By Sasha Yodashkin
The NHL returns with a nine-game slate Saturday after a three-day Christmas hiatus. A battle between the division-leading Capitals and Canadiens promises to be the highlight of the night, but the quality of play should be very high overall with all but two of the games featuring at least one team in playoff position. The extended time off has given owners a chance to do some extra lineup research, so pinpointing value plays will be even more important than usual to top the competition. The players listed below should put you on the track to success.
Matt Murray, PIT at MIN ($21) – While you shouldn’t expect him to carry your team, Murray’s too good a value to pass up at just $21. He has given up two goals in each of his first two starts and should make for a great No. 2 goaltender if he can maintain that level. The lineup flexibility with Murray is too tempting to ignore, as the Pittsburgh goaltender has posted much better numbers than the netminders who usually languish in the low 20s.
Goalie to Avoid:
Jonathan Quick, LA at ARI ($38) – Quick is 0-2-0 with seven goals allowed against the Coyotes this season, yet he still ranks as the third-most expensive goaltender available. There are cheaper alternatives in much more fantasy-friendly situations available.
Steven Stamkos, TB vs. CLS ($23) – Stamkos has been magnificent at home lately, with six goals and seven assists in 11 games at Amalie Arena since the start of November. The Blue Jackets have allowed the second-most goals, 112, in the NHL, making them unlikely candidates to prevent the Lightning sniper from continuing his recent success. With two goals and 12 shots on goal through the first two games of this homestand, Stamkos is in prime offensive form.
Center to Avoid:
Ryan Spooner, BOS vs. BUF ($20) – While he’s had a couple of offensive outbursts lately, it’s important to keep in mind that Spooner is merely Boston’s third-line center. That means offensive opportunities will be hard to come by in some games, which is why he’s topped 8.0 fantasy points only thrice in his last 18 appearances.
Taylor Hall, EDM at VAN ($28) – The red-hot Hall has six goals and eight assists in his last nine games, yet the former No. 1 overall pick can still be had for less than $30. There’s no reason to believe Vancouver’s bottom-10 defense will be able to slow him down, meaning Hall should continue improving his tremendous season line, which already features 15 goals, 24 assists and a plus-13 rating through 35 games.
Tyler Toffoli, LA at ARI ($20) – Considering projected Arizona starter Anders Lindback ranks 45th in the NHL with a 3.14 GAA and .891 save percentage, the Kings should put a few pucks past him. Toffoli has scored in both of Los Angeles’ meetings with the Coyotes this season, making him a likely candidate to contribute offensively in what promises to be a high-scoring affair.
Wings to Avoid:
Max Pacioretty, MTL at WAS ($22) – With just two points and a minus-11 rating the last 10 games, Pacioretty has done his owners more harm than good lately. It’s unlikely that he’ll turn things around on the road against a surging Capitals team.
Filip Forsberg, NSH vs. DET ($22) – The inconsistent Forsberg has scored 3.0 or less fantasy points in 11 of his last 18 games. While he seems to be heating up, you’d like to see a higher floor from a $22 winger, especially on a night with plenty of alternatives.
Anton Stralman, TB vs. CLS ($15) – Stralman has displayed some of his offensive chops with a goal and three assists the last six games, putting him back on pace for 30 points this season after registering a career-high 39 in 2014-15. The modestly-priced blueliner has a good chance to keep producing against the defensively challenged Blue Jackets, especially with Joonas Korpisalo and has ugly 3.23 GAA projected to start in net.
Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF at BOS ($19) – Ristolainen has quietly racked up 19 points in his last 21 games, yet Buffalo’s top defenseman continues to be criminally underpriced. The Finnish blueliner is being given every opportunity to contribute in all phases of the game, and he’s responded to seeing more than 25 minutes of ice time in each of Buffalo’s last six contests by picking up three goals and three assists in that span. Look for Ristolainen to continue this prolonged hot streak against a Bruins team that still ranks in the middle of the pack defensively despite their recent surge.
Defensemen to Avoid:
Colton Parayko, STL vs. DAL ($17) – Parayko’s hot start to the season has ensured that his price doesn’t drop too far, even though the rookie has been struggling to produce since the rest of the Blues’ defensive corps got healthy. He’s got just two points and a plus-2 rating in his last 10 games, and the downside of facing the division-leading Stars is too great to trust Parayko.
Alexander Edler, VAN vs. EDM ($19) – Edler will most likely be charged with the unenviable task of trying to slow Taylor Hall and Edmonton’s other top guns, making him a serious plus/minus risk. Add in the fact that Edler hasn’t made his way onto the scoresheet in the last six games, and it becomes clear that he should be avoided Saturday.
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