Unwrapping NHL’s December schedule

Nearly two months since the first puck dropped, we’re already more than one-quarter of the way through the regular season. The NHL’s Christmas break, though still a few weeks off, is definitely within sight. Fantasy success through the dozen or so games scheduled for each team between now and Dec. 23 could go a long way towards placing your fantasy team into a good situation for 2019.

A handful of clubs rank behind the rest of the league in terms of goals allowed — a quartet made up of the Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, and Vancouver Canucks. Taking a closer look at the December schedule, with an eye towards other defensively generous clubs, both overall and in more recent results (Chicago Blackhawks, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens), we’ve identified six squads who theoretically should have an edge in production once we turn to the final page of this year’s calendar. Also factored into the mix are each team’s number of games, the schedule rhythm (where the days off fall), and the home-road split.

Whether your fantasy squad is governed by weekly or daily settings — or even if DFS is more your bag — exploiting skaters from the following organizations could gift you a positive advantage in scoring statistics before Santa finishing making his annual rounds.


Nashville Predators

Schedule summary: The cream of the Western Conference might face the most charitable competition of anyone between now and late December, with a pair of contests against both the Senators and Canucks. Additionally, a match-up with the fumbling Flyers, along with another pair versus the Blackhawks lays the foundation for a very productive month.

Fantasy stars: C/LW Filip Forsberg, C Ryan Johansen, C/LW/RW Kevin Fiala, RW Viktor Arvidsson (IR), D P.K. Subban (IR), D Roman Josi, D Ryan Ellis

Supporting cast: An undisclosed injury suffered by Kyle Turris means that Calle Jarnkrok (rostered in 0.8 percent of ESPN.com leagues) is earning a turn as the Predators’ second-line center. … Winger Craig Smith, who has been a little quieter of late, tends to produce in fits and spurts. He should be monitored closely for his next outburst. … Following his suspension, Austin Watson has four goals (including a hat-trick) and two assists in seven games, skating alongside Nick Bonino. For the right price, the 26-year-old could be a difference-maker in DFS play.


Columbus Blue Jackets

Schedule summary: With a hearty portion of 13 games on their plate, the Blue Jackets will be a busy bunch in the following three-plus weeks. Matches against the Islanders and Canucks, along with a pair versus the Flyers, highlight an opportunistic pre-holiday stretch. In fact, outside of facing the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, Columbus — ranked No. 5 in scoring to date — stands a good opportunity to put up some serious numbers ahead of the league’s three-day snooze.

Fantasy stars: C/LW Artemi Panarin, RW Cam Atkinson, C/LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, D Seth Jones, D Zach Werenski

Supporting cast: The second scoring line of Nick Foligno (39.6 percent), Boone Jenner (4.6 percent), and Josh Anderson (45.1 percent) has combined for 11 points in three games. Anderson, in particular, is in a regular goal-scoring groove this season with 11 already in the back of the net for the year. The 24-year-old could quietly pot 30 this campaign, catching the bulk of us by surprise. … On the blue line, Ryan Murray has five assists in seven games and, consequently, some usefulness in deeper leagues.


Detroit Red Wings

Schedule summary: Like the Blue Jackets, the Red Wings sport a jammed December schedule with 13 matches in 23 days. Two contests with the Islanders, plus games against the Lightning, Kings, Senators, Flyers, and Panthers present themselves as stand-alone high-scoring affairs. Even a couple of visits to Toronto could yield the Red Wings their fair share of goals, since the Maple leafs haven’t been all that stingy in their own end of late. Remember, for our fantasy purposes in this anlysis, Detroit doesn’t need to win. They just need to score.

Fantasy stars: C Dylan Larkin, RW Anthony Mantha

Supporting cast: Defenseman Mike Green (12.5 percent) remains overwhelmingly (and incomprehensibly) under-appreciated throughout the fantasy universe. Since returning from injury in late October, the veteran has 13 points in 15 games (and a plus-9!), while averaging 22 minutes per game. … Rookie blue-liner Dennis Cholowski (7.3 percent) sports his own brand of appeal as he’s currently anchoring the club’s top power play. A good seven of Cholowski’s collection of 12 points have come with the extra skater. Managers in dynasty leagues should give the No. 20-overall draft selection of 2016 an extra-long look before he develops further. … Up front, Andreas Athanasiou (7.1 percent) is on a relative tear with 11 goals in 16 games, plus four assists, skating on a line with Gustav Nyquist and Frans Nielsen. The 24-year-old forward has also since earned a spot on Detroit’s No. 1 power-play unit.


Colorado Avalanche

Schedule summary: Split evenly between home tilts and contests on the road, Colorado faces a dozen pre-holiday games against a gaggle of predominantly less-stingy clubs like the Panthers, Penguins, Lightning, Islanders, Canadiens, and Blackhawks. A pair against an oft-shaky Jake Allen and the Blues also offers much appeal. Assuming goalie Mikko Koskinen settles down somewhat from his current high, a visit from the Edmonton Oilers should also prove fruitful.

Fantasy stars: C Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen, LW Gabriel Landeskog, D Tyson Barrie (DTD)

Supporting cast: Often heralded (and not altogether wrongly so) as a one-line show, the Avalanche nonetheless have a bit more fantasy upside to contribute beyond MacKinnon’s deadly trio. In particular, 20-year-old Tyson Jost (0.2 percent) offers some significant secondary pop, collecting eight points in 10 games this November, including a couple of power-play goals. Drafted No. 10 overall in 2016, the sophomore forward is expected to come more into his own this season. … On the blue line, fellow 20-year-old Samuel Girard (1.6 percent) is already displaying a proclivity for producing in bunches. He has a dozen points on the season, including seven with the man-advantage. Both Jost and Girard sport appeal in both deeper re-draft and dynasty leagues, in addition to DFS competition.


Boston Bruins

Schedule summary: Here’s a fun fact for you — the Bruins don’t play the same team twice between now and Christmas. Also fun for Boston’s scorers, substantially more than half of those 12 matchups project to be on the favorable side.

Fantasy stars: LW Brad Marchand, C Patrice Bergeron (IR), David Pastrnak RW/LW, D Torey Krug, D Charlie McAvoy (IR)

Supporting cast: With Bergeron out until around Christmas, AHL regular Colby Cave (0.0 percent) is the latest to earn a shot at centering a top line with Marchand and Pastrnak. Keep watch of how that unfolds, especially with an eye towards DFS play. … Second-line forward Jake DeBrusk (51.5 percent) has seven goals in 10 games and is currently competing on Boston’s top power play.


Buffalo Sabres

Schedule summary: The hottest team in hockey has a couple of tilts against the porous Panthers, plus meetings with the Flyers, Kings, and Coyotes (with both Antti Raanta and backup Darcy Kuemper hurt) on the pre-Yuletide schedule. Not that strength of schedule matters as much when you’re this sizzling hot on the ice.

Fantasy stars: C Jack Eichel, LW Jeff Skinner, C Casey Mittelstadt, C/RW Sam Reinhart, D Rasmus Ristolainen

Supporting cast: Skating on the No. 1 unit with the man-advantage and secondary scoring line centered by Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo (18.2 percent) has seven points in his past nine games. Participating on that Sabres’ top power play through December should allow for an additional spooling up in special-teams production. At a minimum, consider subbing in the 30-year-old power forward for an injured fantasy asset. … If somehow, some way, Rasmus Dahlin (59.6 percent) is available in your league, snatch him up immediately. It took a bit, but the rookie defenseman (nine points in nine games) is now showing all of us why he was selected first overall in this summer’s draft.

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