NHL Breakdown – 12/29/16
We have a huge 12-game slate tonight with the Leafs, Lightning, Canadiens, Panthers and Kings playing on a back-to-back. The first couple nights back from the holiday break saw a lot of goals scored as there was some really sloppy defensive play from several teams. I expect things to start settling down on that front as teams get back to a regular schedule. With so many games going tonight there are a lot of options for your DFS lineups, so I will break down my favorite spots to target and try to narrow down your options.
Boston Bruins at Buffalo Sabres
This is not usually a matchup I am looking to target as both teams have had their troubles scoring this season. However, with the injury to two-way center Ryan O’Reilly, it really opens things up for the Bruins’ top line. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are the best puck possession line in the league this season and will get a very winnable matchup against the Johan Larsson line with O’Reilly out of the picture. The Sabres give up the 4th most shots on goal and have the worst PK in the league so the Bergeron line has a very high floor. The trio has also stayed together on the top PP unit recently, which makes them a great line for stacking purposes in tournaments.
Tuukka Rask makes for a solid GPP option in net as the Sabres have had a very boom-or-bust offense since Jack Eichel returned to the lineup. That being said, I have a slight interest in Eichel himself given that he should have a favorable even strength matchup against the Bruins 3rd line.
New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are the biggest favorite on the board so you can expect them to be quite chalky tonight. This is a very solid matchup for them against a Devils team that has lost 9 of their last 10 games and bring a horrible 4-12-5 road record into Washington. Aside from their one win during this stretch (and that was against a Flyers team that had checked out for the holidays), the Devils have scored 2 goals or less in each of those losses. This makes Braden Holtby easily my top cash game option in net tonight. He is reasonably priced on all sites for such a large favorite and has played quite well lately, aside from the loss to the Islanders last game which I am chalking up to rust from the holidays. With top offensive option Taylor Hall out of the lineup for the Devils, the matchup is even better for Holtby.
On the offensive side of the puck, the Capitals top line of Alex Ovechkin, Justin Williams and Evgeni Kuznetsov are my favorite target in this game as they will get to matchup against the weaker depth lines of the Devils at even strength. This line should be very popular so I don’t mind looking towards the Backstrom line for decreased ownership in GPPs. The Backstrom line will also have a decent matchup at even strength with Taylor Hall out of the lineup and the full line stays together on the top PP unit.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning
Both teams played last night so there will be some uncertainty as far as lineups and starting goaltenders go. This is especially true for the Lightning, as Valtteri Filppula was held out of last night’s game as punishment for missing a morning meeting and it’s unknown how his return will affect the line combinations and matchups. Vladislav Namestnikov and Brayden Point both left last night’s game with injuries so that will also impact the depth lines of the Lightning. As things stand right now, I am leaning towards the top line for Tampa as they reunited the “Triplets” last night. Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat looked great last night and put up a couple points apiece. My early guess is that Filppula will resume his defensive duties and face off against the Auston Matthews line which will leave the Johnson line in their usual offensive role. The Leafs have received much better goaltending lately, but they trade chances too often and still give up a ton of shots on goal, including 45 last night. With backup goaltender Antoine Bibeau in net tonight, I don’t think he will be able to make up for the Leafs’ defensive shortcomings.
On the Leafs’ side, I normally like to target Auston Matthews and his linemates, but they are likely to see a lot of the Lightning shutdown duo of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman at even strength so I prefer a fade there tonight. If you want to play some Leafs in GPPs, I would recommend either the Bozak line or Kadri line who will get the better even strength matchup. It’s hard to say which line will go up against the depleted third line at even strength, but that should be the preferred target when going against the Lightning.
Montreal Canadiens at Florida Panthers
These teams also played last night and lost to the two teams mentioned above in extra time. With two tired teams going head-to-head, it is difficult to predict who is going to be on their game tonight. The Panthers lost their best forward, Alex Barkov, to injury last night so that makes me want to lean towards the Habs side in this one. Barkov has been the Panthers main source of offense in recent games so it really hurts them in the goal scoring department. The Panthers have already been having a hard time finding the back of the net lately, despite regularly putting a lot of shots on goal. This gives me some GPP interest in backup goaltender Al Montoya, who will be making the start against his former team and is reasonably priced on all sites. The Panthers are great at limiting shot attempts against so I am not particularly interested in either offense here.
Detroit Red Wings at Ottawa Senators
The Wings disappointed many on Tuesday night after putting up a dud against the Sabres on home ice, so I imagine the Senators offense will be a popular option tonight. Regardless of what happened in the last Wings game, the Senators have been playing great hockey lately and I like this matchup for them. My favorite option on the Sens is stud defenseman Erik Karlsson. Karlsson plays half the game and is used in every situation so he is an ideal target in cash games and tournaments.
The only issue with targeting the Sens forwards is that they have split up their best offensive forwards across three lines so it is difficult to figure out where the offense is going to come from on a given night. They also split those lines up on the PP so it makes them a tough team for stacking purposes. To make matters worse, Zack Smith is out with an injury and Guy Boucher said he will try the new lines out for the first 5 minutes of the game and go from there. To keep things simple, I prefer one-offs or two man stacks from the Sens forward groups, with Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone being the top options based on consistency and upside. All three are featured on the top PP unit, which sees the most ice time on the man advantage.
Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators
Both teams have been playing poorly lately as both teams have been dealing with injuries and inconsistency. The Hawks are without two-way forward Marian Hossa, while the Preds are without offensive defenseman PK Subban. The Preds have struggled keeping the puck out of their net lately, while the Hawks have had a hard time finding scoring from their depth lines.
On the Blackhawks side, the only real option for offense is the top line of Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov. Pekka Rinne is likely to get the start and he has not played well lately, so I don’t mind stacking that top line in a few GPP lineups. The Preds will be able to focus all their attention on shutting that line down so they are not a top tier play for me tonight.
I prefer looking towards the Preds’ side tonight and I have a lot of interest in the top line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Victor Arvidsson. The Hawks have been giving up a ton of shot attempts and scoring chances since Hossa went down and the top line for the Preds has been the most consistent lately at generating opportunities. The Hawks have the 2nd-worst PK in the league, so I like targeting the top PP unit for the Preds. Roman Josi is a solid option on defense tonight as he skates on the top unit against a PK that gives up way too many unblocked shots from the point.
New York Islanders at Minnesota Wild
The Wild are also one of the biggest favorites tonight as they have won 11 games in a row and host an Islanders team that has gone a pathetic 3-7-2 away from home ice. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk leads the league in almost every category and makes for a great cash game option tonight along with Holtby. I think that he will be the most popular goalie in cash, but the only thing that puts Holtby slightly ahead for me is the fact that the Islanders have scored 2 or more goals in 18 straight games.
The Wild offense is also a great option tonight as the Islanders give up the 2nd most shots per game, the 2nd most even strength shot attempts per game, and have the 28th-ranked PK in the league. The Wild have a balanced attack with three lines that can put the puck in the net. This should keep ownership down on any one line which is ideal for tournaments. The Koivu line is likely to get the shutdown duty against the Tavares line, so my focus will be on the Parise-Staal-Pominville line and the Niederreiter-Haula-Coyle line who will face the weaker depth lines of the Isles. The Staal line will be higher owned and they are the more expensive option, so I will have heavier exposure to the Haula line which is a very solid puck possession unit.
On defense, Ryan Suter is always a strong option for the Wild as he sees the most ice time and gets to play the point on the top PP unit. If you are looking for salary relief, Matthew Dumba is also on the top PP unit and comes at a great discount to Suter.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Winnipeg Jets
The NHL-leading Columbus Blue Jackets head to Winnipeg tonight looking to extend their win streak to 14-straight games. The Jets have been playing better hockey themselves lately, winning 4 out of their last 5 games, and I think they have a very reasonable shot at ending the win streak tonight on home ice. I imagine that most people will be on the Blue Jackets tonight, given how they have handled some top teams over this impressive run, and I can’t argue with that. The Blue Jackets have some solid pieces that I like for cash games, such as Cam Atkinson, who leads the team in scoring and shots on goal. The Blue Jackets’ top-ranked PP unit is the best target on their side against the Jets who take way too many penalties at times and only have the 27th-ranked PK unit.
In GPPs however, I will be looking to the Jets top line of Mark Scheifele, Patrick Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. The Wheeler-Little line is likely to face off against the strong possession line of Wennberg-Foligno-Saad, which should work to effectively cancel each other out at even strength. That leaves the Scheifele line to match up with the Dubinsky-Atkinson-Jenner line at even strength, which has been the worst possession line for the Jackets. The Blue Jackets are typically not a team that I would like to target with opposing offenses, but this line is where they are vulnerable, and the Scheifele line has the elite talent to exploit the matchup.
Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars
For some reason the Avalanche have been an absolute dumpster fire on home ice this season, but they are only slightly below average on the road. People fail (or just choose not) to make this distinction and will target the Stars heavily tonight. The Stars have played very well lately, but they haven’t been scoring like the prolific offense they were last season. The top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza has a ton of upside on any given night and this is an excellent matchup against an Avs team that gives up the most goals in the league. I love any of the three in cash games for their high expected shot volume, but I am worried that they will be the highest owned stack of the night, so I may shy away from them a little in GPPs.
The Stars are not great defensively themselves, so I like having some exposure to the Avs in GPPs. The top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Miko Rantanen is their best best for offense and make for a decent contrarian stack tonight. I don’t mind just using MacKinnon as a one-off either as he is among the league leaders in shots on goal and has performed his best on the road this season.
Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames
These two teams met in Calgary back at the beginning of the month when the Flames exploded for 8 goals against the Ducks. That started a strong stretch for their power-play which has scored 14 times in the 10 games since that meeting. The Ducks PP is also solid as they have the 2nd best unit in the league this season. There should be no shortage of power-play opportunities for either team in this one as the Flames take the most penalties in the league while the Ducks take the 3rd most.
The Ducks look to have split up their top line to get a more balanced approach. Ryan Getzlaf looks to be playing with Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase, while Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell will play with Antoine Vermette. It’s hard to tell which of those lines will get the difficult even strength matchup against the Backlund line and the Giordano-Hamilton pairing, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Flames split them up to cover both options. With all the uncertainty in the line matchups, I prefer to look towards the Kesler line, which should get the much better even strength matchup and still sees PP time. I like Cam Fowler on the back end as he should see most of the PP time with Sami Vatanen out with an illness.
For the Flames, it’s hard to tell how they will deploy their lines, but I prefer using the Gaudreau-Bennett-Chiasson line as they usually get the more favorable matchups on home ice. Gaudreau is cash game worthy because of the matchup, power-play time and his consistent shot volume. Bennett is the more talented offensive player, but Chiasson joined Gaudreau on the top PP unit last game so I may have more of him based on his opportunity.
LA Kings at Edmonton Oilers
I don’t love this matchup from a DFS perspective as the Kings have had a hard time scoring goals lately and are playing on a back-to-back, while they don’t give up a lot of opportunities on the defensive end either. My top play for this game is Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot, as the Kings take over 30 shots on goal per game but score at one of the lowest rates in the league and are now without scorer Tyler Toffoli up front. The Kings are playing their 9th straight game on the road and appear to be running out of gas. I don’t mind some exposure to Connor McDavid tonight because of his game-breaking upside, but he will not be a top play of mine with so many other favorable matchups tonight.
New York Rangers at Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes are the 2nd worst team in the league, ahead of only the Colorado Avalanche in the standings. They are at, or near, the bottom of the league in all offensive and defensive categories and are a great team to pick on in DFS on a nightly basis. I have a lot of interest in the Rangers top line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello tonight. For most of the season, the Rangers offense was very spread out among the top three lines and it was difficult to tell where the goals were going to come from on a given night. However, lately due to injuries, the top line has pretty much been their lone source of offense so I don’t mind targeting them exclusively in this matchup. They are a strong possession line and should be able to dominate any of the Coyotes weak forward lines at even strength. There are some pieces on the depth lines for the Rangers that I have some interest in as one-offs, but their line combinations are uncertain at this point so I will wait for more information once we get closer to game time. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh is a solid option on the back end as he mans the point on the top PP unit for the Rangers against the Coyotes 28th-ranked PK.