NHL Breakdown – 11/23/16

With Thanksgiving tomorrow the NHL has gone with a heavier than usual 12 game slate on Wednesday night. We have seen it in previous seasons, but don’t be surprised if there are some upsets tonight as some players may already be thinking about holiday plans. The Leafs, Blues, Flyers and Islanders are the teams playing on back to back nights. With so many options to choose from tonight I will try to narrow it down to my favorite places to look for offense.

Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets

The Flames are playing their 3rd game on a 6 game road trip and are big underdogs in Columbus tonight. The Blue Jackets have been playing excellent hockey this season and outplayed the Avalanche last game, outshooting them 42-27 despite eventually losing in OT. The Flames have given up the 4th most goals per game in the league this season but have actually done well at limiting shot attempts at even strength. Their biggest weakness so far has been on special teams. They have the worst power-play in the league and the 2nd worst penalty killing unit. The Blue Jackets just so happen to have the league’s best power-play so this is where I want to focus on this game. The Blue Jackets are a difficult team to stack since they move their lines around so much at even strength as well as splitting them up on the PP. My top forward option on the Jackets is once again Cam Atkinson as he plays on the top unit and takes the most shots per game on the team. I expect him to be quite popular after his two goal performance last game so I don’t mind using a mini stack of Nick Foligno and Alex Wennberg who play together at even strength and on the PP. Defenseman Zach Werenski and Seth Jones each play together at even strength and man separate PP units. Werenski is my top choice in cash games since he mans the top unit, but I think Jones makes for a great tournament play since he will have the lower ownership of the two. You could also stack both D-men in tournaments to be unique. I don’t normally play 4th liners because of ice time concerns, but Sam Gagner is also featured on the top PP unit and makes for a nice cheap one-off option in this favorable matchup.

Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning

The Flyers are coming off of an impressive win last night in Florida but they lost their top shutdown center and penalty killer, Sean Couturier, to injury. This bodes very well for the Lightning and their 3rd ranked PP. Goaltender Steve Mason was phenomenal in that game and has really turned his play around over the last few outings. Unfortunately there has been no goalie confirmation yet, but I expect him to go back between the pipes again tonight rather than turn to an unproven rookie. He faced 39 shots last night and so I imagine that he and the rest of the skaters who had to fill Couturier’s minutes will be quite tired tonight. This is a great spot for Nikita Kucherov and he is one of my top cash game plays on the evening. I think his ownership will be quite high in tournaments so I also like looking to center Tyler Johnson who has been very productive on the PP this season and comes at a very reasonable price. The Lightning are another team that is difficult to stack because of the way they split the lines up on the PP, but mini stacks of Kucherov-Namestnikov-Nesterov and Johnson-Point-Hedman are the best approach if you decide to go that route. Talented 3rd line winger Jonathan Drouin is also on the top PP unit so he makes for a decent one-off option.

New York Islanders at LA Kings

The Kings are the biggest favorites on the board tonight at home to an Islanders team that had a big win in a marathon shootout last night in Anaheim. The Isles got an early lead in that one and relied on goaltender Thomas Greiss to hold down the fort in the final 2 periods and OT. They are likely to turn to Jaroslav Halak tonight who has not been very good this season behind an Islanders team who gives up the 2nd most shot attempts per game at even strength and has the league’s 25th ranked PK unit. Kings forwards Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli are two of my top plays tonight in either format because of their dominant shot rates at even strength and excellent PP matchup. Two-way center Anze Kopitar has a chance of returning to the lineup tonight and if he does, I like the matchup for Carter and Toffoli even more since they will get to skate against the Islanders’ weaker depth lines at even strength. I like pairing the duo with either Drew Doughty who mans the point on the top PP unit, or Alex Martinez who skates with them at even strength.

Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators have been a much better team at home this season than on the road and it really showed last time out with their dominant performance over a very strong Tampa Bay Lightning squad. Tonight they welcome a Dallas team that has been poor defensively this season and has received awful goaltending. The Stars won the first meeting between the teams this season when Nashville was struggling, but now that the Preds have picked their game up I like them to dominate here. The Stars take the 2nd most penalties per game and have the league’s 27th ranked PK unit so it looks like a great matchup for the Preds’ power-play. Scoring is fairly spread out for the Preds, but James Neal stands out as taking the most shots on the team and he is the best bet for a goal here. With his high shot rate and hat trick upside, I think he makes for a great play in any format. The Preds’ defense has generated a ton of offense for them once again this season so I like any defensemen here that see power-play time. That includes Roman Josi who skates with the top PP unit and PK Subban and Ryan Ellis on the 2nd unit. Josi missed most of the 3rd period last game because he was in the concussion protocol so I would be a little hesitant to use him in cash games despite the fact that he will be in the lineup tonight.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne has been playing lights out recently so this is a difficult matchup for the Stars offense tonight but I think they warrant some consideration in GPPs for their contrarian appeal. I will have a hard time paying up for the studs in a difficult matchup, so the best way to get exposure to their offense is through some cheaper options. Rookie D-man Julius Honka had an impressive debut last game with an assist and 5 shots on goal when Jon Klingberg was made a healthy scratch. Lindy Ruff still hasn’t decided if Klingberg is going to be back in the lineup tonight so that will be something to monitor closer to game time. If Klingberg is out and Honka is once again manning the top PP unit, then I think he makes for a great cheap option once again. Center Jason Spezza is also a great value on the 2nd line and top PP unit and offers cheap exposure to the Stars offense.

Goalies

We are still awaiting a few goalie confirmations for tonight but at the moment my top cash play options are looking like Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning and Peter Budaj of the Kings. Both goalies are heavy favorites at home against teams who are playing on the 2nd night of back to backs and both come at a reasonable price. Vasilevskiy has two shutouts in a row and faces an undermanned Flyers team. Budaj hasn’t put up the same numbers as Vasilevskiy, but the Kings have been playing well and he has been getting wins so I think he is in a great spot against a weak Islanders squad.

In GPPs I think that Braden Holtby of the Capitals is in a good spot as another big home favorite against a Blues team on road back to backs. The Blues are a much better team than the Flyers and Islanders so there is some risk here, but they have had troubles scoring at times this season and haven’t played as well on the road. Martin Jones of the Sharks is a home favorite against the Blackhawks who have been shut out twice in their last three games on the road. It’s always a high risk option going against offensive stars like Toews and Kane, but the upside is there. And lastly Devan Dubnyk of the Wild is at home against division rival Winnipeg who has not played well on the road this season. Scheifele and Laine have been among the league’s leading scorers this season which may keep Dubnyk’s ownership down.