NHL Playoff Puck Picks

The NHL playoffs are a challenging time to put together a winning DFS lineup. The games are hard fought and often low scoring. With fewer goals, fewer assists and fewer teams competing each night every choice carries extra weight and there are fewer good alternatives to choose. Add to it that the third and fourth lines play fewer minutes and take fewer shifts, limiting the number of viable players as well.

There are other factors that need to be considered as well. During the regular season recent trends provide helpful research when deciding who to start and who to avoid, but that research doesn’t do a lot of good in the playoffs. The playoffs are a brand new season with special circumstances and more urgent implications that often leads to different decisions or line choices by coaches. It’s also a different atmosphere and different playing styles that can bring out the best in some players and can stifle the production of others. As the sample sizes grow we will be able to make some sense of what are meaningful trends and what aren’t, but two or three games in to the playoff season is too small to get a good idea.

Even with these challenges there are still some places to look for reliable stats that can be beneficial in predicting production.

Blocked Shots

There isn’t a lot of upside targeting a player that blocks a lot of shots, but they are worth two points per block and they are more reliable and come cheaper than chasing goals or assists. Brooks Orpik was a player that I recommended over the weekend, here are a few that are in tonight’s slate.

Niklas Hjalmarsson: Blackhawks Defense – $7,300

Opponent: St. Louis Blues

Stats: 13 Blocked Shots – 23:38 Ice time. 1 Shot On Goal = 3 GP

Hjalmarsson is playing full time minutes and has blocked an average of just over four shots per game at an affordable cost that allows you the salary relief to start more expensive options. The down side is that he is a defense-only player with zero goals or assists, only one shot on goal and he doesn’t play in man advantage situations. He lacks even minimal offensive upside and he doesn’t play on the power play, so I recommend starting him only if you are in a salary crunch and need to punt a position to afford other players you really want.

Alex Pietrangelo: Blues Defense – $12,300

Opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

Stats: 10 Blocked Shots – 2 Assists – 4 SOG = 3 GP

Pietrangelo is a much better all around player than Hjalmarsson. He shoots more, he plays a role in the offense, he has two assists in three games and he receives shifts on the second power play line. His salary is expensive, but as one of the better shot blockers in the playoffs he has a higher floor than most.

Kevin Shattenkirk: Blues Defense – $14,500

Opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

Stats: 9 Blocked Shots – 1 Goal – 1 Assist – 9 SOG = 3 GP

Shattenkirk is the third most expensive defenseman of the night but when you consider that he is the lone point man on the first line power play, that he is likely to score six points from blocked shots and six points from shots on goal, he has an extremely high floor. If he can add a goal or an assist you have one of the leading scorings of the night. I believe in paying for defenseman and Shattenkirk is in my lineup tonight.

POWER PLAYS

Blocked shots are a way to raise the potential floor of your defenseman dollars but you don’t cash without scoring goals and that’s difficult because there are fewer of them in the playoffs. One way to increase your shots on goal and increase the chance that you score goals is to focus on teams with the most power play opportunities. The man advantage is where a lot of teams do their damage (or lose their series when they fail) in the playoffs.

In tonight’s slate you have the Detroit Red Wings and the Tampa Bay Lightning in a head to head battle of two of the more penalized teams in the playoffs and the Chicago Blackhawks who face the St. Louis Blues in a must-win game.

Tyler Johnson: Lightning Center – $12,100

Opponent: Detroit Red Wings

Stats: 2 Goals – 4 Assists – 3 SOG = 3 GP

I would like to see more shots on goal from Johnson but its difficult to quibble with a player that is tied for second in points in the playoffs. He is on the same line with Nikita Kucherov and he is on the first line power play against the Red Wings who have allowed 14 power play opportunities. The salary is reasonable as well.

Nikita Kucherov: Blues Winger – $15,000

Opponent: Detroit Red Wings

Stats: 3 Goals – 2 Assists – 7 SOG = 3 GP

I like Kucherov for all the same reasons that I liked Johnson and he has more than twice the shots on the goal in the playoffs. The downside, he costs $2,900 more than Johnson and that’s a significant amount. It’s a pricey mini-stack, but I like it. If I had to choose between the two, I prefer Kucherov if the salary isn’t a factor and Johnson if I need the $2,900 in salary to start another player I like.

Neither the Red Wings nor the Blackhawks have a player that has two goals scored in the playoffs. The Red Wings have struggled to score all season and while they have had a lot of opportunities with the man advantage in the playoffs, they have only scored one power play goal. The Blackhawks have a lot of offensive firepower but they have only scored two goals with the man advantage.

Riley Sheahan: Red Wings Center – $6,800

Opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning

Stats: 10 SOG – 16:47 Ice Time = 3 GP

Sheahan is a bargain play without the production to catch your eye (0 goals and 0 assists in the playoffs) and that’s a risky proposition. What I do like about this risk over others is that he is receiving regular ice time even though he is listed on the third line, he plays with the first line offense on the power play and he is second to Pavel Datsyuk in shots on goal. At a $6,800 salary against one of the most penalized teams in the playoffs, I like this play tonight. He is my bargain play of the night.

Brent Seabrook: Blackhawks Defense – $12,900

Opponent: St. Louis Blues

Stats: 1 Goal – 1 Assist – 10 SOG – 25:18 Ice Time = 3 GP

Seabrook has a goal and an assist on the power play and he takes a lot of shots on goal, which is common when you receive a lot of man advantage opportunities. The salary isn’t cheap, but the match up is good and it isn’t prohibitive. Duncan Keith ($12,400) is a close second to Seabrook if you prefer him, but I am a Seabrook guy tonight.

The Blackhawks have the offensive firepower to start any number of a plethora of options from Patrick Kane ($18,300), Jonathan Toews ($12,600), Artemi Panarin ($13,900) and Andrew Ladd ($11,000) or Martin Hossa ($11,300) if you want to start a cheaper alternative. But, they haven’t scored like the names and salaries suggest they should so you are paying for potential rather than recent performance. They are all viable, but I can’t make a strong argument justifying why tonight is the night other than “they are due,” and I don’t like using that as the reason to roster a player.

We are two/three games into the NHL playoffs and that’s a small sample to get a good feel for which lines are clicking and which lines are struggling, but there are some indications. Nicholas Backstrom from the Capitals and John Tavares of the Islanders are making it happen from the center position, John Carlson is doing it all from the blue line while Jamie Benn and Nikita Kucherov ($15,000- the only one of this group playing tonight) are doing it from the wing.

Here are a few random players to like tonight.

Patrick Hornqvist: Penguins Winger – $15,100

Opponent: New York Rangers

Stats: 3 Goals – 1 Assist – 8 SOG = 2 GP

He finished the season strong and has rolled into the playoffs as the Penguins leading scorer. If you buy into the hot hand Hornqvst is it.

Ryan Kessel: Penguins Winger – $14,700

Opponent: New York Rangers

Stats: 2 Goals – 1 Assist – 11 SOG = 2 GP

If you are a Penguins player you don’t typically come cheap, but they produce and Kessel has so far. The shots on goal are there and the goals have followed along

Nick Bonino: Penguins Center – $9,900

Opponent: New York Rangers

Stats: 3 Assists – 2 SOG – 18:00 Ice Time = 2 GP

For a Penguins forward the salary is a bargain. I don’t like the lack of shots on goal but I do like the assists, the ice time and that he plays on the second line of the power play. Combine those factors with the cheaper salary and Bonino becomes a viable start for a Penguins offense that was on fire coming in to the payoffs.

MATCH UP SHARES

The Penguins are starting back up goalie Jeff Zatkoff who allowed four goals last game. Hard fought defense and good goaltending is traditionally a staple of the NHL playoffs, but Zatkoff is a goalie to target stacks against tonight.

Here are the Rangers to look to for a chance at a big night:

Derek Stepan: Rangers Winger – $13,500

Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Stats: 2 Goals – 11 SOG = 2 GP

He is by far and away the leading shot taker on the Rangers and he has led them in playoff goals as well. He is in the middle of everything against a goalie that should struggle to fill in while Marc-Andre Fleury sits with concussion issues.

Flip Forsberg: Predators Winger – $14,600

Opponent: Anaheim Ducks

Stats: 1 Goal – 2 Assists – 5 SOG = 2 GP

Forsberg is in the middle of everything for the Predators and he is on the second line power play. Its tough to make a statistical argument in only two games, but he has three points in two games and five shots on goal to make as good an argument as there is to be made.

TEAM G

Nashville Predators $16,500 vs. Anaheim Ducks

I am asi-asi (so-so in English) on this one. The Predators have only allowed four goals and 58 shots on goal in two games. We like to see saves so that low total is bad for scoring, but it improves the chances that the Predators both win and keep the goals scored total low, which is good for scoring. The salary is reasonable and the floor and the risk is higher while the ceiling is lower. It’s a viable start, but one I am hesitant to recommend.

Tampa Bay Lightning $16,900 vs. Detroit Red Wings

As I mentioned above, the Lightning put their defense and goalie in tough spots with all of the penalty minutes, but that is concern is mitigated slightly because the Red Wings can’t score to save their playoff lives. They have allowed 98 shots on goal and six goals in three games and I like the thought of 33 saves and two goals with a Win. That’s a cash night from your Team G.

Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell has been playing Fantasy sports for over twenty years. He contributed to RotoWire.com in their early days before contributing as a writer and doing Fantasy sports Podcasts for Seamheads.com. Three seasons ago he brought his writing and his Fantasy sports Podcast to RotoExperts.com and the Fantasy Sports Television network and this past season he wrote a weekly Fantasy sports column for BaseballAmerica.com. He also writes about Minor League prospects for RotoExperts. Chris has no more access to the site than the typical user. Follow him at Twitter @CJMiitch73.

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