Hutch’s Hockey: Do not stand out

With a week of fantasy playoffs in the books, I stay confident in my teams. I have overcome some deficits – others were a little too much due to declining players. It’s the breaks at this time of year. If you’re still on the hunt for a championship, now is not the time to worry about past failures and close calls for decisions on the roster.

This week, for most leagues, is the fantasy semifinal round. Win this matchup and you will be competing for the title. You need players with momentum who can chip in across the board to propel you past your opponent. In the last week, few players have done better than Jordan Staal. He scored a hat-trick on Sunday and scored a total of seven points, a plus-5 rating and 11 hits in his last four games. He has endured a tough season while slipping more firmly into a third-line role in a deep offensive, but it’s all old news. He’s doing a good job right now, and fantasy managers should hope the captain leads by example against Rangers, Red Wings and Avalanche next week.

If there was one thing that kept me from going all-in on Robert Thomas, it was the lack of shooting. Throughout his young career, he has been a playmaking center – and that’s fine, but it does not create the same kind of attention in points leagues as a goal scorer does. Something has clicked for him lately as he enters this week on a nine-game points series with six goals and 11 assists in that span. He has added a solid 15 shots on the net and a plus-8 rating. Like the Hurricanes, the Blues have a deep offensive and a lot to play for down to the thread, which is a recipe for success for Thomas.

If you want more of a physical edge from your center depth, Josh Norris is your guy. He has scored six goals, six assists, 34 shots on the net and eight hits in his last nine games. The 22-year-old has only been kept off the goal list once in that time. It’s hard to imagine a 32-goal scorer sitting on many dispensation lines, but it’s easy to ignore a lot of senators’ attackers outside of Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle. Norris is a top-liner with this team, and although he has shot 21.3 percent this season, it looks like any potential regression is next year’s problem.

Victor Olofsson is back and making noise on the powerplay again. He has picked up 10 points, 25 shots on the net and a plus-2 rating in his last 10 games. Most importantly, four of these points have come with the male advantage. The Sabers’ offense is not much to brag about, but they have a week of four games ahead, including a game against the leaky Maple Leafs and a home-and-home with the Flyers. Olofsson is likely to be a big part of any success they find in the stretch given his latest quality on offense.

I would not buy into Noah Hanifin just for his four-assist game against Kraken on Saturday. Instead, expand the range and you will see that he has earned 13 points in his last 13 appearances with a plus-17 rating and 32 shots on the net. Again, this is the time of year when you get as much category coverage as you can. Hanifin fits the bill on the blue line, especially since the Kraken and Coyotes are two of the Flames’ three opponents this week. He is also not afraid to block a shot, with 75 in 71 appearances this season.

I’ve been excited about the top line Jake DeBrusk since the results started matching the role in mid-February. He has screwed up the offense again with four multipoint bets in his last six games, scoring five goals with three assists and 21 shots on the net in that time. The 25-year-old has put a tough March behind him to give a good return on the offensive in April. The top line in Boston has long been a good source of scoring, and it’s rare that you can make a fantasy investment in that trio on a day that is not in September or October. Do not hesitate to take advantage or your opponent will.

If you are chasing deep-league power-play production, take a look at Alex Chiasson. The veteran winger has been in a bottom-six role for most of the season, but upper body injuries took Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson out of the ranks. Chiasson has found a home on the second line and has scored six points in his last three games. He’s a fantasy hire this week – the Canucks only have competitions Tuesday against the Golden Knights and Thursday against the Coyotes. Give him a look early, then stream another one rather than close the week.

Jakub Vrana probably dropped most people’s fantasy radar after missing almost five months to start the season when he recovered from shoulder surgery. The long absence makes what he has done since he was activated even more impressive. He has 10 goals, four assists and 41 shots in 16 games with a top-six role for the Red Wings. The 26-year-old never saw this kind of opportunity during his metropolitan period, but it has been a different story in Motown. His season stats don’t jump out of the side, so Vrana is a great sneaky addition to getting in front of your opponent while hot, even though three of the Red Wings ’four opponents this week are teams in the playoffs.

If you need to make a big splash in the playoffs, roll the dice on Rickard Rakell. He has earned eight points in 11 games with the Penguins, but they have only been in three competitions. The 28-year-old is notoriously streaky, but I’m willing to dive in after his three-assist game on Sunday against the Predators. The Penguins have a home-and-home with the Islanders before meeting the Bruins on Sunday – the chance of attack will be there, but it’s up to Rakell to take advantage of it.

Nick Leddy has done very well to repair his season since joining the Blues. After going minus-33 with just 16 points in 55 games with the Red Wings, the 31-year-old posted seven points in 11 competitions for the Blues. He’s on a five-game point streak heading into the semifinal week, and he sees power-play time in top unit with Torey Krug (upper body) out. Everything is in the right place for Leddy to succeed and he is probably more accessible than his defensive partner Justin Faulk, who has had a good run for himself with 11 points in his last seven appearances.

In goals, I do not look for Carey Price to be the savior. He has been missing all season as he has recovered from a knee injury. On a larger scale, this is like a backup that kicks in cold because the starter got damaged. It’s a bit too much of a gamble for me when the season is at stake. Instead, I am more willing to take a look at Linus Ullmark. Prior to Sunday’s loss to the Capitals, he had won four starts in a row, allowing only seven goals. During that time, he has actually outplayed Jeremy Swayman, though the Bruins are likely to split starts anyway. Ullmark could end up with just a single start this week, but he has been worth streaming when he starts lately.

Mike Smith has also done a good job lately, winning four starts in a row. The less that was said about his game on April 1 against the Blues, the better – it was not pretty, but he has only allowed four goals in three games since then. Mikko Koskinen did well against the avalanche last Saturday, but Smith has kept the starting role a bit better lately. They have to face the Wild, Predators and Golden Knights this week, with the first two of those games away, so it’s a gamble, especially since the Oilers’ defense has not always been so stable.

If anything, getting so far in the imagination is a strong sign of good leadership. You need to know how to drive ups and downs, and sometimes momentum changes within a week. The players mentioned above are hot now and I’m willing to trust them a little more but a bad game and I’m looking for the next big achievement on the release line. If you are chasing your matchups early, do not be afraid to make moves you would not make in the regular season. If you are ahead, try to maintain your lead over your opponent by strengthening your weak points. Just remember, if you have championship hopes, this is not the week to play as if there is no tomorrow. If you win, there are two weeks tomorrow to think about. I will meet you there in next week’s column to prepare you for the title climb.

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