineup since Jan. 9 because of an ankle injury, but he has been able to resume practicing without restriction, which suggests that he’s close to returning. After exceeding the 60-point milestone in each of his previous two campaigns, he has just four goals and seven points in 20 outings this year. There’s a good chance he’ll at least be able to finish the year on a positive note, but regardless of what happens, it’s important you remember him for next season’s fantasy drafts. The 23-year-old forward should enjoy a comeback campaign, provided he gets better luck on the injury front.

The 2024-25 campaign should also be one of progress for Leo Carlsson, who has recorded nine goals and 24 points in 43 games as a rookie this season. In the meantime, though, he suffered a lower-body injury Thursday, so his status for next week’s contests is undetermined. If he can’t play then Isac Lundestrom might serve in a top-six capacity, but honestly rather than that be an opportunity for Lundestrom, it would just highlight the sorry state of the Ducks. The 24-year-old has just six points (four goals) in 34 contests this year and likely won’t do much offensively even if he moves up to the second line.

At least they have goaltender Lukas Dostal, who has done alright lately, posting a 2.69 GAA and a .916 save percentage over his past eight games. That’s worlds better than John Gibson’s 5.80 GAA (yes, really) and .833 save percentage in his past four outings. Given the disparity in their play, Dostal should get the majority of the remaining starts.


The Sabres are likely to miss the playoffs for the 13th consecutive campaign, extending their record for the longest postseason drought in NHL history. However, they still have an outside shot of squeaking into the playoffs. In order to keep that hope alive, they’ll likely need to win all three of their contests against Ottawa on Wednesday, New Jersey on Friday and Toronto on Saturday. It’s a tall order, but at least the Sabres will have the home-ice advantage in all those games.

With Buffalo’s postseason hopes all but dashed, Jeff Skinner will likely have to wait even longer to make his first playoff appearance. The 31-year-old is approaching 1,000 career regular-season contests. This hasn’t been his best campaign, but Skinner has been alright with 24 goals and 45 points in 63 outings. He also earned his seventh career hat trick Monday when he led Buffalo in its 6-2 victory over Seattle.

Tage Thompson is surely hoping he won’t have to wait nearly as long as Skinner to get into the playoffs. However, if Thompson had played like he did in 2022-23 (47 goals, 94 points), perhaps the Sabres’ fortunes would have been different this campaign. Instead, he’s been alright, but not great with 21 goals and 43 points through 60 outings. The 27-year-old might end the season on a positive note, though. He’s on a four-game scoring streak in which Thompson has provided a goal and six points.

Meanwhile, Bowen Byram is just 22, but his name is already on the Cup thanks to his time with the Avalanche. Now a member of the Sabres, Byram is playing a prominent role and has taken advantage of that opportunity. He’s recorded three goals, six points, 17 blocks and 17 hits in eight contests while averaging 23:53 of ice time. Byram has even averaged a healthy 2:39 with the man advantage as a member of the Sabres, though the presence of Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power means the fight for power-play ice time will always be fierce among Buffalo defensemen.

Columbus Blue Jackets – TUE @ ARI, THU @ PIT, SAT VS PIT

This will mark the Blue Jackets’ fourth straight season without a playoff berth. Nothing they do now will alter the fact that it’s been a rough campaign, but they can at least end things on a positive note. It helps that they’ll be facing other non-playoff teams next week – they’ll play in Arizona on Tuesday, in Pittsburgh on Thursday and then host the Penguins on Saturday.

Johnny Gaudreau isn’t the reason Columbus will be missing the playoffs, though it is true he hasn’t lived up to expectations. His 55 points (11 goals) through 69 outings, would mark the lowest point-per-game pace of his career if the season ended now. However, Gaudreau has contributed a goal and six points in his past four contests, so the stage is set for him to finish the campaign on a positive note.

The same might be true of Alexander Nylander, who has eight goals and 11 points in 13 contests since being acquired by Columbus from Pittsburgh. The 26-year-old forward was held off the scoresheet in his previous two games, and it’s reasonable for fantasy managers to wonder if this is the right time to jump ship, especially because he doesn’t have a track record of success beyond his recent stretch. Personally, I recommend waiting a little longer though to see if his production picks up again. Keep in mind, Nylander is being utilized on the Blue Jackets’ top line and first power-play unit, which are roles that he hasn’t enjoyed for any noteworthy stretch until now, so there might be more to his production than a mere hot streak. I’m not saying that his new role has transformed him into a superstar, but he might still do well enough to be fantasy relevant the rest of the way.

Daniil Tarasov might have value going forward too. The 24-year-old has been subpar in 2023-24 with a 7-9-3 record, 3.20 GAA and .903 save percentage across 20 appearances, but he’s been far better dating back to Feb. 21, posting a 2.30 GAA and .934 save percentage over nine games. His strong play has led to the Blue Jackets increasingly using him over Elvis Merzlikins.

Ottawa Senators – WED @ BUF, THU VS CHI, SAT @ WPG 

Ottawa will begin next week with a breather before playing in Buffalo on Wednesday. The Senators will then host Chicago on Thursday and play in Winnipeg on Saturday. Like Ottawa, the Sabres and Blackhawks are having campaigns and aren’t expected to make the playoffs (Chicago has been mathematically eliminated while Buffalo has just a fringe chance of a wild-card spot), so those are two winnable games.

Ottawa is in a four-way tie for 28th defensively with 3.59 goals per game despite having an xGA/60 of 2.94, which ties the Senators for 11th overall. Those two stats in combination suggest is Ottawa’s defense is underrated and has been made to look bad this year due to poor goaltending. A case could be made that Joonas Korpisalo has been this year’s worst starter, ranking last in Goals Saved Above Expected at minus-19.4. In terms of his base stats line, he has a 15-21-4 record, 3.37 GAA and .887 save percentage in 44 contests. While it would be an oversimplification to say that Ottawa isn’t making the playoffs because of Korpisalo, it is fair to say that his terrible play has been a key factor.

Unfortunately, it seems the Senators overvalued his strong 2022-23 campaign when they inked Korpisalo to a five-year contract. While he had a Goals Saved Above Expected of 12.7 last season, he finished in the negatives in each campaign from 2017-18 through 2021-22, so performing below average relative to the team in front of him appears to be the norm for Korpisalo rather than the exception. This is all to say that if you’re looking for the 29-year-old goaltender to rebound in 2024-25, you’re making a risky bet that likely won’t pay off.

Not that Anton Forsberg, who has a 12-12-0 record, 3.42 GAA and .885 save percentage in 25 outings in 2023-24, is good either.  Forsberg is signed through 2024-25 at a cap hit of $2.75 million, so Ottawa might have this unfortunate duo again next year. If that’s the case, it’s hard to see them making the playoffs in 2024-25 either.

That’s unfortunate for Claude Giroux, who is 36 years old and consequently running out of chances to make another run at the Cup. If the direction of the Senators has been weighing on him, though, he hasn’t let that bleed into his game. He’s still provided a goal and five points over his past six contests, giving him 19 goals and 58 points through 68 outings overall. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the veteran finish the season on a high note. That should also be true of Brady Tkachuk, who has provided four goals and five points over his past four contests.

The goaltending clearly needs work, but with players like Giroux and Tkachuk leading the forward corps, at least that aspect of the Senators is strong.

Philadelphia Flyers – TUE @ NYR, THU @ MTL, SAT VS CHI

The Flyers are set to play on the road against the Rangers on Tuesday and the Canadiens on Thursday before hosting the Blackhawks on Saturday. While the Rangers are a tough adversary, Philadelphia has a golden chance to collect four points against Montreal and Chicago as it looks to secure its playoff spot.

The biggest story in Philadelphia is coach John Tortorella scratching Sean Couturier for the Flyers’ 4-3 win over Toronto on Tuesday and 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Thursday. This comes after a stretch in which Couturier registered just three assists and had a minus-13 rating over 14 games from Feb. 15-March 19. He also has only six points (one goal) in his last 23 contests, undoing his solid start to the campaign -- 30 points (10 markers) through his first 41 appearances.

Maybe this time off will allow him to reset and come back stronger. He’ll certainly be a player to watch closely next week because when Couturier’s at his best, he’s a strong top-line option.

In the meantime, Owen Tippett has been leading the Flyers’ attack. He has three goals and eight points over his past five games, bringing him up to 25 goals and 46 points through 66 outings this year. The 25-year-old is just two goals and three points shy of his career highs.

Morgan Frost is also on a five-game scoring streak, totaling three goals and seven points in that span. He hasn’t had an amazing campaign overall (12 goals and 38 points in 59 games), but the 24-year-old has been centering the top line and serving on the first power-play unit during Couturier’s absence. Given how well he’s done in that role, Frost might continue to feature prominently even after Couturier slides back into the lineup.

Pittsburgh Penguins – TUE VS CAR, THU VS CBJ, SAT @ CBJ

The Penguins have faded out of the playoff picture at this point and things aren’t going to get any easier when they host the Hurricanes on Tuesday. The silver lining is Pittsburgh does have a home-and-away series against the lowly Blue Jackets, which will take place Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

Michael Bunting, who Pittsburgh acquired from Carolina in the Jake Guentzel trade, seems to be settling in with his new team. He’s on a three-game scoring streak and has recorded a point in four of his last five contests, totaling two goals and two assists in that span. He’s seeing time on the top power-play unit and alongside Evgeni Malkin at even strength, so Bunting seems set to have a solid finish to the campaign.

Bryan Rust is looking to finish on a high note too. He’s been limited to 48 games this season due to injury, but he has been effective when healthy with 21 goals and 41 points. The 31-year-old has done particularly well recently, providing three goals and five points across his last four contests.

Lastly, while it doesn’t have fantasy relevance, you might want to pay attention to Jeff Carter. The 39-year-old is dealing with an upper-body issue, but when he returns, he’ll likely be playing out the last games of his career. While it’s possible he’ll pursue a new contract once his present one expires this summer, he likely won’t find any takers. He’s been held to nine goals and 12 points in 61 outings this campaign. Still, Carter has had a storied career, scoring 440 goals in 1,310 career games and playing a significant role in Los Angeles’ Stanley Cup victories in 2012 and 2014.


Seattle will start the week with a pair of favorable home matchups against the lowly Ducks on Tuesday and Thursday. After that two-game series, the Kraken will host the Stars on Saturday.

Vince Dunn hasn’t played since March 4 due to an upper-body injury, and he doesn’t appear to be close to returning. He’s been a key offensive defenseman for the Kraken this campaign, providing 11 goals and 45 points in 57 games. Due to Dunn’s absence, Brian Dumoulin has seen an uptick in even-strength minutes, while Ryker Evans was summoned from AHL Coachella Valley and has received a power-play role.

Evans has done decently during Dunn’s absence, recording three assists -- all with the man advantage -- in the last seven games. He’s also played with a physical edge, accumulating eight PIM and 16 hits in the same span. Once Dunn returns, Evans might lose his spot in the lineup, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue to make those kinds of contributions until Dunn’s back.

Seattle’s forward corps hasn’t done great this campaign and Seattle’s attack has been particularly lackluster recently, totaling just five goals in four games from March 14-21. Still, Oliver Bjorkstrand has been a rare bright spot with a goal and three points during that stretch. He also has five goals and eight points over his last 11 contests to put his cold spell from Jan. 30-Feb. 24 (one assist in eight outings) well behind him.

As poor as the Kraken’s offense has been, Anaheim has done even worse, ranking 30th offensively with just 2.49 goals per game. It wouldn’t be surprising to see goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Joey Daccord split the two-game set against the Ducks, and both netminders would be a good play versus Anaheim.

Vegas Golden Knights – MON @ STL, TUE @ NAS, (BTB), THU @ WPG, SAT @ MIN

The Golden Knights are one of the few teams set to play four games next week, though they’ll be on the road for that stretch. They’ll play in St. Louis on Monday, Nashville on Tuesday, Winnipeg on Thursday and Minnesota on Saturday. It’s not the easiest schedule, but the Golden Knights’ hold on the second wild-card spot is loose, so they’ll need to find a way to win a good chunk of those contests.

Their pursuit of a playoff berth has been complicated by Adin Hill, who has struggled mightily with a 3.90 GAA and an .872 save percentage over his last seven games. By contrast, Logan Thompson has saved 41 of 43 shots (.953 save percentage) over his last two contests, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Vegas pivot to Thompson, at least in the short term. Earlier in the campaign, the Golden Knights might have been more open to riding out Hill’s cold spell in the hopes that he’d rebound, but they don’t really have that luxury at this stage.

In terms of offense, it’s been defenseman Shea Theodore who has led the charge. The 28-year-old has collected 15 assists in 14 outings since returning from an upper-body injury. That’s propelled him to four goals and 33 points across 34 outings in 2023-24. Theodore has missed significant portions of the last two campaigns due to injury, but he would likely breach the 50-point milestone for the second time in his career if he manages to stay healthy next season.

Meanwhile, blueliner Noah Hanifin seems to be settling in fine with Vegas. He has four assists, a plus-3 rating, 10 blocks and 10 hits in seven contests since being acquired from the Flames. Hanifin’s also averaging 22:09 of ice time with Vegas, though he’s only on the second power-play unit, which limits his offensive potential a bit.