Buffalo might be in a bit of trouble. Losers of four of their past six, the Sabres are only three points clear of the basement-dwelling Senators in the Atlantic. Their power play – a strength in 2022-23 – is a mess, flailing about at 10.6%. Averaging 2.88 goals/game ain’t going to cut it either. Now Don Granato’s squad – who many pegged as playoff contenders ahead of October’s puck drop – is forced to manage without their best forward in Tage Thompson. Unfortunately, after blocking a shot with his hand in Tuesday’s loss to the Bruins, Thompson is expected to “miss significant time”. That language adds up to weeks, if not months.
Fortunately, Alex Tuch is due back imminently, as in maybe even this Friday in Winnipeg. For the Sabres to turn matters around in a positive direction, they’ll need to get the most from their best up front, including Tuch, fellow winger Jeff Skinner, and projected Thompson sub at top center, Dylan Cozens. Sluggish as a scoring force even since before suffering an upper-body injury in early November, Cozens is now afforded a prime opportunity to reassert himself as a reliable contributor and valuable fantasy asset. Beginning end of this week against the Jets.
Six teams are off altogether until the weekend, including some present day powerhouses like the Rangers, Bruins, and Stars. The less formidable Wild and Predators are also idle, along with the Capitals, who are winning games via a strong group scoring effort. Which doesn’t do much for fantasy managers altogether.
Other Wednesday to Friday highlights include the (winning) Panthers relishing more of the California sunshine with stops in L.A. and Anaheim, Vancouver hosting the struggling Islanders before visiting Calgary, and the Maple Leafs, Senators, and Red Wings enjoying some Global Series weekday matinee action in Sweden.
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Jacob Markstrom, G, Calgary Flames: I’m cautiously on board with Calgary’s No. 1 once more. Often the club’s best player to start this season, Markstrom was again healthy, and very good, against the Canadiens Tuesday, stopping 34 of 35 shots for the 2-1 victory. Don’t look now, but Calgary is 3-1-1 in their past five. Hey, baby steps, right?
Also keep a sharp eye on forward Connor Zary, who’s developing a lovely on-ice relationship with Nazem Kadri. Since making his NHL debut last week, the rookie – drafted 24th overall in 2020 – has three goals and three assists on shots through half a dozen games.
Cole Perfetti, F, Winnipeg Jets: After collecting six assists in six games, Perfetti has since discovered how to find the back of the net himself, scoring a goal in four straight (plus tossing in one helper). The chemistry with linemate Nikolaj Ehlers is forming just fine. This young forward should be on a much greater number of fantasy rosters.
Erik Gudbranson, D, Columbus Blue Jackets: The Columbus defender is currently in a scoring mood. After posting a series of goose-eggs through eight games to start 2023-24, Gudbranson has a goal and six assists in his past seven. Not too shabby for a fantasy asset who usually rewards his managers with hits and a healthy dose of blocked-shots. Take advantage of all the veteran blueliner has to offer before he cools off once more.
Pyotr Kochetkov, G, Carolina Hurricanes That most recent shutout of the Lightning was impressive enough. One more stumbling performance from Antti Raanta, and Kochetkov could quickly become the busier of Carolina’s two netminders.
Ilya Sorokin, G, New York Islanders: New York’s No. 1 netminder hasn’t won a game since Oct. 26, and sports the negative fantasy digits to match. While Sorokin is hardly entirely to blame for that lack of success, I’m still not playing him in Vancouver on Wednesday. Or Semyon Varlamov, should he earn the start against the Canucks instead.
Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Detroit Red Wings: His recent benching didn’t help much. After sitting as a healthy scratch against the Canadiens last week, Gostisbehere responded with a point-less, minus-one showing – one that lasted fewer than 16 minutes – versus the Blue Jackets. That’s not going to get you back into your coach’s good books. Especially when you haven’t earned a single point since Oct. 24. At minimum, bench Gostisbehere until he shows signs of a turnaround.
Jeff Petry, D, Detroit Red Wings: Unlike his blue-line colleague (Gostisbehere), Petry is offering solid fantasy returns these days by way of pitching in assists and blocking shots. Not coincidentally, he’s now also seeing a bump in ice-time. Stream him against the Sens and Leafs in Sweden.
Casey DeSmith, G, Vancouver Canucks: If Thatcher Demko is to start against the Islanders Tuesday, as anticipated, DeSmith can likely count on getting the nod in Calgary the following evening. While I do feel the Flames are trending in the right direction, DeSmith has been too effective for a great Canucks club when offered the chance to help out. His last two wins in Montreal and Ottawa were particularly impressive.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Florida Panthers: The Florida defender is piling up the fantasy points in earning three goals and four assists – five-on-five and with the extra skater – plus some blocked shots, in his past six contests. I’m streaming Ekman-Larsson whenever possible until he runs out of scoring gas. Which may happen soon after Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad return from injury.