Happy New Year to everyone and I hope you’re ready to roll on the first real slate of 2020!
We have a rather large 12-game main NHL slate on tap for tonight, so let’s get right into it and see if we can start the New Year off with a bang!
C – Patrice Bergeron (BOS) – $8,300 vs. CBJ
The Atlantic-leading Boston Bruins get a real nice home matchup tonight as they take on the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets. Aside form a host of injuries to their forwards and blueline, the Jackets were dealt a big blow when starting netminder Joonas Korpisalo went down with a knee injury that will cost him a minimum of four weeks, so rookie backup Elvis Merzlikins will be tasked with starting duties for tonight and beyond, but the problem is his road numbers have been awful this season. Merzlikins actually made his first home start of the season against the Panthers on Tuesday and turned aside 36 of the 37 shots he faced for the win, but he’s been torched to the tune of a 3.68 GAA and .879 Sv% across his eight road starts this season. Things don’t figure to get any better tonight for the 25-year-old as the Bruins enter this one ranked ninth with 3.43 goals per game at home this season while the Blue Jackets sit 17th with 3.22 goals against per game on the road this season. For his part, Bergeron has notched 17 goals and 35 points in 32 games this season while putting a real healthy 117 shots on goal in that time. He’s also notched 13 points on the man advantage this season, and I’ll look for that number to grow tonight.
C – Jared McCann (PIT) – $4,500 vs. SJ
The Penguins continue to be absolutely ravaged by injuries, the latest a devastating blow with Jake Guentzel set to miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. It’s opening up opportunities for others such as McCann who has taken over the second-line center duties with Sidney Crosby current out after sports hernia surgery. McCann has been able to take advantage of the increased role as he’s notched 10 goals and 23 points in 37 games on the season, but also has 18 points over his last 26 games since seeing more ice time and his 16:15 per game in the month of December was a big increase from his 14:50 mark from November. I also like the fact that McCann has notched seven goals and 15 points in 20 home games on the season as he gets set to take on one of the worst defensive teams in all of hockey tonight. The Sharks enter this one tied for 25th with 3.56 goals against per game on the road while the Penguins’ offense is white-hot at the moment with at least five goals in six of their last 10 and 16 goals over their last three contests. As a result, I think there’s a ton of value with McCann tonight, especially since he’s been promoted to the top power play unit as well.
W – David Pastrnak (BOS) – $8,800 vs. CBJ
Pastrnak, the NHL’s goal leader with 29 on the season in just 41 games, is on a 58-goal pace this season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the 23-year-old winger continue to score at this clip. For one, Pastrnak continues to score plenty of goals despite his shooting percentage taking the expected hit from earlier in the season when he was shooting well over 20%. He’s now back down yo 18.1%, a much more reasonable number that’s not only closer to his 14.6% mark for his career, but also the 16.2% mark he posted last year in scoring 38 times in just 66 games. Pastrnak is the type of player that is going to be able to sustain a high shooting percentage thanks the high-quality shots he takes. He’s arguably sporting the NHL’s best one-timer at the moment where he’s teed off to the tune of 13 goals on the power play this season. There’s also the fact that he’s taken a ton of shots as well with 160 on the season, good for fourth in the NHL. Pastrnak has tallied 17 goals and 33 points in just 23 games on home ice this season and finished the month of December red-hot with eight points over his final four games to the month. There could be a big night ahead for the Bruins winger.
W – Brad Marchand (BOS) – $8,100 vs. CBJ
Completing this high-priced Bruins stack is Marchand who has having quite the year himself. One of the best left wingers in the sport, Marchand has notched 20 goals and 59 points in 41 games on the season to go along with 111 shots on goal. He isn’t going to score goals at the same rate as his linemates Pastrnak, however Marchand has also been able to maintain a high scoring rate with an 18% shooting percentage, a mark that’s just 2% above his career rate of 16%. If the season ended today, it wouldn’t even be the highest mark he’s posted over the last two full seasons as he posted an 18.7% mark in the 2017-18 season. When you generate high-quality scoring chances at the rate that this Bruins dynamic top line does, you’re going to get high-percentage shots, which is going to lead to a high shooting percentage, so I’m not expecting a ton, if any, shooting percentage regression for these guys. Like Pastrnak, Marchand piled up points to complete the month of December, notching two goals and six assists for eight points over the final four games of the month. There’s a huge floor and a sky-high ceiling for this trio tonight.
W – Patric Hornqvist (PIT) – $5,600 vs. SJ
Next man up in my three-man Penguins stack is Hornqvist who is set to skate with McCann on the team’s second line as well as the top power play unit. Now, this hasn’t quite been the Hornqvist of old. He’s scored seven goals and 13 points in 22 games this season on 57 shots. Two years ago, Hornqvist scored 29 goals on a whopping 247 shots in just 70 games, so we’re not seeing him produce at the same clip, which is understood. He’s now 32 years old and his hard-nosed style of play lends itself to some earlier-than-normal decline, but given the opportunity he has tonight in a top-six role with getting back his spot on the top power play unit makes him an attractive play in my opinion. I also like the fact that he snapped out of a cold streak in his last game. After going six straight games without a point, Hornqvist notched a goal and an assist to go along with five shots in the Penguins’ 5-2 win over the Senators on Monday. It’s precisely the type of effort that will give him his confidence back and certainly one that he can build off of entering another favorable home matchup tonight.
W – Rudolfs Balcers (OTT) – $3,000 vs. FLA
My three-man Bruins stack is an expensive one – as is my goalie – so I needed to find some value somewhere in this lineup and I have identified a mini-stack that both come at a minimum price for their respective positions. Balcers was acquired as part of the Erik Karlsson trade with the Sharks last summer and he skated in 36 games with the Senators a season ago, tallying five goals and 14 points in that time to go along with 48 shots on goal. That said, he didn’t make the team out of training camp this season, but has been summoned from the AHL to make his season debut for the big club in this one tonight, and it’s not hard to see why. Balcers torched AHL competition, tallying eight goals and 24 points in just 19 games with Belleville. He tallied 17 goals and 31 points in 43 AHL games a season ago, so we know there is talent here with the 22-year-old. He gets a favorable home matchup tonight against a Panthers team that ranks 29th with 3.71 goals against per game on the road this season while their 75% mark on the penalty kill on the road is tied for 25th Balcers is set for third in duty, but also second unit power play duty as well, so let’s look for some value out of the kid in his first NHL game of the season.
D – John Marino (PIT) – $4,400 vs. SJ
My defensemen are likely going to fly a little under the radar here tonight, but boy do I like what Marino could bring to the table tonight at low ownership. If you ask anyone who follows the Penguins closely what they think about this guy and odds are they’re going to rave about him. A former sixth-round pick by the Oilers, Marino didn’t make his NHL debut until this season with the Penguins and the results have been wonderful. The 22-year-old has tallied four goals and 18 points in 37 games on the season to go along with 52 shots on goal and 49 blocked shots as well. He’s also been red-hot of late, notching an assist in three straight games and has a goal and four assists over his last six. Marino skated a healthy 22:05 in his last game against the Senators on Monday as his role has increased to a second-pairing role and second unit power play role with fellow defenseman Justin Schultz sidelined at the moment. He doesn’t skate on the same power play as McCann and Hornqvist, but I don’t mind having exposure to both groups, but I also expect most of their production tonight to come at 5v5 play against a Sharks team that boasts a strong penalty kill.
D – Erik Brannstrom (OTT) – $3,500 vs. FLA
Completing my Senators mini-stack tonight is another minimum-priced player in the form of rookie defenseman Erik Brannstrom. Like Balcers, Brannstrom was a trade acquisition for a high-profile player as he was part of the return in the Mark Stone deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. This league is tough on young defenders, however, and despite his billing as a first-round pick from 2017, it’s been a tough start to his career. Brannstrom has tallied just four assists in 30 games with the Sens this season while averaging just 14:43 of ice time. He was sent down for more seasoning to the AHL level recently, and he skated in four games with Belleville and scored a goal and has four points in those four games. As a result, he’s a little bit stuck in the middle between a player that’s probably too good to be playing in the AHL and a guy who is struggling a little bit at the NHL level. Still, there’s plenty of opportunity and value upside in this matchup tonight and Brannstrom and Balcers are set to skate together on the second power play unit on top of their 5v5 time together. We’re going to get these guys at minuscule ownership tonight, so some production from this duo would give this lineup a big shot in the arm.
G – Tuukka Rask (BOS) – $8,500 vs. CBJ
Completing this lineup tonight will be goaltender Tuukka Rask who gets a real nice home matchup against the visiting Blue Jackets. For one, the Bruins enter this one ranked fourth with 2.35 goals against per game on the season while the Blue Jackets enter this one ranked 22nd with 2.56 goals per game on the road this season. Second is the fact that Rask is been brilliant on home ice this season, and wherever else he’s played to be honest. For the season, Rask has gone 15-4-5 with a 2.31 GAA and .923 Sv% across 24 starts. At home, Rask has posted a 10-0-5 record to go along with a 2.22 GAA and .925 Sv% across 15 starts. Rask wasn’t quite as sharp in the month of December as he saw some inevitable regression from his unbelievable numbers to start the season as he posted a 2.72 GAA and .906 Sv% across eight starts for the month. That said, he did finish the month strong and comes into this one after winning back-to-back starts and posting a .926 Sv% over that time against the Capitals and Sabres, both coming at home. I like the safety here and also the win upside with the Bruins listed as heavy -210 favorites tonight, so let’s pay up for Rask’s services in this matchup.