NHL Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Play-In Preview
Andrew Dewhirst breaks down the Eastern Conference play in match ups and gives his outlook on the teams.
For the upcoming Eastern Conference play-in series (best 3 out of 5), we are taking a look at the matchups and what to look forward to from a fantasy perspective.
(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (12) Montreal Canadians
The Canadians forwards have struggled to score consistently this year, with the exception of Tomas Tatar , who has been steadily producing at nearly a point per game all season. The second half of the season has seen some growth from Nick Suzuki, and they will need him to produce if Montreal has any hope to get by Pittsburgh in the play-in round. Other Canadians forwards of note are Philip Danault, who will see a lot of minutes I expect, and it will be interesting to see how Max Domi performs, after having a down regular season. On the Penguins side, you have the usual suspects, Evgeni Malkin , and Sidney Crosby . Both players should benefit from the rest. Malkin lead the team in scoring through the regular season, and in the last 30 games of the season was on a 1.25 point per game pace. Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust should also have strong contributions, and Patric Hornquist could be valuable with his power-play time.
Pittsburgh has two defensemen with value, Kris Letang , and John Marino. Letang is a high-risk, high reward type of player. He has been injury-prone in the past, but when healthy he produces. Marino is the next guy up and has sleeper value. You could see Justin Schultz having some value as well if Letang was to be injured as he will start to see more important minutes. For Les Habitant, you’re really looking at Jeff Petry and Shea Weber . Their point production is similar, however, Weber should score more often, so check your format. You may also get Petry at a lower price as well.
For Montreal to have a chance in this series, they will need Carey Price to be at his best. He is still thought of as one of the best goalies in the league, and he will need to steal at least one game in this series. For Pittsburg, the rumors have been that they will go with Matt Murray , who has more playoff experience, over Tristan Jarry , who performed better in the regular season. We will see how things shake out, but if you are not getting either player at a discount, it is a situation to avoid, as the Pens could switch them regularly if neither runs away with the job.
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs (11) New York Rangers
The Hurricanes top line should be the first place you look at. Sebastian Aho led the team in goals, and points, with Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov not too far behind. Svechnikov is a name to watch in these playoffs. He is just 20 years old but produced at a similar pace to Aho in points per 60 minutes. Other forwards for Carolina will be more of a shot in the dark, but Vincent Trochek and Martin Necas do have some dark horse potential. When it comes to the Rangers, everything starts with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panerin. In this calendar year, Zibanejad was at nearly a 1.5 point per game pace, while Panerin wasn’t far behind with 1.33. After that, you are going to look at Chris Kreider , Pavel Bunchnevich, and Ryan Strome , who can call contribute.
One thing I cannot stress enough is to not sleep on Dougie Hamilton . He missed significant time in the second half due to injuries, but he should be healthy when play resumes. If people are looking at just the second half of the season or the totals as a whole, he might get missed. Don’t make that mistake. Jakob Slavin will have some value for Carolina as well. For the Rangers, you have 3 options. Tony DeAngelo, Jacob Trouba , and Adam Fox. DeAngelo sees the majority of the power playtime, but the best value of the 3 is going to be Adam Fox. He will see more of the difficult minutes, but that extra ice time should work out in your favor in these playoffs.
It will be interesting to see what the Rangers decide to do in net. Igor Shesterkin played great in limited time and could potentially be the goalie of choice, however, David Quinn could still choose to go with Alexander Georgiev, or Henrik Lundqvist as both are more seasoned and have played well for stretches for the Rangers this year. Keep an eye on news coming from Rangers camp on who will get the first start, but if you’re going to draft players today, I would put my money on Shesterkin. Carolina will go with Petr Mrazek , and it will be his job to lose. He would have to play poorly for Reimer to get a shot.
(7) New York Islanders vs (10) Florida Panthers
The Panthers have both more high-end scoring and scoring depth in this series. Jonathan Huberdeau cemented himself as a star this year and could have cracked the 100-point mark if not for the stoppage. Alexander Barkov continues to be a gem hidden in the swamp of the everglades. He plays both ends of the ice well, and while his scoring was down, he was still on a point per game pace. Mike Hoffman had his 5th straight 30 goal season. You will also not want to sleep on Evgeni Dadonov and Erik Haula who could also be productive. The Islanders have scoring depth but lack the high-end talent of the Panthers. Mathew Barzal led the team in points and will be the primary scorer, but you will see contributions from much of their top 3 lines. I wouldn’t consider anyone outside of Barzal a top option, but Eberle, Bailey, Pageau, Nelson, and Lee are all viable players in playoff pools.
The Panthers are going to likely use Aaron Ekblad a lot in these playoffs, and despite not being the primary power-play option, I expect he will lead their defence in points. Keith Yandle will be the primary power-play option and shouldn’t be overlooked, but his defensive inefficiencies could ultimately limit his minutes. The Islanders will look to, Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock . Both should log big minutes and will share the power-play time, so in that respect, it will be “pick your poison”, but if I had to pick between them I would give the edge to Pulock.
The Islanders will be going with Semyon Varlamov in goal. He performed well this season with a 0.914 save percentage, in a defensive system. His performance dipped in the back half of the season, but I don’t foresee Varlamov being the reason the Islanders win or lose a playoff series. Bobrovsky had a better second half, with a 0.905 save percentage, than he did earlier in the year, as he adjusted to life in South Florida. If he can reclaim his old form Bobrovsky is still a goalie that can steal some games and allow the Panthers to go on a playoff run. It will be Bob or bust for the Panthers.
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets
Toronto has no lack of skill in their top 6 forwards. Their top two lines should be thought of as 1a and 1b. Matthews if healthy will be the primary focus, but Tavaras’ ability to produce will ultimately be what will decide the fate of the Maple Leafs as Columbus will do their best to keep Matthews off the score sheet. This isn’t to discount the play of Marner or Hyman to the top line, each playing a key role in its success. Kasperi Kapanen should also have some nice sleeper value as well. The Blue Jackets will be looking to the likes of Pierre Luc Dubois, and Oliver Bjorkstrand to provide the bulk of their scoring, but you should see contributions from Nick Foligno , Emil Bemstrom, Cam Atkinson , and Gustov Nyquist. Their forward group will be tough to play against, but don’t expect big goal totals from them.
I’m uncertain as to what to make of the Maple Leafs defence. The smart money should be on Morgan Reilly, as he will see the most minutes. However, because of this, he may not see as much time on the top power-play unit, which could go to Barrie, who is more defensively challenged. Rasmus Sandin is another option who could contribute, but it is hard to predict his minutes at this stage. The Blue Jackets will rely heavily on Seth Jones and Zach Werenski . Werenski will likely see fewer minutes, but I think he will be the higher point producer, but likely not by a lot.
There will be no doubt that the Maple Leafs will be going with Frederik Andersson. He has been among the more consistent goalies in recent years, but he will need to be at his best for Toronto to make an extended run or even potentially to get out of the play-in round. Columbus split their goalie time nearly 50/50 through the regular season, with Merzlinkins having the better numbers, but we will need to keep an eye on the Blue Jackets camp to understand which goalie will get the first start. Columbus plays a defensive style, so both goalies should have respectable numbers either way.