NHL Breakdown 1/31/17
The NHL has a humongous 14-game slate tonight as the teams come off All-Star break weekend. The Leafs, Flyers, Canucks, and Oilers are the only teams playing on back-to-back nights. There are a ton of close games expected tonight with only the Ducks being larger than -150 favorites for now (-280 currently). I will break down my favorite spots to look for offense tonight and try to help narrow down your options.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS AT DALLAS STARS
Both teams love to create scoring chances whether it is at home or on the road. Coming off an extended break is always a different animal. Please understand with the newer rules that teams cannot practice until Monday evening. Going off previous results can be dangerous but the Leafs are on some run on the road. That includes winning four of their last five before the loss to Philadelphia last Thursday. The Stars badly outplayed Buffalo last Thursday, but Evander Kane literally kept the Sabres in the game. Again, Frederik Andersen will likely start for the Maple Leafs and he has been very good. However, the Dallas question is Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi? Both are streaky to say the least but Lehtonen has had three of four starts where he has been good to very good (allowing two goals or less). It’s currently unknown whether the Stars will turn to either goalie as their ten game snapshots are not good (though Lehtonen has a .899 save percentage compared to Niemi’s .859). Again, Niemi has been a huge disaster and the game before the break before Buffalo saw him allow two goals on five shots before he got pulled. That makes Lehtonen the likely play. The Leafs are 11-3-2 in their last 16 games and have played excellent hockey on the road of late, with the league’s best PK on the road. The Stars are 2-1-2 in their last five, but have been all over the place and are against a team that can present problems from all angles. I still have interest in both teams regardless of who starts.
The Leafs have one solid shutdown line centered by Nazem Kadri, but their other forward lines are very weak defensively. The van Riemsdyk/Bozak combo and Matthews/Brown combo generate a lot of shots and scoring chances at even strength, but they give up so many in return. Their chance differential is not ugly but their chances allowed per 60 is among the worst in the league. The Bozak 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. I have some interest in the Stars offense against Andersen. Despite the strong numbers for the Leafs, Andersen does have his moments of pain especially against the Stars. The problem with the matchup for the Stars is that a large percentage of their offense has come from that top six this season and they face a balanced Leafs team that can score too. The mini stack route may just be the best option here as Benn/Eaves is not bad price wise. Seguin/Spezza results in a big uptick in price but that can be offset a little if you tack on John Klingberg for a tiny bit of price relief. The only wrinkle is if Radek Faksa plays that would rotate the centers but that is about it. Dallas will need to generate their offense almost exclusively at even strength.
Toronto has been one intriguing team even on the road. For some reason, leading scorer Auston Matthews tends to produce more offense on the road (16 goals and 28 points in 25 road games), 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 Seguin line at even strength, leaving the Kadri line to face the Benn 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 are still in good spots. The Leafs have a top five PP unit and will go up against the Stars 29th-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. Look to see if Morgan Rielly plays tonight as he may be another sneaky one-off if the news comes later. There will be a few game stacks here since out of the last six meetings, three have hit the over/under of six at one point or another. Tonight, it is 5 ½ by the way.
Philadelphia FlyerS AT Carolina Hurricanes
The battle of two not so good teams has the potential to boom or bust hard tonight. Steve Mason has been hot stopping 70 of his last 72 shots faced. However, how long can that last? The time off may be a bit of a detriment. Philadelphia has won two of their last three games. The Hurricanes have been playing awful hockey lately, losing four straight including a 3-0 dud to Los Angeles where they gave up three goals in no time flat against a tired team. The Hurricanes have 3 balanced forward lines which typically makes them difficult for stacking in theory as their studs are spread out across the lines. However, Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm are inexpensive mini stacks to consider especially if they get the Giroux line to face. Justin Faulk is on the top PP unit and makes for a nice stack idea on the man advantage as Philadelphia’s penalty kill can be brutal on the road of late (see Washington game). The Canes have been matching lines very clearly at home lately, with the Staal line facing opposing top lines, Teravainen facing 2nd lines, and Rask facing 3rd lines. Rask gets the nasty match-up against Sean Couturier’s line but remember that has been one of the colder Carolina lines of late so they will likely be lower owned. Risk/reward could be great, however. Philadelphia has the high price talent here with bad defensive metrics and a woof of a plus/minus when it comes to the Schenn and Giroux lines. The “TSA” line had a 2 ½ minute shift against the Giroux line earlier in the season. That could occur again. Philadelphia is all err mostly about the power play. That is where you can pile a couple of those top Philadelphia plays but remember again that Carolina penalty kill is one of the best three or four in the league. They have been all year. Five on five later in games is where the Hurricanes have been having their issues. Sneaking in guys like Mark Streit or Radko Gudas for a bit of price relief cannot hurt. Carolina’s expected goals for has been typically higher at home and their recent 12-1-1 run there before a bit of a hiccup is very good. The break might have been the best thing that could have occurred for Carolina. They should be able to run the pace at around 60-40 possession wise tonight. Mini or line stacks can come from the second and third lines while Jeff Skinner could be a risky one-off. Watch to see what lines may look like before warm-ups first here.
Nashville predatorS AT Pittsburgh penguins
This game is a matchup between the two teams that give up a lot of chances given their splits. The PP units for both sides should be solid targets with the Penguins having the 5th-best PP and the Predators only have the 15th-ranked PP (Pens penalty kill is 24th overall and the Predators penalty kill is 15th on the road). Pittsburgh has won four of six but did struggle against the Blues and Bruins as they headed into the All-Star Break. The Predators come in looking good as Pekka Rinne has won three straight starts and has a sub 2.00 GAA with a .933 save percentage in his last ten starts. They have been around .500 on the road all year but road wins recently against Minnesota and Edmonton back to back is impressive. The Pens are slight favorites in this one, but I’m leaning more towards the Predators side in GPPs for risk’s sake. The first line for Nashville is almost match-up proof because Pittsburgh does not have a real shut-down line honestly. Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson offer great correlation and are a handful against anything the Penguins have to offer. Craig Smith and James Neal are going to be lower risk one-offs in a game like this because they will draw against even better depth match-ups. Pittsburgh may try the Crosby line against the top line. Remember that the Penguins have game time decisions in Kris Letang and possibly Evgeni Malkin which adds and subtracts a little from the potential. The second and third lines for Pittsburgh can be picked on as their sub 50% possession rates are not optimal plus they just give up way more chances than the Crosby line.
On the Penguins side, it will be a very fluid scenario, with mini stacks being the ideal targets. Crosby/Sheary/Schultz and Hornqvist/Malkin/Letang (if the latter two play) are the two stacks I am considering for Pittsburgh. The Johansen line is a much stronger possession line than the Jarnkrok line and yet going strength against strength and weakness against weakness may not be a bad idea here. My assumption is that the Predators and Penguins will try this and if not, then pivot accordingly. The key in this game will be the decisions on the two big players for Pittsburgh. There are thankfully other options to move to and many games at one’s disposal tonight. A 14 game slate creates tons of opportunities out of sometimes nothing.