Hockey

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2020 NHL Playoffs Fantasy Preview. Eastern Conference

Hello, my fellow hockey lovers! ‘Tis that time of year again…wait, is it October? (checks calendar) No, it’s not. (checks calendar again) Oh yeah, it’s 2020, the weirdest year in the history of man.

Anyhow, NHL is back! I for one am very excited about that, and what better way to celebrate it than by looking at 24 teams that are going to vie for the coveted Stanley Cup. Fanteam is rolling out a €10K guarantee tournament for the first 4 matches of the Qualifying round on Saturday, August 1st.

It is now time to turn our attention to the Eastern Conference. We’ll analyze four play-in matchups, and then we’ll cover the other four teams. The analysis will cover several aspects, like the overall quality of the lineup, goaltending, X-factors, and, of course, picks from DFS standpoint. I will also try to give my predictions, at least for each play-in series. I will deliberately stay away from things like power play because there’s no telling how it’s gonna look like after such a long pause.

A little disclaimer: again, this year is the strangest one ever. The play-in round is even shorter than the actual playoffs (best-of-5 and best-of-7) respectively, so anything can happen in this short period of time – a goalie can steal a series, a well-rested team with several key players back from injuries after the COVID layoff can beat a strong Cup contender, etc. Take any stats and predictions with a grain of salt.

Read more: NHL Playoffs 2020 Western Conference Preview

 

Montreal Canadiens – Pittsburgh Penguins

Overall quality of the lineup

The Pens take the cake in this category. Yes, Montreal has a lot of young dynamic players, but when a team has Patrick Marleau and Patric Hornqvist on their third line, it’s called depth. Plus, Jake Guentzel is back from injury.

The Habs have a good top line, Tatar-Danault-Gallagher. They’ve been driving play very well but have been unable to convert their scoring chances. Other than that, the Canadiens’ roster is pretty raw. Yes, there is Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, a couple of talented Finns, but that’s about it.

Goaltending

Pens take the win in this aspect too. Tristan Jarry has seemingly ousted Matt Murray from the #1 goalie spot, but Murray may be able to rebound, and if the Pens have two excellent goalies, there may be some trouble for the opposition.

On the opposing side, it’s a pretty interesting story. Carey Price seems to be way past his prime and carries an albatross of a contract, but he has been pretty good this season (0.919% saves percentage, 2.36 GAA). He is still hailed by his peers as one of the best in the business. Price may steal a game for the Habs, and if the skaters get the confidence from their netminder, we may be in for a surprise.

X-factors

Carey Price. See above.

DFS perspective

This matchup seems pretty lopsided in all aspects, but there is some value to be had on the Habs’ side of things. Let’s start with the Pens though.

Pittsburgh’s top six is worth your attention (except for Conor Sheary, I think). Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Rust, Zucker – those guys should be in your lineups throughout the play-in series. If you’re looking for salary relief, ensure that Patric Hornqvist is in your teams as he is a staple on the top power play unit. On the defense, it’s Kris Letang, the PP1’s quarterback, who is the number one guy. Among the cheaper options is John Marino, the team’s second point-getter among the blueliners.

Now, to the Habs. Like I said, it’s pretty slim pickings. The top line of Tatar-Danault-Gallagher is always good from the analytics standpoint, but they can’t finish. Maybe the layoff has done wonders for them, but we’ll have to watch at least one game to make any sort of conclusions. If you’re a value-seeker, you may consider Montreal’s second line, Drouin-Suzuki-Armia. They haven’t played a lot together, but their numbers are pretty good. Plus, Suzuki and Drouin are on the top power play unit. Shea Weber is pretty much the only viable defensive option here, with Jeff Petry being the differential pick.

Prediction

Pens in four. Everyone thinks that the Pens will blank the series, but I believe the Habs have enough in them to win at least once.

 

New York Islanders – Florida Panthers

Overall quality of the lineup

I think the Isles have a slight edge here. The Cats have one of the best centers in NHL in Aleksander Barkov and talented guys like Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov, and Mike Hoffman. The Islanders have two solid top lines – even though there are no star players there – and a better defensive corps.

Goaltending

Well, the Isles top this category too. Bobrovsky’s playoff struggles are well documented while New York has two good goalies in Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov. Florida basically has no decent backup to replace Bob should something go wrong, so they are obviously at a disadvantage here.

X-factors

Sergei Bobrovsky. If he can replicate his stellar performance a la last year’s surprising blowout of the Lightning, then we’ll talk. If not, the season renewal will be a short one for the Panthers.

DFS perspective

Why the hell wouldn’t Joel Quennenville reunite Barkov, Huberdeau, and Dadonov? If you don’t have enough depth, stick to your top guys. Anyhoo, these three (plus Hoffman) are still the Cats’ best players, so combine them as you please. On the D, there is a coin toss between Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad. Yandle has bigger upside due to his involvement with PP1, but Ekblad has accumulated more points during the regular season (21 vs. 31).

The Isles are not known for their scoring aptitude, but Florida’s defense is porous, so one should expect at least some sort of attacking returns. The Lee-Barzal-Eberle line drives play pretty well (54.11% CF, 54.88% SCF), so we’ll stick with them for now. On the back end, it’s either Ryan Pulock or Devon Toews – both are pretty good when it comes to joining the rush.

Prediction

Isles in three. Florida looked horrible against the Bolts Wednesday night, so the Isles should dispatch of them quickly and move on to the next round.

 

New York Rangers – Carolina Hurricanes

Wow, talk about an even matchup.

Overall quality of the lineup

I think Carolina wins this one by the skin o’ their teeth (an obscure reference for metalheads out there). They are just a little bit deeper on the back end, with the addition of Sami Vatanen and having veterans like Joel Edmundson and Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Goaltending

The Rangers take this one by a landslide. Igor Shesterkin, by all accounts, should be the starter in game 1 of the series, and Henrik Lundqvist will be his backup. In case something goes wrong, there is Alexandar Georgiev waiting in the wings. Petr Mrazek and James Reimer have been good, but they don’t look like they can steal a game for you.

X-factors

Artemi Panarin. If he’s at his peak, there’s nobody and nothing stopping him.

DFS perspective

Something tells me this should be a high-scoring series, despite the better goaltending on Rangers’ part. The Svechinkov-Aho-Teravainen line is a must-have, and so is the Rangers’ top line of Kreider, Zibanejad, and Buchnevich. The Panarin-Strome-Fast combination can also be pretty lethal, so keep them on your radar. Kaapo Kakko has had a pretty good training camp and had some ice time alongside Panarin in the Isles game, so keep an eye on the starting lineups. Defense-wise, Anthony Deangelo is the best bet among the two teams. Sami Vatanen as the anchor of Carolina’s top power play unit is kinda bleh. I’d look elsewhere, honestly; for instance, Jaccob Slavin is the guy I’m interested in. Other names that may go unnoticed are Rangers’ Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox. Also, check whether Dougie Hamilton is available down the stretch.

Prediction

Wow, this is a tough one. I’d go with Canes in 5, but this is a very tough call because this is the most even matchup of the entire play-in.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs – Columbus Blue Jackets

Overall quality of the lineup

Toronto wins this one, just because of sheer star power scattered throughout the lineup. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares are the trio that any team should be envious of. Columbus has most of their troops back, specifically Seth Jones who had plenty of time to recover from injury. However, it’s still not enough to beat Toronto on that front.

Goaltending

I think there is a tie here. We all know that Freddie Andersen is great, and now he finally has a good backup in Jack Campbell, which will certainly help in the playoffs. On the Jackets’ end, we have Joonas Korpisalo healthy and ready to go, as well as Elvis Merzlikins, the biggest Cinderella story of this season (remember his five shutouts in eight games?). In fact, the goaltending performance may be the deciding factor in this series.

X-factors

Goaltending. That’s it, plain and simple.

DFS perspective

If we’re talking Leafs, it’s a pretty simple strategy – fire up either TOR-1 (Nylander-Matthews-Hyman) or TOR-2 (Mikheyev-Tavares-Marner). Alternatively, PP1 is the way to go. Right now, the second line actually looks like a better option because Tavares and Marner have played a lot together, and Mikheyev has been looking spectacular since the training camp began (five goals in scrimmages and a goal on Tuesday night against the Habs). On the D, it’s a toss-up between Morgan Rielly and Tyson Barrie. Yes, Barrie is top PP unit’s quarterback, but Rielly came up with 1+2 in the first game back after the layoff. Choice is yours.

Columbus’ lineup is full of value, given the defensive woes that have been the Leafs’ trademark for quite a while. Plus, Toronto usually plays a high-paced style, which may bode well for the Jackets. The pairing of Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand have posted good numbers together (53% CF, 58.5% SCF, 61.3% HDCF). They both appear on the power play, which pushes their upside a notch. The second line (Foligno-Wennberg-Atkinson) may be an even bigger salary relief. Foligno and Wennberg play together on the second power play unit, while Atkinson is on the top one, so think about your combos wisely. You may even scratch the bottom of the barrel and turn your focus to Jackets’ third line (Nyquist-Jenner-Foudy). They have played just 23 minutes together, but their stats are impressive (62.86 CF%, SCF 71.43%, 62.5% HDCF). Something to think about if you’re looking to squeeze more expensive players into the lineup (again, remember – the sample is too small). As far as the D, it’s either Seth Jones or Zach Werenski. The latter anchors PP1, but Jones can easily light the lamp at even strength.

Prediction

I saved this for last. I think that Columbus advances, beating the Leafs in five games (hot take!!!). They’ve been down that road, they know how to do that, they have almost the entire roster back, they have a goalie who can win you a series if he catches fire. Plus, Toronto is pretty bad defensively, and Tampa knows full well the power of Columbus’ counter-attacks (see Toronto make quick work of the Jackets in three games just to make a fool out of me).

Read more: Khan explains how to get ready for the NHL slate on FanTeam

 

Boston Bruins

They have all the tools for a repeat trip to the Stanley Cup finals, having added Ondrej Kase to bolster an already deep roster. All it will take is a little bit of Pasta (never gets old eh).

DFS perspective

This is pretty straightforward. Three names for ya, Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak. Among the value picks are Jake Debrusk who appears on the power play alongside those three and Torey Krug. My other value favorite is Ondrej Kase. He got injured soon after the trade that saw him move from Anaheim where he was one of the best scorers despite limited ice time. Imagine what he can do on a better team (upd. He didn’t play against the Jackets, so check his availability).

Defensive assets of the Bruins are Krug (top pick), Charlie McAvoy (PP2, but plenty of upside in 5v5), and Matt Grzelcyk (could get you an assist here and there). Even Zdeno Chara could be a point-getter if he gets his blaster of a shot going.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

We remember last year. Yes, it was embarrassing. The team crumbled when the pressure was on. The Bolts kinda have that reputation of not being able to deliver when the stakes are high. They have been having all the pieces for the Cup win for several years now. Let’s see if they can withstand the pressure this time around.

DFS perspective

Steven Stamkos is out again, and so is Victor Hedman. Thankfully for Tampa, both are day-to-day, so keep a keen eye on the news from the Bolts’ camp. For now, we’ll have to settle for the Palat-Point-Kucherov trio, which is still nice given the thrashing they delivered to the Panthers a couple of nights ago. The Cirelli-Killorn duo can be considered differential picks as they have good underlying numbers.

There is a lot of options on Tampa’s back end for us. Yes, Hedman is still the top dog, but while he is out, Mikhail Sergachev is the one quarterbacking the power play. Plus, the Lightning are good 5v5, so Sergachev may get you loads of points either way. And just so you know, there are guys like Erik Cernak (5 goals) and Kevin Shattenkirk (8 goals and 34 points) on that roster. Decisions, decisions.

 

Washington Capitals

Barry Trotz-less Caps are looking to repeat their 2018 cup win while team’s leaders are not getting any younger by any means.

DFS perspective

Is Alex Ovechkin human? I’m not sure, because it looks like he hasn’t missed a step. He had 2+1 in the victory against the Canes and remains one of the pillars of entire DFS hockey. Fire him up, along with his two teammates. The second line of Vrana, Backstrom, and Oshie is a non-standard option that may win you some money down the stretch (57% SCF, 56% HDCF). Look out for Ilya Kovalchuk who is on PP1 – the value is right there for the taking.

On the D, there is one name that sticks out – John Carlson, the best point-getter among the defensemen during the regular stretch. However, he left the Canes game after an awkward tumble and did not return, so be careful and double-check the starting lineups. The only alternative (if there even is one) is Dmitri Orlov.

 

Philadelphia Flyers

I’m going ahead and picking Flyers to win the East. This is a crazy year, so why not? They had a lot going for them this regular season, and it’s no wonder that Alain Vigneault has been nominated for the Jack Adams award. The team looked focused, Carter Hart has blossomed into a true #1, and they have the best damn mascot in the game, Gritty. Let’s go to the finals, Flyers – just to piss off Pens’ fans.

DFS perspective

The top line of Giroux-Couturier-Voracek has dominated the opposition in the regular season, so be happy to pick them. Plus, I believe that the Flyers will be perceived as underdogs in the entire round robin, so they may be moderately priced, at least for a short period of time. Other than that, it’s a pretty even lineup, and anyone can break out on a given day. I’d focus my attention on Travis Konecny and JVR, or James Van Riemsdyk. This duo had inhuman underlying numbers in the regular season (64.4% CF, 67.4% SCF, almost 70% HDCF), so they definitely deserve your attention.

As far as the blue line is concerned, Ivan Provorov is your best bet. The anchor of PP1 has 36 points to his credit, including 13 goals. However, there is a lot of value to be found in other Flyers’ defensive options. For instance, veteran Matt Niskanen has 33 points, 124 hits and 84 blocks, Travis Sanheim has 25 points and 23 iHDCF (highest on the team), and Robert Hagg is a hitting machine (136 hits). Feel free to pick any of those four, but steer clear of Shayne Gostisbehere – he hasn’t been the same this season.

That is it for the preview. Enjoy hockey, win some money, and have fun!

mihal2712
Author

mihal2712

DFS enthusiast and rather frequent player. Spreading DFS word within the sound of my voice. Love all things hockey.