NHL Breakdown – 12/22/16

The NHL has a 10-game slate tonight followed by another large one tomorrow to lead into the Christmas break. There a few question marks for lineups tonight, relating to injury/illness issues so it will be very important to pay attention to late breaking news before the games start. I will break down the two key games I am looking at tonight for offense, as well as give my brief thoughts on some other favorable matchups.

Toronto Maple Leafs at Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche are in last place in the league and have somehow played their worst hockey on home ice. They are one of the worst defensive teams in the league as well as one of the worst offensive teams in the league. The second part of that statement is the most surprising given the high-end talent they have on their roster. The Avs are giving up the most goals in the league and are in the bottom third of the league in CA60 (shot attempts against per game) at even strength. The Leafs lead the league in CF60 at even strength so the opportunity is there for them to rack up a high volume of shots on goal tonight. We saw this when the two teams met in Toronto a couple weeks ago when the Leafs put up 52 shots on goal against the Avs in Toronto. Goaltender Semyeon Varlamov stood on his head in that game and was able to steal the game for the Avs, making 51 saves in the process. Varlamov has been very inconsistent this season, but he has the highest ceiling of any goalie on this slate which once again makes him an interesting GPP play tonight against a Leafs team who has had troubles scoring lately despite the high shot volume.

The Leafs are dealing with an injury to center Tyler Bozak so the lines have been juggled around lately. The latest configuration for tonight has the Leafs going with Nazem Kadri between James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner on the top line. The trio has not played together before, but I like the potential for offense here. There are no reports on what power-play lines the team will use, but Kadri typically skates on a different unit from Marner and JVR. I don’t mind stacking the trio in GPPs, but you could also use Kadri as a one-off in both formats, or use a mini stack of Marner-JVR for the PP correlation. The other line to look at for the Leafs, and my favorite option, is the Auston Matthews line. Matthews is among the league leaders in shots on goal and has been playing incredible hockey lately. Babcock now trusts the rookie to go head-to-head against the league’s elite centers, which has led to an increase in ice time. Matthews is one of my favorite cash game plays tonight with his incredibly high floor. His line will likely draw the Duchene line at even strength, which has been one of the weakest defensive lines for the Avs. With this matchup, I don’t mind stacking Matthews with linemates Zack Hyman and Connor Brown in GPPs for salary relief, but you could also stack him with defenseman Jake Gardiner, who skates with him on the PP.

I think most people will be on the Leafs tonight, but the Avs offense also has some appeal for me in GPPs. The Leafs have been much worse defensively on the road this season and give up more even strength shot attempts against than the Avs. The Leafs PK has also struggled lately, giving up 7 PP goals over their last 5 games. In the first meeting between the teams, the Avs capitalized twice on the man advantage, which proved to be the difference in the game. The Avs tend to split up their even strength lines across both PP units so I would prefer using them as one-offs or mini stacks in GPPs. Nathan MacKinnon is the best option for offense on the Avs as he is also among the league leaders in shots on goal. He has performed much better on the road so far this season, like most Avs, but the match up for the Leafs should provide a lot of scoring chances for him tonight. He has been playing with Gabriel Landeskog at even strength since returning from injury a few games ago, and the duo played together on the top PP unit last game so I don’t mind using them as a mini stack tonight. Defenseman Tyson Barrie also joins them on the top PP unit and can be a part of that PP stack. While the results have not been there this season, you can’t argue with the opportunity for Barrie, as he has logged a ton of minutes since Erik Johnson went down with an injury. The other option I am considering on the Avs is the second line duo of Matt Duchene and Miko Rantanen who both see extended time on the PP and have no shortage of speed and talent.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets

This game will be my favorite to watch from a fan perspective as the two best teams in the league will be going head-to-head for the first time this season. It is a very interesting matchup as the Penguins have been the best offensive team in the league this season while the Blue Jackets have been one of the best defensive teams. The Blue Jackets have won 10 straight games while the Pens have gone 8-1-1 in that span. From a DFS perspective, this game should be one of the top targets on the night as both teams play high event hockey. Both teams generate a ton of even strength shot attempts as well as give them up, with the Pens having the slightly higher CF60 and CA60. The Blue Jackets have the better special teams units throughout the whole season, but the Pens special teams units are very streaky and have been much hotter over the past several games. The Pens have scored 11 PPGs over their last 6 games and have given up no goals on the PK in that span. The Blue Jackets have the league’s best PP unit, but their PK has struggled lately as they have given up a PPG in 7 of their last 9 games.

The Blue Jackets are the slight favorites in this game, but I think the Pens will be more popular in DFS despite playing on the road. I think this is a difficult spot to pay up for the top Penguins, but I do love the matchup for their power-play so I will make sure to have some exposure there in GPPs. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist all play on the top PP unit, but are all very expensive. With the Penguins changing around their even strength lines last game, I don’t mind a mini stack of Malkin-Hornqvist in GPPs. Defenseman Justin Schultz has seen a massive bump in ice time and opportunity with the rash of injuries to the Pens defense, as he gets to man that powerful top PP unit. His price has gone up slightly, but he is still way underpriced considering his usage. This makes him a fantastic cash game play, but he will be one of the highest owned players on the whole slate so a fade could be considered in tournaments. Winger Brian Rust was bumped up to play the wing with Crosby last game and he delivered with a goal and an assist. He is a great low-priced option tonight given his opportunity, but I prefer him on FanDuel where he is $1,200 cheaper than on DraftKings.

The Blue Jackets side is where I prefer to look in GPPs tonight. Despite the 10-game win streak, I still don’t think they get the respect they deserve in the tougher matchups. The Blue Jackets had been using the Wennberg line as the shutdown line on home ice for most of the season, but switched that up last game and used the Dubinsky line in that role. Dubinksy also has a history of shadowing Crosby when they face each other, so that’s how I expect things to go tonight. This leaves the line of Wennberg-Foligno-Saad to go up against either the Malkin line, or the Bonino line, which are much worse defensively. I like the trio as a full stack, but you could also go with the PP mini stack of Wennberg-Foligno-Werenski to take advantage of the Blue Jackets top ranked PP unit. Cam Atkinson will be a game time decision for the Blue Jackets so it’s worth monitoring his status as he is the top shooter and goal scorer on the team and will make for a great play if he is in the lineup.


Other matchups to consider…

The other high total game on the night features the Anaheim Ducks on the road against the Ottawa Senators. The Ducks are playing a getaway game as it is the last game of a long road trip for them and they might be looking more towards getting home for the holidays. With the Sens as home underdogs and playing great hockey right now, I think they make for great GPP targets. Winger Mark Stone is under the weather and is a game time decision, so it’s worth monitoring his status as it should affect their forward lines tonight. But given the situation, I think you can get the Sens at pretty low ownership tonight in GPPs. Erik Karlsson is my top play on the Sens for the amount of ice time he logs, but there are several secondary plays at forward that I have interest in. The second line duo of Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan have been heating up lately and make for great options at a reasonable price. Mike Hoffman is always the Sens’ top offensive threat, but I would wait to see where he is playing in the lineup before plugging him in.

The St. Louis Blues are surprising underdogs heading into Tampa Bay to take on an injury-ravaged Lightning team. The Blues have played much better on the road the last few games and are in a great spot here. They destroyed the Lightning a couple weeks ago at home with most of the damage coming on the power-play. The Lightning PK has been their weakest spot lately, so targeting anyone on that Blues top PP is the way to go tonight. Vladimir Tarasenko will have a tough even strength matchup against Victor Hedman, but the time on the top PP unit makes him a strong consideration tonight along with defensemen Brad Hunt and Kevin Shattenkirk. The second line of Steen-Berglund-Perron gets the much better even strength matchup and I think they make for a sneaky, low-owned GPP play as they have been playing great hockey lately and offer excellent salary relief.