Hockey, Learn

2 years ago

Getting Ready for an NHL Slate. Which Teams to Pick Against

The in-depth preparation for the NHL slate consists of several consecutive steps. In this article, we will primarily focus on the first step, which is identifying the teams we will likely be playing against. These teams might struggle in different aspects of play, and identifying them is what we need to do first.

The Vegas odds

We can't speak about the preparation for the slate without referring to the Vegas odds. They are not of utmost importance in the NHL tournaments but can be implemented as a good starting point. The first reason why the Vegas odds are not so useful in regard to the NHL in comparison to other sports is that the NHL is a very competitive league. The outcome of basically every game is unpredictable.

Secondly, some teams have the goal-scoring spread shared between all four lines, while others get concentrated scoring from the top line mostly. These factors are crucial in the lineup building process, but the odds fail to reflect them.

Despite being the most simplistic and shallow approach, the odds still can be used to some extent.

The over/under totals roughly show what games are expected to be low or high scoring. Implied team totals, based on the Vegas lines, help us to identify teams that are expected to score the most goals. Where the Vegas odds are actually very useful is when it comes to choosing a goalie. To succeed, you must choose a goalie who will get a win. All things being equal, you should pick a goalie from a team that has a higher probability to win the game.


Analyzing the underlying data

Having reviewed the odds, we should analyze the teams’ underlying stats. You may read about using underlying data in DFS hockey here. The indicators that I find the most relevant are the teams’ Corsi For Percentage (CF%), Expected Goals Against per 60 minutes (xGA/60), and High Danger Chances Against per 60 (HDCA/60). All the data needed can be found at

The existing data is visualized by Sean Tierney on Charting Hockey. For example, this is how the NHL teams’ CF/60 and CA/60 numbers look like:

In order to make our data more representative, we should restrict the sample. I usually analyze the teams’ underlying numbers related to the last 30 days, but I don’t mind using the sample of the last 10 games as well. We can set the required filters on the teams’ page of naturalstattrick:


Below we can see the best teams in terms of Expected Goals Against over the last month. In general, you should avoid picking skaters playing against these teams.

Rank Team xGA/60 HDCA/60
1 Vegas Golden Knights 1.95 9.13
2 Montreal Canadiens 1.95 9.79
3 St Louis Blues 2 9.03
4 Minnesota Wild 2.07 7.72
5 Tampa Bay Lightning 2.09 9.18
6 Boston Bruins 2.1 9.52
7 Colorado Avalanche 2.1 10.18
8 Columbus Blue Jackets 2.14 10.48
9 Philadelphia Flyers 2.15 10.18
10 Dallas Stars 2.16 10.46


And now, let’s look at the worst teams in xGA/60 over the last month. These teams are playing bad defensively, and you have to predominantly pick skaters playing against them.

Rank Team xGA/60 HDCA/60
22 New York Rangers 2.5 12.98
23 Ottawa Senators 2.56 11.42
24 Arizona Coyotes 2.59 12.51
25 Nashville Predators 2.59 12.65
26 Los Angeles Kings 2.62 11.48
27 Buffalo Sabres 2.63 12.69
28 New Jersey Devils 2.66 10.49
29 Winnipeg Jets 2.74 13.67
30 Chicago Blackhawks 2.85 13.81
31 Anaheim Ducks 2.88 14


The special teams review

The special teams analysis is necessary to single out teams that have good power-play matchups in the current slate. We simply can’t ignore the special teams' stats given that more than 20% of goals scored in the NHL come on the power-play.

Penalty kill stats, that are the most important indicators here, could easily be found on the NHL's official website. Just like with the underlying metrics, I prefer looking at the teams' PK% rates relevant to the last month:

The worst NHL teams in PK% over the last month


It should be mentioned that some teams might have weak PK numbers but will concede just a few penalties. That’s why you should also bear in mind how many times on average the teams actually get penalized. Below, we can see the most penalized teams in the NHL. In this case, I don’t restrict the sample and look at the numbers over the course of the entire season:

A team that has weak penalty kill numbers and takes lots of penalties is who we must target.

In general, we should pick skaters playing against such teams as much as possible. Forward stacks, power-play stacks, and one-off defensemen — anything goes.


The goaltending

Goalies are a crucial element of any NHL team, unlike other sports. In hockey, an elite goalie can steal you a game. They also tend to concede just a few goals on a regular basis. That is why we should understand which goalies are expected to play on a given night.

NHL has a dozen elite goalies, and you shouldn't pick skaters playing against them often. Their backups, on the contrary, are often not as solid, plain bad at most times.  Situations where a backup goalie starts are very favorable for us.

Only starting goaltenders are present on this chart. Connor Hellebuyck has been outstanding this season, despite his team playing horrible in defense.


Putting it all together

You might argue that all the abovementioned stats are already taken into account by the bookies, and there is a little need to analyze them. I would say that digging into this stuff is still important because it helps to better understand the slate. By analyzing the underlying data, the special teams stats, and the goalies’ numbers, we figure out what teams are the most attractive to pick against. Deciding exactly which players to pick is the next step of the preparation process. We will discuss it in detail in the next article. Take care and stay safe!



Khan, a Ph.D. student in Economics, loves studying advanced sports analytics and using it to his advantage in DFS. Having started to play daily fantasy sports in 2017, he currently has a net profit of over 70000 euros. Sits in the top-5 of DFS players in Europe, finished 3rd in FanTeam's WCOFF 2018 and WCOFF 2020.