The NHL begins its season-ending tournament on Saturday as it tries to crown a champion for its 2019-2020 season. To start, the top four teams in each conference will play in a three-game round-robin format for seeding purposes, while the bottom eight teams in each conference will all play a best of five “play-in” series to see who moves on to the main playoff bracket. NHL games take place all day on Saturday. The slate locks at 12:00 p.m. ET with a matchup between the Rangers and Hurricanes, while the late game starts at 10:30 p.m. ET with a matchup between the Jets and Flames. EDM-CHI, NYI-FLA and MON-PIT are also on this slate.
As far as injuries go there’s not too much to watch for here, although late scratches could still happen. The biggest moves will be regarding coaches moving players around the lineup (i.e. up or down a line) and goaltenders. Many teams may wait to settle on a starting goalie with EDM, CGY and CHI being the main teams to watch in that area.
Top Line Stacks
WPG at CGY
Mark Scheifele ($6,000) – Kyle Connor ($7,000) – Blake Wheeler ($5,600)
On paper this sets up as a tougher matchup for the Jets’ top line and PP1 unit, but it’s one I think they can win, at least early on. The Flames ranked eighth in penalty kill percentage prior to the stoppage but also feature one of the more inconsistent goalie duos in the league. It hasn’t been announced yet whether Cam Talbot or the Flames’ regular number one, David Rittich, will start in game one of this series, but the fact Calgary isn’t confident enough to declare Rittich the starter yet is a bad sign. The Jets only ranked about league average in power play conversion rate this year, but their top line has played together a ton over the last couple of seasons. In this condensed format, with shortened prep time, I’d give players who are very familiar with each other, like this trio, a pretty big edge.
It doesn’t hurt that these three were producing every night for fantasy purposes before the stoppage either, producing 15 points between them in their last four games. Of the three, Wheeler’s ice-time and recent production make him the clear best value (if you’re looking to just stack two of these players), while Connor has the best upside. The winger was 10th in the league in shots per game and seventh in goals scored. The Jets’ top line presents good upside for DFS on night one and could go semi-overlooked on this slate which has a couple of big favorites on it.
Superstar to Target
Connor McDavid ($7,600), EDM vs. CHI
While he doesn’t always produce the same kind of consistent DFS production as some of the other top players in the game—mainly due to his lower SOG totals—McDavid’s upside remains massive. The center had two games with 33+ DKFP in his last 10-starts prior to the break and has a terrific matchup to target in the play-in’s. The Blackhawks allow the most SOG per game in the league and also traded away their best goaltender before the stoppage, when they sent Robin Lehner to Vegas. Chicago has a solid penalty kill that can at least try and shutdown the Oilers’ league leading power play, but with Corey Crawford (COVID-19) lacking in prep time, the results for the Hawks could be ugly early. The biggest factor here though is the price. McDavid hasn’t been this cheap in over 10 games and given how he dominant he looked in the Oilers’ lone exhibition (two goals), avoiding him seems like over-thinking things on night one. He’s a good core play to start lineups with and often plays with at least one cheap winger you could think about stacking him with as well.
Value on Offense
Jesper Fast ($3,600), NYR at CAR
Fast isn’t exactly a high-end offensive player but he is the type of unsung forward who we often see come alive in the playoffs. The Swede averages over 16 minutes of ice for the Rangers and could easily see that number rise in the playoffs if he maintains his second-line role. Typically playing alongside Artemi Panarin ($7,600) and Ryan Strome ($5,200) at even strength, he’s proven capable of big games in the past—even without much power play exposure—and posted a 30.3 DKFP night against the Sharks in February. He gives you top six exposure to an explosive offense at well under 4K for this slate and has the potential to see an increased role against a tough Hurricanes team.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau ($4,500), NYI vs. FLA
Pageau was a late pickup for the Islanders prior to the stoppage. The former Sen bounced between the lineup for the Islanders a bit but did find a home on their PP1, which really gives him a great upside boost for fantasy purposes. In his last five games with the Islanders before the break, he played over 18 minutes in four of those starts and also exceeded his SOG average on the season (2.25 per game) in his last four starts. He’s going up against a Panthers team who is a good matchup for opposing forwards as they allow the 10th most SOG per game and feature the 11th worst penalty-kill. Pageau’s good value and can be stacked with one of his regular strength line-mates—like Anthony Beauvillier ($3,700)—for cheap here, too.
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Igor Shesterkin ($7,400), NYR at CAR
Shesterkin looks set to start the series for the Rangers on Saturday. The 24-year-old really took over the starting job for the Rangers once he got into the mix, posting a .932 and 10-2 record in his limited action. Talent aside, the fantasy upside with Shesterkin has been evident all year as the Rangers are terrible at blocking shots and allow the second most SOG per game in the league. This works out great for fantasy purposes though when you have a goalie as talented as Shesterkin. The Russian has posted a great W/L record (despite the Rangers’ defensive woes) and hit the DraftKings save bonus four times in his last 10-games, posting 20 or more DKFP in four of his last six starts. Despite the Rangers entering as +115 underdogs on this slate, he remains a terrific target for night one.
Connor Hellebuyck ($7,500), WPG at CAL
Hellebuyck carries a lot of the same traits that Shesterkin does—like a cheap DraftKings price and great save percentage—and likely has a much better shot at hitting the win bonus for you on night one. The Jets are only small -105 underdogs on this slate to Calgary but carry a pretty big advantage on paper with Hellebuyck, who has a .922 save percentage on the year and had posted 20+ DKFP in his last four starts. The Jets are also terrible at stopping SOG, allowing the seventh-most SOG per game in the league, which should give Hellebuyck a great shot at approaching the save bonus at least once in these play-ins. He’s a great value target for game one.
Value on Defense
Justin Schultz ($3,800), PIT vs. MTL
Schultz was really coming on prior to the break. The former Oiler had just come back from injury about 10 or so games before the stoppage and was starting to show some signs of a breakout, recording a point and three or more SOG in each of his last two games. While he generally cedes most of the top power-play minutes to Kris Letang ($6,300), Schultz is locked in as Pittsburgh’s number two QB on special teams, which can be a valuable role for fantasy purposes given Pittsburgh’s talent up front. The Canadians have a pretty subpar penalty kill, ranking just 19th in the league in that area, making this a good matchup for the sub-4k defenseman to capitalize. He looks like a solid value here for DFS and looks like a player who could easily see his ice time rise in the playoffs as teams shorten their bench.
Oscar Klefbom ($6,000), EDM vs. CHI
The Oilers do tend to juggle their top couple of lines more than most teams but one constant for them in these playoffs will be marching out Oscar Klefbom on defense in as many important situations as possible. Despite missing some games midseason, the Swede still leads the league in blocked shots by a significant margin and will be matched up here against an opponent in Chicago who not only allows a lot of SOG themselves (most in the league) but also ranks 13th in shots taken per game. Klefbom hit the double bonus (blocked shots and SOG) on DraftKings once in his last 10-games, and seems likely to at least threaten that kind of production in every game in this series—barring injury. Considering he anchors the best power play in hockey, Klefbom is generally a great target most nights, but given his matchup here he gets the slight nod from me as top D play on this slate, over the also explosive Kris Letang ($6,300).
Neal Pionk ($5,000), WPG at CAL
Pionk is more of a salary play tonight. The Jets’ power play quarterback was really peppering the puck on net prior to the break as he averaged four SOG per game in his last 10 starts. Despite that little increase in production though, his price remains pretty flat here and easy to fit into lineups. More of an offensive specialist than many of the top defensemen in the league, Pionk sees just under 3-minutes of power play time per game but is still averaging over 23 minutes per game. He also makes for an easy stack with any of the top forwards from the Jets, any of which could easily go off against the weaker goalies of the Flames. He’s a solid play in all formats and a nice way to get broader exposure to the Jets’ PP1.
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