It’s do or die time for many teams already in this unprecedented NHL Qualifying Round, and rosters and lineups are getting shaken up left and right. The first game of the day is once again at 12:00 p.m. ET, with the main DraftKings slate locking at 2:30 p.m. ET, and there are a few key situations to look into as the games approach. Here’s your morning update on the most relevant injuries, impending updates and line combinations for today’s upcoming hockey slate.
Aleksi Saarela ($2,000 showdown), Lucas Wallmark ($4,600 showdown)
The Panthers struggled to find offense against the Islanders in Game 1 and mixed their line combinations up throughout the game as a result. The top line of Aleksander Barkov ($9,800), Jonathan Huberdeau ($8,800), and Evgenii Dadonov ($7,200) remained intact, but everything below them ended up getting reshuffled. Panthers coach Joel Quenville said after the game that there could be lineup changes going into Game 2, and it would make sense that those changes could involve second and third liners like Erik Haula ($5,800), Mike Hoffman ($8,400), Frank Vatrano ($6,200), and Brett Connolly ($3,200), as none of them played in any sort of consistent groupings throughout the first game.
The 23-year-old forward Saarela didn’t play in Game 1, but he actually skated on the Panthers’ top line during training camp and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him slot in for Game 2, and perhaps even play a meaningful role. Wallmark missed Saturday’s game as well, but returned to practice on Monday and presumably will center the third line in Game 2.
It should also be noted that the Panthers are a rare team in that they often use their defenseman as fill-ins on forward lines. Extra playing time for Keith Yandle ($6,800), Aaron Ekblad ($7,600) and others surely doesn’t hurt, but it’s hard to know what to expect out of this in terms of production as it’s such an uncommon occurrence throughout the league. There’s not a major takeaway here, other than that the Panthers are clearly willing to experiment on the fly to avoid succumbing to a very short playoff run.
Mark Scheifele ($5,500), Patrik Laine ($5,900)
There’s no official report coming from the Jets yet, but it appears pretty unlikely that Mark Scheifele will make it back into the lineup for Game 3 on Tuesday. Patrik Laine reportedly has a chance to return at some point in this series, but he’s looking at another doubtful tag like he was before getting ruled out yesterday. The Jets actually won yesterday to even up the series despite missing two of their best forwards, an extremely impressive feat considering that the Jets are one of the most top-heavy groups in the NHL with very little depth beyond their few star players.
In Monday’s Game 2 win, the Jets relied very heavily on their new top line of Andrew Copp ($4,000), Blake Wheeler ($5,400), and Kyle Connor ($7,200), giving them nearly one-third of the even strength minutes up front. The Jets also slowed the game down, which could be a theme going forward, since Scheifele and Laine are both elite scorers and also pace-driving players. Without them in the lineup the Jets will likely continue to rely on their first line, and they’ll also probably be grinding out the game in a different fashion than what fans are used to seeing.
New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad ($8,100), Artemi Panarin ($7,500), Pavel Buchnevich ($4,700)
The Rangers are the first team to actually be on the brink of elimination, down 2-0 in their opening round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers truly threw their lines in the blender during Game 2’s 4-1 loss, using several different combinations of forwards to try to get offense going. The most notable grouping to speak of was the first line combination of Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Pavel Buchnevich, which actually led the team in ice time for the game despite starting the game on different lines.
Setting up the roster this way makes the Rangers unusually top-heavy, with their two best players playing together on the first line. The Rangers didn’t do much of that in the regular season and for obvious reasons, as the forward depth past Panarin and Zibanejad runs out rather quickly. The second line on Monday included Ryan Strome ($5,100), Chris Kreider ($5,300), and Kaapo Kakko ($3,200), but it’s difficult to know if the Rangers will stick to this heading into Game 3, or if they’ll switch it up again if they struggle in what could be their final hockey game of the season.
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