This article is part of our Yahoo DFS Hockey series.
We're now a week into the NHL season. Of course, no team has played more than four games, and the Blackhawks have still only played one heading into Thursday night, so we've still got small sample sizes to deal with. The past can still be a helpful tool, probably more helpful than a lot of numbers from this season. It's a busy Thursday for the league, as there are 11 games on the docket. Here are some players to target, and to avoid, for fantasy purposes.
Jordan Binnington, STL at OTT ($34): What sophomore slump? The hero from St. Louis' surprise Stanley Cup season has been hot to start his second campaign in the league. Binnington has a 2.31 GAA and .928 save percentage to begin the year. The Senators were terrible last season, though that was more based on allowing goals than an inability to score them. Still, the team remains lousy, and the odds of Binnington picking up a win are quite high.
GOALIE TO AVOID
Tuukka Rask, BOS at COL ($30): Rask had a 2.48 GAA last year, despite the fact his .912 save percentage was below average. He got a lot of help from his defense, but like a lot of teams the Bruins were less defensively stout on the road. They had a 2.73 GAA in away games. The Avalanche have a chance to make it tough on Rask on Thursday, as they scored 3.15 goals per game last year and are powered by dynamic players like Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
Dylan Larkin, DET at MON ($27): Larkin has been producing since he was a rookie, but last year he took it to the next level. The Michigan-born center had 32 goals on 287 shots, and also added 41 assists for good measure. I am not super concerned about the fact Carey Price is off to a slow start to the season. However, I am concerned about the fact he will be in net behind a team on the second leg of a back-to-back.
CENTER TO AVOID
Sidney Crosby, PIT vs. ANA ($34): Heresy? Perhaps, but right now Crosby has a big load to shoulder on Pittsburgh's offense, as every other notable forward but Jake Guentzel is banged up. That makes things tougher for him, especially on the power play. John Gibson has been a stud goalie under the radar for years, and he's off to a stellar start to this season. Gibson has allowed exactly one goal in all three of his starts despite facing over 30 shots per game. There are so many potential centers out there Thursday I don't know if you should pay the high price for Sid the (Thirtysomething) Kid.
James Neal, EDM at NJD ($18): Am I really going to do it? Do I dare to appear like I'm overreacting to a hot start? Am I being seduced by a four-goal game? Well… maybe a little. Last year was a disaster for Neal, but he also had a 5.0 percent shooting rate that is simply not going to repeat itself. Plus, the thing I am intrigued by is Neal's four power-play goals, and the fact he's got a spot on Edmonton's high-powered top power-play unit. The Devils, meanwhile, are playing the second night of a back-to-back.
David Perron, STL at OTT ($17): Perron was limited to 57 games last year, injuries have been a problem in his career, but he notched 46 points in those 57 games. He's healthy now, and he's notched a point in all three games he's played this year. The Senators were the worst defensive team in the NHL last year and, shocker, they are terrible to start this season. Craig Anderson has a 4.58 GAA to start this campaign.
WINGS TO AVOID
Matthew Tkachuk, CGY at DAL ($25): Tkachuk had 77 points last year, and he has four points through three games this year. Of course, three of those points came against the Kings, and facing the Stars on the road presents a much tougher matchup. Dallas had a 2.24 GAA at home last year, lowest in the NHL. Tkachuk will probably not replicate his performance against Los Angeles, in which he scored two goals on only two shots.
Jonathan Marchessault, VGK at ARI ($21): Marchessault is an established offensive force at this point, as he's never had fewer than 25 goals in a full NHL campaign. Last year his numbers did drop to 59 points, though, and 16 of those came on the power play. While the Coyotes have offensive issues, the duo of Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper helped to make the Coyotes one of the best goal prevention teams in the NHL last year. They also had the third-ranked penalty kill.
Mathew Dumba, MIN at WPG ($18): Dumba lost last season to injury, but he still scored 12 goals on 93 shots in 32 games. That includes six goals with the extra man. The Jets had the 22nd-ranked penalty kill last year, and I expect them to be worse on that front this season. Winnipeg lost a lot of defensive talent in the offseason and Josh Morrissey is banged up, so while it's only been four games, Winnipeg giving up 35.5 shots on net per contest probably isn't a fluke.
Erik Gustafsson, CHI vs. SAN ($17): Well, the Blackhawks should be well rested, as this is only their second game of the season. Gustafsson picked up two assists in Chicago's European adventure, a continuation of last year's breakout campaign in which he had 17 goals and 60 points. The Sharks were strikingly bad on the road last year, and they had an .883 save percentage in those matchups. They brought back the same goalies from last season, so it may be more of the same.
DEFENSEMEN TO AVOID
John Carlson, WAS at NAS ($24): Carlson won't keep averaging 5:49 per game of power-play time, but he won't need that to be an offensive force. He's a proven commodity, but so is Nashville's defense, and also netminder Pekka Rinne. The Predators had a 2.59 GAA last year thanks in part to the dynamic goaltending duo of Rinne and Juuse Saros. Nashville also had the sixth-ranked penalty kill, so there's no silver lining there.
Thomas Chabot, OTT vs. STL ($20): Chabot is almost a one-man offense for the Senators, which is a problem given that he's a defenseman. He's logging a ton of minutes and he's already put eight shots on net through two games. However, it's hard to get shots past Binnington, who as I noted earlier has a 2.31 GAA and .928 save percentage to start the year, and who had a .927 save percentage last season. Also, the Blues had the ninth-ranked penalty kill, and Chabot's shot total this year has certainly been boosted by the fact he's gotten over 11 minutes of power-play time through two contests.