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Thursday Daily Puck: NYE Dream Date

Neil Parker

A loyal Leafs, Cubs and Cowboys fan for decades, Neil has contributed to RotoWire since 2014. He previously worked for USA Today Fantasy Sports and founded TheFakeHockey.com.

New Year's Eve is setting up for a tape-measuring matchup with Columbus heading to the Xcel Energy Center to face Minnesota. While Thursday's games don't particularly alter the magnitude of Saturday's date, it would be fitting if both clubs had their double-digit winning streaks intact.

It's been an interesting season on many levels, but no one expected the Blue Jackets and Wild to be among the elite teams in the league. Even in mid-November it wouldn't have seemed probable that the two clubs could enter a New Year's Eve showdown with a combined 26 consecutive wins and 104 points already.

The playoffs are still out of sight and it's too early to forecast a Columbus-Minnesota final, but it sure seems to be a dream date to send off to 2016.

Featured Matchups

Blackhawks (PP: 16, PK: 29) at Predators (PP: 13, PK: 14), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Corey Crawford (12-7-3, 2.29, .927), Pekka Rinne (13-9-5, 2.51, .916)
Key Injuries: Marian Hossa (upper body), P.K. Subban (upper body)

These two teams have provided spring dramatics in back-to-back playoffs, and this tilt should prove to be no different. Artemi Panarin has been incredible of late with five goals, 14 points, 14 shots and an average of 20:45 of ice per night (3:31 on the power play) during his active eight-game point streak. Nashville, meanwhile, continues to boast a balanced offensive attack and sport a solid 10-4-4 record on home ice. Further increasing the appeal of this matchup is that both teams are looking to kick multi-game losing skids.

Islanders (PP: 28, PK: 22) at Wild (PP: 17, PK: 4), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Jaroslav Halak (6-8-5, 3.12, .907), Devan Dubnyk (18-6-3, 1.58, .947)
Key Injuries: Casey Cizikas (upper body)

The Wild have won 11 consecutive games and bring a road-warrior mentality with a 10-5-4 record away from the Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota smothers opponents and has allowed the fewest goals per game (1.94) and second-least high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (8.8) in the league this season. Additionally, the entire roster is getting in on the offense in front of Devan Dubnyk. The Islanders have won three consecutive games, but they've also won just three road contests all season. Allowing the most scoring chances per 60 minutes (33.93) isn't going to help them against the Wild on Thursday, either.

Blue Jackets (PP: 1, PK: 11) at Jets (PP: 23, PK: 28), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Sergei Bobrovsky (22-5-2, 1.91, .934), Connor Hellebuyck (13-11-1, 2.62, .913)
Key Injuries: Tyler Myers (lower body)

The Jets are 10-6-1 at home and have won consecutive games, and Hellebuyck has also been particularly better on home ice (9-4-1, .926 save percentage and 2.30 GAA). However, the league juggernaut still stands as a daunting matchup. After all, the Blue Jackets have lost in regulation only once in their past 21 games and own an active 13-game winning streak. Perhaps more impressive is that Columbus has allowed the second-fewest goals per game (3.39) and scored the second-most goals per game (2.03). The disparity has them sitting with an incredible and league-leading plus-46 goal differential.

Other Matchups

Bruins (PP: 29, PK: 3) at Sabres (PP: 4, PK: 30), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Tuukka Rask (17-7-3, 1.95, .927), Robin Lehner (8-10-5, 2.47, .922)
Key Injuries: Matt Beleskey (knee), John-Michael Liles (concussion), Tyler Ennis (groin), Cody Franson (lower body), Robin Lehner (neck), Ryan O'Reilly (abdomen)

Playing without O'Reilly is a big blow for the Sabres, but Buffalo has seen an uptick in offense since Jack Eichel returned. In particular, Evander Kane has hit stride with eight goals, 11 points, 45 shots, 15 PIM and 19 hits through his past 13 games. For Boston, it appears the regression police have David Pastrnak in holding, as he's scored a single goal on 25 shots through his past seven games.

Devils (PP: 22, PK: 13) at Capitals (PP: 15, PK: 5), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Cory Schneider (10-12-5, 2.90, .904), Braden Holtby (15-8-3, 2.06, .926)
Key Injuries: Vernon Fiddler (lower body), Taylor Hall (lower body)

Hall has already missed eight games this season, and he also hasn't scored a goal in nine games. He's out for this game, which only strengthens the case for Holtby in daily contests. Quietly, the reigning Vezina winner has better ratios this season than last, including an impressive .926 save percentage and 1.87 GAA at home.

Maple Leafs (PP: 11, PK: 7) at Lightning (PP: 3, PK: 24), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Antoine Bibeau (0-1-0, 2.11, .929), Kristers Gudlevskis (0-0-0, 0.00, 1.000)
Key Injuries: Ben Bishop (lower body), Ryan Callahan (lower body), Cedric Paquette (undisclosed), Steven Stamkos (knee), Martin Marincin (lower body), Ben Smith (upper body)

Toronto is generating the second-most and allowing the third-most scoring chances per 60 minutes in the league, and Auston Matthews has 11 goals, 15 points and 57 shots over his past 15 games. Tampa Bay is ripe for a letdown showing after scoring three-unanswered goals to win in overtime against Montreal on Wednesday. However, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat did combine for six points and looked dangerous. A strong run from the Triplets is just what Tampa Bay is looking for.

Canadiens (PP: 12, PK: 18) at Panthers (PP: 24, PK: 6), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Al Montoya (3-4-2, 2.82, .906), James Reimer (4-5-2, 2.70, .907)
Key Injuries: Aleksander Barkov (undisclosed), Jonathan Huberdeau (achilles), Alex Petrovic (ankle), Reilly Smith (concussion), David Desharnais (knee), Alex Galchenyuk (knee), Andrei Markov (lower body), Andrew Shaw (concussion)

Both teams are on the wrong end of back-to-back games, as Florida lost in a shootout to Toronto, and the Canadiens blew a 3-1 lead after two periods to Tampa Bay. The injuries are becoming insurmountable for both clubs, and it impacts the fantasy values of the healthy players. Montoya hasn't won a game since Oct. 26, so this checks out as a potential spot to utilize him as a low-priced flier in daily contests.

Red Wings (PP: 30, PK: 16) at Senators (PP: 19, PK: 15), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Petr Mrazek (9-8-3, 3.11, .896), Mike Condon (8-4-2, 2.39, .917)
Key Injuries: Justin Abdelkader (knee), Mike Green (upper body), Darren Helm (shoulder), Jimmy Howard (leg), Alexey Marchenko (shoulder), Craig Anderson (personal), Andrew Hammond (ankle), Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Zack Smith (abdomen)

The Senators have been sneaky good this season and currently sit just four points behind Montreal in the Atlantic Division. Detroit, on the other hand, is tied for last and averaging the fifth-fewest goals per game in the league. Additionally, the Red Wings are just two years removed from owning an elite power-play attack (second-ranked 23.8 percent in 2014-15), but now sport a league-worst 12.5 power-play percentage.

Avalanche (PP: 27, PK: 25) at Stars (PP: 18, PK: 26), 8:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Calvin Pickard (6-7-1, 2.95, .903), Antti Niemi (7-4-4, 2.85, .911)
Key Injuries: Erik Johnson (leg), Semyon Varlamov (groin), Cody Eakin (suspension), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee), Antoine Roussel (upper body), Patrick Sharp (concussion)

Whenever the Stars appear to be committing to lining up Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza as a trio, it's time to take notice. The line has combined for an incredible 20.79 scoring chances per 60 minutes over the past three seasons. Additionally, Colorado has surrendered the most goals per game this season (3.26) and 3.77 per game in December.

Ducks (PP: 2, PK: 20) at Flames (PP: 14, PK: 17), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: John Gibson (11-9-6, 2.63, .906), Brian Elliott (6-9-1, 3.07, .890)
Key Injuries: Simon Despres (head), Clayton Stoner (abdomen), Nate Thompson (achilles), Sami Vatanen (illness), Troy Brouwer (finger), Ladislav Smid (neck)

Since returning from injury, Johnny Gaudreau has 14 points -- four goals -- through 10 games and Calgary is 7-3. Gaudreau also has 27 goals and 69 points through his past 53 home games. Anaheim enters with three consecutive losses and an underwhelming 7-8-5 road record, and the Ducks have also allowed the third-most goals per game in December (3.62).

Kings (PP: 21, PK: 7) at Oilers (PP: 8, PK: 12), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Jeff Zatkoff (2-5-1, 2.84, .892), Cam Talbot (17-10-5, 2.52, .917)
Key Injuries: Mark Fayne (undisclosed), Andrew Ference (hip), Darnell Nurse (ankle), Tyler Pitlick (knee), Andrej Sekera (illness), Brayden McNabb (collarbone), Jonathan Quick (groin), Tyler Toffoli (lower body)

Los Angeles lost 2-1 to the Canucks on Wednesday, and while back-to-back road games are typically tough spots, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Kings bring a strong effort against Edmonton on Thursday. The Oilers remain a favorable fantasy matchup with the third-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (12.03) allowed, and despite a multi-point showing last time out, Connor McDavid has just two goals and eight points over his past 11 games. It's impressive that those numbers constitute an offensive slump for the sophomore.

Rangers (PP: 10, PK: 9) at Coyotes (PP: 25, PK: 27), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Antti Raanta (9-4-0, 2.23, .925), Mike Smith (7-9-4, 2.71, .924)
Key Injuries: Max Domi (hand), Brad Richardson (leg), Ryan White (lower body), Pavel Buchnevich (back), Henrik Lundqvist (illness), Rick Nash (groin), Mika Zibanejad (leg)

The Rangers are 7-3 in December and have scored the third-most goals per game (3.27) in the league but are still the third-best team in their own division. Life in the Metro is tough. This stands out as a huge mismatch, and having a few Rangers going in your daily lineups is advised. On the flip side, though, Anthony Duclair has been seeing top-line minutes and has a goal and seven shots through his past two games. The former Ranger is another potential low-priced flier in daily contests.

Recommended Pickup
Dmitry Orlov, D, WAS: While more of a deep-league target, Orlov is well on his way to topping last season's 29 points, and the rearguard has eight assists, 12 shots and 14 blocked shots through his past 10 games. He's beginning to translate his real-world value into fantasy results and offers modest cross-category upside. At worst, he's worth a look as a potential streamer in favorable matchups in weekly settings.