NHL Breakdown – 12/27/16

The NHL is returning from the Christmas break with a 10-game slate tonight. Much like on Friday’s slate, you could see some unpredictability tonight based on the holiday break. The issue on Friday was the large amount of back-to-back games combined with some teams looking forward to the break and not being as sharp as normal. This resulted in some awful performances and one huge upset (Colorado at Chicago). Tonight, there is the likelihood of some teams being rusty from the time off which could result in some slow starts. As far as cash games go, I wouldn’t change anything about my strategy, but in tournaments it could be beneficial to give extra consideration to some underdogs.

Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils

The Penguins and Devils play the back half of a home-and-home series tonight in New Jersey. The Pens will keep the same lines, but the Devils are not deciding on theirs until warmups as they plan to make a few minor changes. The Devils have gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 against the Pens on home ice, but the Pens are a much better hockey team right now and as the top offensive team in the league, I prefer to look on their side in DFS tonight. When using the Pens in DFS, the main issue is usually whether you target the Crosby line or the Malkin line. The Devils usually match strength on strength when they are playing at home, which means the Taylor Hall line should see a lot of Crosby at even strength. This leaves Malkin against the weaker second line and depth D-pairs for the Devils, so he would be my preferred target tonight. This was the same matchup that we saw on Friday night in Pittsburgh, where the Malkin line scored two goals against the Adam Henrique line. The Henrique line does have some appeal for me in GPPs, as the Malkin line is not very strong defensively either. It’s worth monitoring the Devils lines in warmups to see if there are any major changes for them.

Calgary Flames at Colorado Avalanche

Last week we talked a lot about Colorado’s struggles on home ice. They are 4-11-1 at the Pepsi Center this season and got shelled 6-0 by the Maple Leafs in their last game there. The Calgary Flames enter this matchup with one of the better road records in the league going 10-7-2 away from home ice. The Flames have played much better hockey recently since Johnny Gaudreau returned from injury. This has given the Flames three solid forward lines and helped their power-play improve in a big way (14 PPG in last 10 games). The Avalanche are last in the league in both goals for and goals against so it’s hard not to like the Flames from a DFS perspective tonight. The Avs give up a lot of even strength shot attempts and have been even worse since the injury to defenseman Erik Johnson. Their top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog has been a decent possession line and is usually matched up against opposing teams’ top lines at home. After Troy Brouwer left last game due to a hand injury, the Flames put Sean Monahan and Gaudreau back together on the top line with Michael Ferland. This line is weak from a possession standpoint and I don’t love their even strength matchup so I won’t be paying up for them in cash games. They do get to spend time on the top PP unit against the Avs’ 25th-ranked PK so I think they are usable in tournaments for the chance that the Avs take a lot of penalties. My focus in this game will instead be on the second line of Michael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk who are a very strong possession line and will get to go up against the weaker depth lines of the Avs at even strength. They also have the benefit of staying together on the second PP unit with defensemen Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton.

The Avalanche top line of MacKinnon, Landeskog and Miko Rantanen are also in play for me in tournaments for the even strength matchup that I mentioned above. They will likely have to face the Giordano and Hamilton pairing, but the Monahan line is very beatable defensively. The Flames take the most penalties in the league so there is upside on the power-play as well and the trio stays together on the second unit.

Dallas Stars at Arizona Coyotes

This game should be played at a very high pace and should be targeted heavily in DFS as both teams give up a ton of even strength shot attempts against. More shot attempts = more fantasy points. The Coyotes and Stars also have the 26th- and 27th-ranked PK units, respectively. The Coyotes are ahead of only the Colorado Avalanche in the standings and the Stars have an awful 4-9-4 record on the road, so it’s hard to tell who is going to suck more in this game. The smart money is on the Stars being the better team in this matchup, and that’s certainly where I would look in cash games, but the Coyotes should also warrant some consideration in tournaments.

Unfortunately, there is the usual uncertainty to deal with for the Stars as Tyler Seguin skated separately from the team this morning, so we don’t quite know how the lines will shake out. Patrick Sharp was back at practise this morning and took Seguin’s place on the top line. Last game, the Stars went a stacked top line of Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, which would be my top target in this game if they stayed together. Seguin is my favorite choice out of this trio in cash games due to his consistently high shot volume. The Coyotes top line is a very weak possession line and is typically matched against opposing teams’ top lines on home ice. This is a great even strength matchup for the Seguin line, but they will also have to face stud defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson for most of the game. The Alex Goligoski-Anthony DeAngelo combo for the Coyotes has been getting exposed on the defensive end lately, which has led to some big games for opposition third lines. This gives me some interest in Sharp, Patrick Eaves and Radek Faksa as one-offs in GPPs.

The Coyotes have changed their lines around a little today and I don’t particularly like the new combos from a stacking perspective. Instead, I prefer to target them as one-offs or with PP mini stacks in GPPs. Radim Vrbata is usually my favorite choice on the Coyotes as he leads the team in goals, points and shots on goal.  Tobias Rieder has been shooting the puck a lot more lately and gets a bump back up to the top line as well as the top PP unit. He is very cheap on all sites and is a nice option for salary relief. Ekman-Larsson is always a solid play for the Coyotes as he logs the most ice time on the team and plays in every situation. The offense usually flows through him. If you’re looking for some salary relief on the back end, the offensive-minded DeAngelo is fairly cheap and skates on the second PP unit.

Buffalo Sabres at Detroit Red Wings

My interest in the Red Wings offense has gone way up with the news that two-way center Ryan O’Reilly is out after undergoing an appendectomy. O’Reilly is the even strength matchup that you want to avoid on the Sabres and leaves a huge hole for them defensively. The Sabres have spread out their remaining talent so they should be more balanced and no particular line stands out as one to pick on. In that case, I prefer to go with the Red Wings top line of Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar and Anthony Mantha, as the trio has shown the most offensive upside on the team. They all stay together on the top PP unit so I like them as a full line stack against the Sabres and their league-worst PK. If you are making multiple lineups, then I don’t mind having some exposure to the second line of Thomas Vanek, Gustav Nyquist and Frans Nielsen, who all stay together on the second PP unit