Navigating a new season is difficult in all fantasy sports, but the NHL is showing more and more statistical and player turnover from year to year, and it makes the beginning of the year challenging to project.
Opening Night showcased one glaring example, as the Flyers scored five times in San Jose. Last season, Philadelphia averaged just 2.32 goals per road game, which ranked 22nd in the league.
Of course, the new dilemma moving forward is how to evaluate the results that will unfold over the next two weeks. Sticking with the Philadelphia example, what should carry more weight, the Flyers poor road numbers last season or their five-goal outburst Wednesday?
“Small sample size” is a phrase that is tossed around a lot in the fantasy racket, and for good reason. But it would be silly to ignore Wednesday’s biggest takeaway, which was San Jose’s poor home showing. Additionally, at first glance, there is a lot to like about the Sharks. However, there are some serious holes in that roster.
So, while ignoring last season’s statistics is ill-advised, being a slave to them could be even more disadvantageous. Past results aren’t concrete predictors of future outcomes, after all.
With that in mind, here are a number of things to keep tabs on in the early stages of the season that can help your fantasy game — even if they’ve only happened in a small sample.
Power-play unit construction
Are teams loading up a clear No. 1 power-play unit, or are they spreading their scorers across two groups. Additionally, is there a surprising addition to one of the units?
Continuing the focus on Wednesday’s games, the Penguins, Sharks and Flyers all loaded up top units, whereas the Jets and Maple Leafs spread out talent across both man-advantage groups.
Mark Letestu was a mainstay on the Oilers’ top PP unit last season, but it was surprising to see Adam Lowry serve as the net-front presence for Winnipeg’s No. 1 unit. These lineup wrinkles shouldn’t be ignored, and more will present themselves over the coming weeks.
Take your pick between looking at shot attempts or just shots that qualify, but high-volume shooters are particularly important in daily contests because of the floor they provide. Oscar Klefbom registered nine shots on net Wednesday, and Alex Pietrangelo was a close second with eight. If Klefbom is that trigger happy and possesses the puck that frequently in the offensive zone, he’s going to have a monster season.
It’s going to take a few weeks for sustainable and unsustainable shooting percentages to emerge, both in terms of being too high and too low. However, buying low on a shooter with poor puck luck is a strategy to keep in mind as we pass mid-October.
However, it’s important to remember that outlier seasons are possible, and not every one scorer will have a Filip Forsberg-type turnaround. Rickard Rakell maintained an impressive shooting percentage for the majority of last season, whereas teammate Corey Perry was snake-bitten all year.
Still, Forsberg’s season was the wildest. He scored two goals with a 3.1 shooting percentage through the first 27 games of the season, and then scored 24 with a 21.2 mark through his next 36 contests.
Those examples highlight that keeping shooting percentage in mind is important with early-season heaters and slumps, but sometimes both the success and struggles continue.