NHL Breakdown – 12/15/16

The NHL has an 8-game slate tonight with only the Boston Bruins playing on back-to-back nights. Looking at the Vegas lines, there are a lot of close games expected with only two heavy favorites. I will break down those games as well as touch on some other spots to find offense tonight.

Arizona Coyotes at Toronto Maple Leafs

Each of these teams is usually involved in the conversation for highest scoring game of the night and now they get set to face off against each other. The Leafs play with the highest pace in the league and generate the most shots on goal and scoring chances at even strength. The Coyotes are the worst defensive team in the league and give up the most even strength shot attempts and scoring chances per game. The Leafs are the biggest favorites on the board for a reason and this should make them the highest owned offense tonight in DFS. The Coyotes have been inconsistent as far as how many goals they allow each game, but that is mainly due to the play of goaltender Mike Smith. Smith is the ultimate GPP play in net, with his ability to steal games with 50+ save performances. However, if he is not on his game, then you get outings like their 7-0 loss to the Penguins the other night. The Coyotes don’t pose any particular matchup issues from a defensive standpoint, so all three of the Leafs offensive lines are in play tonight. My top option on the whole slate in cash games is Auston Matthews, as he is 4th in the league in shots on goal per 60 minutes and leads the Leafs in SCF60 (scoring chances for per game) at even strength. He should be one of the highest owned players on the slate, but with his goal scoring upside, I am not going to shy away from him in tournaments. I like stacking him with line mate William Nylander and defenseman Jake Gardiner as the trio plays together on the power-play against the Coyotes’ bottom 10 PK unit. You could also throw in even strength line mate Zach Hyman who has seen his offensive numbers improve lately. He is a nice source of shot blocks and will provide salary relief for the rest of the line. In larger field GPPs, I like the idea of getting lower ownership by using the Leafs other 2 forward lines. Nazem Kadri is in a great spot against the Coyotes’ top line, which is their worst defensive line. Plus, he gets to play on the top PP unit with Matthews and Nylander. The Bozak-JVR-Marner line has been on a bit of a cold streak lately, but they all stay together on the PP and have shown multi-goal upside in the past.

The Coyotes have been a low scoring team lately, but the Leafs give up a lot of even strength shot attempts and scoring chances, so I think they are in play in GPPs. Radim Vrbata leads the team in points and shots on goal, so he is probably their best option tonight. I don’t love the matchup against the Kadri line, but he does get to skate on the top PP unit so he will get his chances. Defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Anthony DeAngelo are usually involved whenever the Coyotes score and both play on the top PP unit. OEL logs a ton of ice time and is fairly consistent, while DeAngelo is offensive minded and is very under-priced for his potential upside.

New Jersey Devils at St. Louis Blues

This is the second matchup between the two clubs in the last week, with the Blues taking a dominant 4-1 victory in New Jersey in the first game. Now the Blues return home from their road trip where they have performed much better this season. This is reflected in the Vegas odds as the Blues are the second biggest favorites on the night. In the first matchup between the two clubs, it was the Tarasenko-Fabbri-Lehtera line that did most of the damage for the Blues. After giving up 6 unanswered goals last game to Nashville, the Blues have changed their lines around, but that line is the only one that remains in tact. They are my favorite option in this game once again as they get to have the better matchups at home against the weaker depth pairings on the Devils. There haven’t been any reports on which power-play lines they practised with, but Tarasenko and Fabbri have remained constants on the top unit with Lehtera occasionally mixing in. On defense, both Kevin Shattenkirk and Brad Hunt play together with the Tarasenko line and have been getting all the offensive deployments on home ice. Last game, the duo also skated together on the top PP unit. Shattenkirk is the safer play here, but Hunt is a great punt play as long as he is receiving PP time.

In net, Blues goaltender Jake Allen is my top cash play of the night. His numbers are much better on home ice where the Blues have not lost in regulation in 13 straight games. He has also owned the Devils in his short career going 4-0 with two shutouts.

Other Spots for Offense…

The Rangers visit the Dallas Stars in one of only two games with a 5.5 Vegas total. They are the highest scoring team in the league this season while the Stars have given up the most goals per game in the league. The Rangers have been dealing with injury issues and have had troubles scoring over the past few games, but they will get Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh back in the lineup tonight, which should help their depth attack. In recent home games, the Stars have used their powerful top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza against opposing teams’ second lines, which has given up the most even strength shot attempts for the Rangers. This makes them a strong option tonight in GPPs. This also frees up the Rangers’ strong top line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello to go up against the weaker depth lines of the Stars. The trio also plays together on the top PP unit against the Stars’ 28th ranked PK, so I love them in all formats tonight.

The Hawks continue their road trip in New York tonight and get a solid offensive matchup against the Islanders. The Islanders are near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories, performing particularly poorly at even strength. The John Tavares line has been a tough matchup for visiting teams and he typically lines up against opposing teams’ top lines. This should be the Kane-Panarin-Anisimov line here, which leaves Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Ryan Hartman to go against the Islanders’ weaker depth lines. I like a Toews-Hossa mini stack in GPPs as they stay together on the PP, but the Kane line is always in play in the event that the Islanders change the matchup.