Lineup picks, matchups, start or sit advice for Thursday

    Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

There is a fantasy equivalent to pulling the goaltender and this is the time of year to consider it as an option.

As of Thursday morning, there are four days left of hockey that will determine which teams in your head-to-head league make the playoffs in default ESPN formats. Maybe you adjusted the schedule and it’s not this week; fine, but the principle to be discussed here still applies.

Pulling your goaltender is an act in which an NHL team throws caution to the wind in an attempt to secure victory. They know the odds are low, but they also know that losing by one goal is the same as losing by two in the record books.

How do you pull this off in fantasy? You drop J.T. Miller and add Tommy Novak. You drop Morgan Rielly and add Jake Sanderson.

Blasphemous? That’s pulling the goaltender — on this particular head-to-head week in fantasy leagues if you are on the verge of missing the playoffs. Will another team pick up Miller and Rielly potentially using them to bury you in the playoffs later? Yes, probably. But you never know unless you get there.

Those are no random examples, either. The Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators play three games between Thursday and Sunday and, if you add up the goals against per 60 of their opponents, are among the top three in best schedules among the 10 teams that play three times. The Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs only play once between now and Sunday, and their opponents have the lowest goals against per 60 of the three teams that only play once.

So if you are fighting for that playoff spot in head-to-head leagues and are at risk of missing out, fire up your Hail Mary and drop players you wouldn’t normally consider dropping in an attempt to make a desperate, schedule-informed push. In order, the best schedules for offense from Thursday to Sunday belong to the Predators, New York Rangers, Senators, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and Vegas Golden Knights. In order, the worst schedules for offense from Thursday to Sunday reside with the Canucks, Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers.

Don’t completely shoot yourself in the foot by dropping Mitchell Marner or Leon Draisaitl (if your league even allows you to by bypassing the “undroppables” list), but you can consider marching much closer to the edge that you normally would.

And remember, every snapshot of the schedule is different. The Blue Jackets won’t be much help between Thursday and Sunday, but they have the fifth-best remaining schedule for offense after this week is over. Measure every decision.

Thursday is an 11-game schedule. Before diving in, here are some additional injury notes that didn’t fit in anywhere below: Victor Hedman is day-to-day but was back at practice and might start; Evander Kane is widely expected to return on a line with Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman; Filip Forsberg’s very close to a return and could be in the lineup; Vince Dunn is day-to-day, so Justin Schultz may get more run on the Kraken advantage.

Resources: Goalie depth chart | Injuries | Schedule | How to watch on ESPN+ | Download the ESPN Fantasy App | Daily lines

All times Eastern.

Favorable scoring matchups

New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens

7 p.m., Bell Centre, Watch live on ESPN+

Neither team is keeping up their end of the bargain in goal prevention of late, with the Habs ranking 24th in goals against per 60 at five-on-five in the past month and the Rangers ranking 27th. That said, there is a narrative here that, with a couple days off since the whirlwind of acquiring Patrick Kane last week, the Rangers could be refreshed and ready to be the team they are on paper. Goals may be in the offing for both sides, with the Habs playing some of their best hockey of the season lately. Overall, they sit 23rd in goals per 60, but in the past four weeks they rank 12th. Yes, be sure to have all top-six Rangers active on the chance they built some chemistry at practice. But don’t hesitate to mix some Habs into your lineup. Mike Hoffman is clicking with Josh Anderson and on the power play, while Nick Suzuki has been better with Rafael Harvey-Pinard at his side, but most of all, Mike Matheson has been on beast mode and quarterbacking the power play.

Dallas Stars at Buffalo Sabres

7 p.m., KeyBank Center, Watch live on ESPN+

The Sabres always bring a risk of hitting the over to a game by virtue of being a top-five team in goals for and bottom-five team in goals against (per 60). The Stars aren’t the cracked offense or brick-wall defense they were at the start of the season, but have maintained a ranking in the top-half of the league for both measures. Alex Tuch is still sidelined, so Jack Quinn is still riding shotgun with Tage Thompson. Either one of the Stars second or third line could pop off, as the Sabres don’t have the same depth. Max Domi, Evgenii Dadonov and Mason Marchment could be worth a look in deeper leagues. That said, we can usually expect most of the damage to be done by the Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski and Jason Robertson trio.

Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche

9 p.m., Ball Arena, Watch live on ESPN+

With both teams very evenly matched in Corsi and expected-goals metrics, this game could go one of two ways: Goaltending duel with minimal shots or explosive offensive showcase. There were eight goals the last time the teams met in December, so I lean that direction. Artturi Lehkonen and J.T. Compher are still available in some leagues if you want to buy into the Avalanche offense, while Phillip Danault and Quinton Byfield are options on the Kings.

Mid-tier fantasy forwards

Anders Lee, W, New York Islanders (69.2%): The Isles have taken three of four in this season-series with the Pens. Lee has five goals, six points and 13 shots in those three contests.

See also:

  • Brayden Schenn, C/W, St. Louis Blues (51.8%)

  • Dawson Mercer, C/W, New Jersey Devils (43.3%)

  • Tyler Bertuzzi, W, Boston Bruins (48.1%)

  • Nick Schmaltz, C/W, Arizona Coyotes (51.7%)

  • Brandon Hagel, W, Tampa Bay Lightning (65.7%)

Deep league/Daily Fantasy value forwards

Jakub Vrana, C/W, St. Louis Blues (27.2%): An inspired Vrana didn’t get on the score sheet, but fired six shots on goal (eight if you count missed or blocked shots) in his Blues debut. Skating with Schenn and Kasperi Kapanen at five-on-five, he’s also getting secondary power-play time. The Blues put a six-spot on the Sharks last week.

Tomas Tatar, W, New Jersey Devils (6.5%): There’s a five-on-five scoring eruption coming from the Devils at some point — when Timo Meier and the offense as a whole finds it footing. Even though he doesn’t play with Meier, Tatar is the only widely available way to buy yourself into the top six off free agency. The Capitals rank 30th in goals against per 60 in the past month, so this could be the spot the goals start piling up.

Jordan Staal, C, Carolina Hurricanes (7.2%): The last time the Canes and Flyers played, Staal’s third line erupted for three goals.

Shane Pinto, C, Ottawa Senators (5.7%): The Sens seem fairly committed to riding Pinto as the second-line center for the foreseeable future. While his line hasn’t done a lot at five-on-five, he does also get secondary power-play time on a unit that just got a huge upgrade with the presence of Jakob Chychrun.

See also:

  • Ivan Barbashev, W, Vegas Golden Knights (19.6%)

  • Seth Jarvis, W, Carolina Hurricanes (9.1%)

  • Kyle Palmieri, W, New York Islanders (1.3%)

  • Tommy Novak, C, Nashville Predators (5.4%)

  • Jesper Boqvist, C/W, New Jersey Devils (0.1%)

  • Mike Hoffman, W, Montreal Canadiens (4.8%)

  • Gabriel Vilardi, C/W, Los Angeles Kings (25.1%)

  • Tom Wilson, W, Washington Capitals (28.3%)

  • William Eklund, W, San Jose Sharks (4.1%)

  • Mason Marchment, W, Dallas Stars (20.7%)

  • Jack Quinn, C/W, Buffalo Sabres (3.8%)

  • Eeli Tolvanen, W, Seattle Kraken (6.7%)

Mid-tier fantasy defensemen

Damon Severson, D, New Jersey Devils (46.2%): The Devils secondary power-play unit is looking pretty good these days. Timo Meier’s arrival pushed Tomas Tatar down to the second unit and Dawson Mercer’s hot streak doesn’t shut off on the advantage. Severson now quarterbacks a unit that, while secondary for the Devils, is probably good enough to be the top unit on some teams.

See also:

  • K’Andre Miller, D, New York Rangers (23.5%)

  • Sean Durzi, D, Los Angeles Kings (63.0%)

  • Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Carolina Hurricanes (83.8%)

Deep league/Daily Fantasy value defensemen

Dmitry Orlov, D, Boston Bruins (37.4%): It looks like Orlov has forced his way onto the top power-play unit, leaving Charie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm on the second unit. He also had two assists in February when Boston and Edmonton met.

See also:

  • Rasmus Sandin, D, Washington Capitals (9.8%)

  • Juuso Valimaki, D, Arizona Coyotes (3.7%)

  • Mike Matheson, D, Montreal Canadiens (19.8%)

  • Justin Schultz, D, Seattle Kraken (8.0%)

  • Torey Krug, D, St. Louis Blues (35.4%)


Philipp Grubauer, G, Seattle Kraken (11.2%): With no back-to-back sets on tap for the Kraken in the near future, they could go with Martin Jones just because Grubauer has played in four in a row. Grubauer has four wins in a row and at home against the Senators is a decent place to go for five, if he starts.

Jordan Binnington, G, St. Louis Blues (64.9%): The Blues have only won one game in their past nine, but guess what? It was against the same Sharks they play on Thursday. Of course, Thomas Greiss was in the crease for that win. I’d take either one of the Blues goaltenders if I desperately needed a goalie win off the wire, as the pickings get slim after them.

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