NHL Breakdown 01/26/2017
The NHL has a massive 13-game slate tonight before the teams head into the All-Star break this weekend. The Leafs, Flyers, Canucks, and Oilers are the only teams playing on back-to-back nights. There are a lot of close games expected tonight with only the Sharks, Hawks, and Capitals being larger than -150 favorites. I will break down my favorite spots to look for offense tonight and try to help narrow down your options.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Philadelphia Flyers
Both teams were in action last night and both came away with shutout victories on the road. The Leafs dominated the Red Wings 4-0, who were playing on the second half of a back-to-back, as Freddy Andersen recorded his second straight shutout. Tonight, the Leafs will turn to backup goalie Curtis McElhinney, who has the worst save percentage in the league over the last 3 seasons, yet impressed with a 35-save victory in his Leafs debut. The Flyers were outplayed and outshot badly last night against the Rangers, but Steve Mason stole the game for them, making 34 saves in the win. Mason has had a very streaky season thus far and seems to be entering one of his hot streaks after a prolonged cold stretch. It’s currently unknown whether the Flyers will turn to him again tonight with a 4-day break on the horizon. Goalies rarely perform well on the second half of a back-to-back, especially when they face over 30 shots the night before. The alternative is not great for the Flyers though, as backup Michael Neuvirth has been abysmal lately and has a .877 SV% on the season. The Flyers are currently -133 favorites, but I like the Leafs in this matchup. The Leafs are 11-2-2 in their last 15 games and have played excellent hockey on the road of late, with the league’s best PK on the road. The Flyers have won 2 games in a row, but were outplayed in both games and should have taken the loss if not for Mason’s heroics. I still have interest in the Leafs if Mason gets the start again, due to the fatigue factor, but I will be all in on them if Neuvirth gets the start.
The Flyers have one solid shutdown line centered by Sean Couturier, but their other forward lines are very weak defensively. The Giroux/Voracek combo and Schenn/Simmonds combo generate a lot of shots and scoring chances at even strength, but they give up far too many in return. I know +/- has its flaws, but the four of them are a combined -53 on the season, which is just ugly. The Schenn line is particularly bad defensively, considering that they are sheltered in most games and only play against opposing depth lines on home ice. The Leafs are a balanced team offensively, with three potential scoring lines which make it difficult to pinpoint the best option on a given night. For some reason, leading scorer Auston Matthews tends to produce more offense on the road, yet he is likely to see the Couturier line in this one, which is not ideal. The Bozak line has been treated as the second line by most teams lately, which makes them likely to go up against the Giroux line at even strength, leaving the Kadri line to face the Schenn line. The last two matchups could change, but it doesn’t make a huge difference to me as both the Bozak line and Kadri line should be in great spots. The Leafs have the 2nd-best PP unit in the league and will go up against the Flyers 17th-ranked PK. I like the Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, and Mitch Marner line the best for stacking in GPPs since they all stay together on the top PP unit, and Kadri as a one-off play as he also joins that unit.
I also have some interest in the Flyers offense against McElhinney. Despite the strong debut for the Leafs, McElhinney has awful career numbers and will be in tough against a Flyers team with a lot of offensive skill. The problem with the matchup for the Flyers is that a large percentage of their offense has come from their PP this season and they face a strong Leafs PK. The Schenn/Simmonds/Konecny line has generated the most offense for the Flyers over the past month, but Giroux and Voracek look to have busted out of prolonged slumps and get the more favorable matchup against the Bozak line, which is the weakest defensive line on the Leafs. A Giroux/Voracek mini stack is my favorite option on the Flyers, with the Schenn line being a decent secondary option.
Calgary Flames at Ottawa Senators
The Flames have lost 6 of their last 7 games and have looked particularly awful over their last 4. They have given up 20 goals and haven’t led at all in those 4 games. The Flames are the most penalized team in the league and have given up 8 PP goals against in their last 8 games. The offense has been awful as well, with only 2 goals for in their last 4 road games. The Flames have been called out in the media by their coach for their effortless performances, so there is a possibility that they bounce back here before the break, but I don’t like their chances in this matchup. The Sens have been playing great hockey lately, going 6-1-1 in their last 8 games, including an impressive 3-0 victory over the league-leading Capitals in their most recent game. The Sens have 3 balanced forward lines which typically makes them difficult for stacking as their studs are spread out across the lines. But Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone all reunite on the PP which is in a great spot here against the Flames 20th-ranked PK. Erik Karlsson and Dion Phaneuf are also on the top PP unit and make for great options on defense tonight. I don’t mind the idea of a 3- or 4-man stack of any of those 5 players on the PP. The Sens have been matching lines very clearly at home lately, with the Hoffman line facing opposing top lines, Stone facing 2nd lines, and Turris facing 3rd lines. Stone gets the only difficult even strength matchup as the Mikael Backlund line for the Flames is one of the best possession lines in the league. Turris gets by far the best even strength matchup though, as the Bennett/Brouwer/Versteeg combo for the Flames has awful advanced metrics over a somewhat small sample. The Bennett line has a 44% CF% (percentage of shot attempts for), with a 58 CA60 (shot attempts against per 60), and a 34% SCF% (scoring chance for percentage), with 11.55 SCA60 (scoring chances against per 60). Based on those stats and PP exposure, Turris is my top play in this game, but I don’t mind stacking him with wingers Bobby Ryan and Ryan Dzingel in GPPs to capitalize on the great matchup and gain salary relief.
Buffalo Sabres at Dallas Stars
This game is a matchup between the two worst PK teams in the league. The PP units for both sides should be the top targets with the Sabres owning the league’s 7th-best PP and the Stars only having the 21st-ranked PP. The Sabres have won 3 straight games with impressive road wins in Montreal and Nashville after struggling on the road for a few games. The Stars have lost 3 straight games themselves, yet played well enough to win against the Caps and Wild. They have been a much better team on home ice this season, with a 12-7-6 record at American Airlines Center. The Stars are -140 favorites in this one, but I’m leaning more towards the Sabres side in GPPs. The Sabres have played the better hockey recently and have the better PP, but the major edge they have is in goaltending. Antti Niemi is a slight upgrade over Kari Lehtonen for the Stars, but he only has a .902 SV% on the season, while Anders Nilsson has a .925 SV% for the Sabres. On the Sabres side, I don’t see any reason to go beyond the usual PP mini-stacks of O’Reilly/Okposo/Ristolainen and Eichel/Reinhart/Ristolainen. The forward pairs skate together at even strength and on the PP, and Rasmus Ristolainen quarterbacks the top PP and is a must in any favorable matchup against a weak PK. The Eichel combo has the most upside but is more expensive and will likely be higher owned, so the O’Reilly combo makes sense as well. As far as even strength matchups go, the Stars have been playing the Benn/Eakin/Eaves combo against top lines at home, and the Seguin/Spezza/Roussell combo against 2nd lines. I’m not sure how they will label the Sabres lines, but the Benn line is the much stronger possession line over a small sample.
On the Stars side, it will be a very similar scenario, with PP mini stacks being the ideal targets. Benn/Eaves/Klingberg and Seguin/Spezza/Klingberg are the two stacks I am considering for the Stars. The O’Reilly line is a much stronger possession line than the Eichel line, so I would choose the Stars line that avoids them at even strength. My assumption is that the Stars match the Benn line against O’Reilly at even strength, which makes the Seguin line and Eichel line the ideal targets here. If I am wrong and it is the reverse, then I would prefer the Benn and O’Reilly lines.