NHL Breakdown 2/2/17

The NHL has an 8-game slate tonight with no teams playing on back-to-back nights. There are a lot of close games expected tonight with the Hawks being the only team larger than -150 favorites. We can also expect a lot of goals once again, as there are 2 games with large 6.0 Vegas totals, and another 3 games with 5.5 totals. I will break down both high total games and briefly touch on some other spots I’m looking at for offense tonight.

Toronto Maple Leafs at St. Louis Blues

This matchup is the first of the 6.0 Vegas total games and comes with a lot of uncertainty. First off, the Blues just fired head coach Ken Hitchcock yesterday and we don’t know how the Blues will respond to this move on the ice. The Blues replaced Hitchcock with assistant coach Mike Yeo, so I expect the systems to remain the same in the early going. There were no changes to the personnel in practise yesterday so we can expect the line combinations to stay the same as well. The major issue will be the compete level of the Blues; they can either come out strong in and attempt to prove that the season is not lost, or they could be distracted by the shakeup and play a disinterested game. My guess is the former and I will have a lot of exposure to them in tournaments against a Leafs team that has the highest pace of play in the league and just gave up 6 goals to the Dallas Stars last game. The other question mark in this game is the line combinations used by the Leafs. Their line combos have been very consistent over the last couple months but Mike Babcock switched things up last game after the Leafs experienced troubles generating offense the past 2 games. Nazem Kadri was bumped up between James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner, while William Nylander was rejoined with Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman on a line that played together during the early part of the season. The JVR line was the worst defensive line on the team, but the addition of Kadri should be a major boost in that regard. Nylander should help the Matthews line offensively, but will also make them weaker defensively.

The Leafs have the best special teams in the league (2nd best PP, 3rd best PK), and are even better on the road. They are weakest at even strength, where they give up over 60 shot attempts per game. The Blues have been great at limiting shots on goal as they give up under 50 shot attempts per game at even strength. Their biggest issue has been goaltending. The Blues give up the 4th fewest shots on goal in the league but give up the 3rd most goals per game. Jake Allen is getting the start again for the Blues tonight and he has been particularly awful over the past couple months, making him a prime candidate to pick on every time he is in net.

The Blues have recently used the Stastny line against opposing top lines at home and Tarasenko against depth lines, but with the new coach for the Blues and new lines for the Leafs, it will be difficult to know what the specific line matchups will be. Given the uncertainty with the lines, I think the top two lines for both teams are in play in tournaments. If I had to narrow it down, I would probably go with the Tarasenko/Schwartz combo for the Blues, as they should get the easier even strength matchup. On the Leafs side, I would have heavier exposure to the Kadri line, as the trio stays together on the top PP unit, which has been the most effective weapon for the Leafs.

Winnipeg Jets at Dallas Stars

Both teams are scoring more lately as they are finally starting to get healthy. Both teams continue to give up a ton of goals however, as the Stars have given up 3+ goals against in 8 straight games, while the Jets have given up 3+ goals in 10 straight games. Ondrej Pavelec and Kari Lehtonen will start in net for their respective teams tonight which should result in a very high scoring affair. Pavelec has an .893 SV% in 5 starts since rejoining the team, while Lehtonen has a .904 SV% this season. Both teams also have terrible PK units as the Jets have the 27th-ranked unit while the Stars are dead last in the league. This makes the PP a solid target for both teams tonight.

Mark Scheifele leads the Jets in scoring this season and recorded 18 points in 14 games in January. He is usually a great stack with linemate Blake Wheeler, who is a dominate possession player, but unfortunately the duo is split up on the PP. I will have some exposure to them tonight, given the goaltender they are facing, but my preferred option on the Jets is the second line with Bryan Little, Patrick Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers because they all stay together on the top PP unit. Laine leads the team with 8 PPGs this season and is one of my top targets on the night. The Little line should also see the better even strength matchup as the Spezza line has been the weakest defensive line on the Stars and typically plays against second lines at home. Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba are also strong options on the blue line as they see the most PP time on the team.

On the Dallas side, I like to go with PP mini-stack options due to how the top 2 even strength lines are split up. Benn/Eaves/Klingberg and Spezza/Seguin/Klingberg are each strong considerations tonight given the Jets’ struggles on the PK. The Spezza/Seguin combo should get the easier even strength matchup so I slightly prefer them. The third line of Devin Shore, Radek Faksa, and Patrick Sharp have looked great lately and see ice time against the depth lines of opposing teams. They are a solid salary relief option for large field GPPs.

Other spots to target…

The Rangers are visiting the Sabres, who have the 2nd-worst PK in the league. This makes the Rangers PP an excellent target tonight. The Rangers switched their lines up at even strength, putting Mika Zibanejad back between Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. This line had dominant possession numbers before Zibanejad broke his leg, so hopefully we see them pick up where they left off. I’m not sure how accurate the reported PP lines are, but it looks as though only Kreider and Zuccarello are on the top PP unit, so I don’t mind stacking them with defenseman Ryan McDonagh either.

In the same matchup, I really like the Eichel/Reinhart combo for the Sabres. Henrik Lundqvist has really struggled this season and only has a .904 SV%, which is well below his career numbers. The Rangers defense looks awful aside from McDonagh, and Eichel and Reinhart should be able to exploit the depth pairings.

The Blackhawks are the biggest favorites on the board tonight on the road in Arizona. Mike Smith has played quite well lately and the Hawks have been slumping. However, the Coyotes still give up a ton of shots against and have the 26th-ranked PK unit in the league. I think this is a great matchup to target the top line of Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, and Artem Anisimov, in a spot that they should see lower ownership than usual.