Each of Friday's four games features a team currently sitting snugly in playoff position battling an opponent that's on the outside looking in. The lopsided nature of these matchups can be exploited by both daily and season-long owners if they know where to look, and this preview should help point those owners in the right direction. Most of the usual candidates to score have long since made themselves known, so it’s important to identify potential difference-makers beyond the top guys if you want to separate yourself from the pack. With a little luck of the Irish, players like Michael Ferland are primed to exploit their weak St. Patrick’s Day opposition.
Panthers (PP:24, PK:2) at Rangers (PP:17, PK:18), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Reto Berra (0-0-0, 0.00, 1.000), Antti Raanta (14-7-0, 2.29, .921)
Key Injuries: Aaron Ekblad (concussion), Roberto Luongo (lower body), Dan Girardi (ankle), Kevin Klein (back), Henrik Lundqvist (lower body)
The Panthers have their work cut out for them facing a second elite Metropolitan opponent in as many nights after falling 2-1 to Columbus on Thursday. Berra could get the nod in net with James Reimer having played the first leg of Florida’s back-to-back, making this a battle of the backups. The Swiss netminder’s only other appearance this season was an eight-save relief effort against these same Rangers, but his 2.80 career GAA suggests he won’t fare as well given extended action. New York’s fourth-ranked offense is starting to get healthier up front, but Florida can at least take solace in Rangers coach Alain Vigneault’s puzzling decision to move promising rookie Pavel Buchnevich to the press box while keeping the utterly unskilled Tanner Glass in the lineup.
Devils (PP:20, PK:16) at Penguins (PP:3, PK:20), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Cory Schneider (19-22-10, 2.72, .911), Matt Murray (26-9-3, 2.37, .924)
Key Injuries: Michael Cammalleri (shoulder), Trevor Daley (knee), Carl Hagelin (lower body), Ron Hainsey (undisclosed), Patric Hornqvist (concussion), Kris Letang (upper body), Olli Maatta (hand), Bryan Rust (arm)
Pittsburgh's top-ranked offense will be chomping at the bit after getting shut out by the rival Flyers on Wednesday, and Schneider will be ill-equipped to stop them considering he's winless in his past eight starts with 24 goals allowed over that stretch. Murray makes for a terrific option against an offense that has mustered just 2.21 goals per game, while Jake Guentzel and Chris Kunitz should both benefit from seeing top-six forward minutes alongside the team's duo of high-skill centers. Hornqvist took part in Wednesday's morning skate while wearing a non-contact jersey, indicating that he's progressing but not quite ready to make an imminent return.
Stars (PP:19, PK:30) at Flames (PP:14, PK:14), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Antti Niemi (11-11-4, 3.35, .892), Brian Elliott (21-13-3, 2.51, .910)
Key Injuries: Brian Elliott (illness), Michael Stone (shoulder)
This one could get ugly, as a Calgary team that just had a 10-game winning streak snapped hosts a Dallas squad that had been outscored 17-4 during a three-game losing streak prior to beating the Canucks 4-2 Thursday. Both Stars goalies have allowed at least nine goals over that four-game stretch, so stacking your lineup with as many Flames as possible should pay major dividends. Skating on a line with the red-hot Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan has made a world of difference for Michael Ferland, who has potted nine of his 14 goals in the past 19 games. Additionally, the two-way proficiency and extensive playing time of top pairing defensemen Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton should expose both to plenty of opportunities to rack up value against this defensively-deficient foe.
Sabres (PP:1, PK:29) at Ducks (PP:18, PK:3), 10:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Anders Nilsson (9-9-4, 2.84, .917), Jonathan Bernier (14-7-2, 2.62, .913)
Key Injuries: John Gibson (lower body), Dmitry Kulikov (upper body), Kyle Okposo (ribs)
Bernier has made Gibson's absence much easier to swallow by allowing just six goals during a four-game winning streak. Keeping that momentum going shouldn't be difficult against the league's 22nd-ranked offense, especially with Buffalo's top-ranked power play neutralized by Anaheim's third-ranked penalty kill. Jakob Silfverberg (191) and Corey Perry (187) are far and away Anaheim's leaders in shots, and both should get plenty of pucks on net against a porous Sabres defense that has surrendered a league-high 34.2 shots per game. Evander Kane leads Buffalo with 31 even strength points, making him the team’s likeliest candidate to contribute in this tough matchup.
Michael Ferland, LW, CGY - With the Flames rolling and healthy up front, they’re likely to keep their line combinations intact for a while. That’s good news for Ferland, whose aforementioned nine goals in the past 19 games have been accompanied by a plus-10 rating and eight efforts with at least three shots. The 24-year-old winger isn’t much of a power-play contributor, but his 6-foot-2, 208-pound frame makes him a perfect fit on a line with a pair of lankier skill guys in Monahan and Gaudreau. With the league’s two worst defensive teams both among Calgary’s next six opponents, Ferland can at least serve as a solid plug-and-play option if nothing else.