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Fantasy: Late-season scoring machines; rolling with Hedberg

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(Note: Our friends at Dobber Hockey are back for some fantasy fun. All stats are through Wednesday night's games; this feature will be found on Thursdays here on Puck Daddy.)

Finishing strong matters to poolies - it can be the difference between a forgettable middle-of-the-pack finish and taking home championship hardware.

With that in mind, many fantasy hockey GMs have taken notice of the recent scoring by teams like the New York Islanders and the St. Louis Blues (second and sixth respectively in scoring since the All Star break), neither of which had been lighting it up this season.

Are trends like these flukes? Are they only the result of particularly savvy late season trades? Can they last?

Some might argue that a late season scoring inversion can take place as the best teams look ahead to the playoffs, whereas those teams on the bubble fight tooth-and-nail to earn a place in the post-season.

Here's a breakdown of the top 10 teams for post-Olympic scoring last year:

2009-10 Season

Post-Olympic Break Goals (GPs)

Final Total Goals

(League Placing)

VAN

77 (21)

268 (2nd)

CHI

71 (21)

262 (3rd)

WSH

70 (20)

313 (1st)

DET

68 (21)

223 (14th)

BUF

68 (22)

231 (10th)

COL

64 (21)

237 (6th)

NYI

62 (20)

214 (20th)

STL

61 (20)

218 (17th)

PIT

61 (20)

249 (5th)

CAR

61 (21)

226 (13th)

The top three scoring teams in the league last year finished strong, but the list also contains some surprises, including non-playoff bound squads like the New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues, and Carolina Hurricanes. And while the San Jose Sharks were the fourth highest scoring team last year, they were 15th overall in their final 20 games (not shown).

Some of these performances were easier to predict (like the Red Wings' recovery from a bevy of injuries), while others were more difficult. But one thing is clear - scoring isn't static in the NHL, and poolies cannot afford to rest on their laurels if they hope to survive the final quarter of the season.

All positions as listed in Yahoo! Sports, with ownership percentage in parentheses.

Goals

Devin Setoguchi(notes), RW, San Jose Sharks (25%)

In case you missed his hat trick last Saturday against the Avs (his first ever), Setoguchi chalked up another two goals Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. Even better, the 24-year old has put up 14 points in his last 13 games. This streak is making believers out of some of Setoguchi's detractors. The best description of his questionable value until late belongs to Matt Taylor at Fear the Fin, who wrote, "the uber-talented prospect was much like your once valuable collection of Pokemon cards. Years ago, you wouldn't trade them for anything. Now, you're selling your whole binder at a yard sale for $3.50, packaged with a frisbee your dog bit through." Now Taylor believes things have changed, and while we can't condone the collecting of Pokemon cards under any circumstances, we think he's onto something.

Dan Cleary, RW, Detroit Red Wings (31%)

If you've ever been to Newfoundland, you probably have a soft spot for the first Newfoundlander ever to have his name carved into Lord Stanley's Cup. Despite a broken wrist Cleary is healthier than he was last year, and has already set a new career high of 21 goals in a season. With four goals and two assists in the last week, he's looking to finish strong. The 18 shots he's racked up over the past seven games isn't to be overlooked either. And BTW, Newfoundland is pronounced such that is rhymes with ‘understand'. Not that this explains why the locals make visitors drink horrible rum called ‘Screech' and then kiss a puffin's ass (Ed. note: WTF?).

Andy McDonald(notes), C/LW, St Louis Blues (32%)

Now supposedly healthy after suffering a concussion last December, McDonald has four goals and two assists in the past week. Some observers have argued that he and new linemate, Chris Stewart(notes), have developed an "instant chemistry", and he clearly is fantasy-relevant again having notched 12 points in the 10 games since his return.

Assists

Jiri Hudler(notes), RW, Detroit Red Wings (8%)

Ah Mr. Hudler, we all wondered how long it would take you to readjust to North American hockey -- and for many you took too long. However, we can't ignore your six-game point streak (which includes eight assists), and to be fair, we should acknowledge that your turnaround got going in mid-January. In the 16 games since then, you've picked up an impressive 17 points. And as long as Hudler is playing with Pavel Datsyuk(notes) and Cleary, the points should keep flowing.

T.J. Oshie(notes), C, St. Louis Blues (22%)

After returning to the Blues' lineup on January 18, Oshie took a few games to return to form in terms of contributions measured on the scoreboard. But he's only been held pointless in two of 10 games in February, and he is currently on a three-game multi-point scoring streak (five assists, three goals, and 13 shots).

Shots-on-Goal

Tyler Kennedy(notes), C/LW, Pittsburgh Penguins (13%)

Fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins can't really be pleased, but with their top guns out due to injury, Kennedy is earning first unit power play time. With 15 shots in his past three games, it's making a difference to his stats. And believe it or not, Kennedy is also the Pens' active goal-scoring leader. The Pens' losses might be your gain.

Plus/Minus

Andrew Ference(notes), D, Boston (2%)

Ference is on a three-game point streak, and is a plus-five over the course of the past week. Not sure how this relates to his comments earlier in the month about his team's ‘hypocrisy' with regards to blindside hits, but its awesome to see a guy with courage who said what a lot of other people were thinking go out there and back it up on the ice.

PIM

Travis Hamonic(notes), D, New York Islanders (12%)

Hamonic led the way over the past week with 33 minutes in the penalty box. In fact, he's earned 65 minutes in the seven games since February 11th. As a defensemen, the opportunity cost of grabbing him for PIM is lower than a forward, plus he's picked up six points and been a plus-four since his recent reign of terror began on the 11th. It's hard to argue that he's just a cement-head.

Goalies

When the top-three goalies for the past seven days are owned in one third or fewer of all Yahoo! leagues, it makes you wonder. Isn't everybody desperate for goaltending? Maybe not.

Johan Hedberg(notes), G, New Jersey (32%)

With four wins, a minuscule GAA of 0.75, and 84 saves, Hedberg was the best of this unloved lot over the past seven days. The 37-year-old journeyman who's making some ask the question, ‘Marty? Marty who?', earned two shutouts last week and even with Martin Brodeur(notes) healthy you have to think that Devil's coach Jacques Lemaire won't squander the lightening-in-a-bottle that he's captured in Hedberg.

James Reimer(notes), G, Toronto Maple Leafs (33%)

We've mentioned him before, but it's worth pointing out that he's now gone 9-4-2 on a Toronto Maple Leafs' squad that is 26-27-7 on the year.

Al Montoya(notes), G, New York Islanders (9%)

The most available of the three goaltenders, Montoya's is admittedly the least attractive due to the fact that he's wearing a New York Islanders sweater. However, the 26-year-old is making the most of the trade that brought him to Long Island from Phoenix, and with two wins, a nifty 1.11 GAA, and with 93 saves made in the past seven days he might help you out.

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Middle-of-the-Pack Jack says:

Last year was messed up because of the Olympics - it wore out all the good players. Plus, it was the extra time off that allowed crappy team like the Islanders to jump up in the scoring. Weak teams don't normally finish strong. I just ain't buying it.

We say: The 2010-11 season certainly wasn't the only year when stronger teams lost a step, while weaker teams stepped it up leading up to the close of the regular season. Since the 2004-05 lockout, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made a habit of it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are lots of cases of strong teams flattening out - like the (President's Trophy and Stanley Cup-winning) Dallas Stars that went 11-7-2 in their final 20, or Colorado (also President's Trophy and Stanley Cup-winning) in 2001 that went 13-7 to round out the season. And as far as the Olympics tiring out the good players, consider the 2002 Stanley Cup-winning Red Wings who had no fewer than 10 Olympians on their (yet again, President's Trophy and Stanley Cup-winning) team, or the fact that there were 11 Olympians playing in last year's final.

***

It's hopefully not news to you that the NHL is a dynamic league, and the final 20 games are certainly no exception. If past seasons are an indication, then by no means is the recent increase in scoring by teams like the New York Islanders necessarily temporary. And for those looking to take some risks in the final quarter of the season, it might be worthwhile to get on board in the hopes of finishing strong.

If you're looking to test out some more specific theories about who scores when, check out the Frozen Fantasy tool available here.

Brent Lemon enjoys sharing his thoughts on hockey, good, bad, or outrageous. Somewhat surprisingly, his work has appeared in several places, including USA Today publications, and his fantasy hockey column, Lemon Aid, appears every so often at DobberHockey.com

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