This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
With the NHL season winding toward its end and the playoffs on the horizon, let's look at a very important characteristic in sporting matchups: motivation.
I don't need to tell you that if you've got something to play for -- be it a playoff spot or home-ice advantage -- you're probably going to go harder than an opposing team that's just playing out the string on a lost season. Thus it pays to be mindful of which teams have something to play for and which teams are stuck with playing spoiler at best.
The Metropolitan Division is hockey's strongest, as it features four of the NHL's five best teams; for that reason, the Capitals (106 points), Penguins (103) and Jackets (also 103) could all be grinding to the season's last day in an effort to earn extra games on home ice. The unmentioned team is the Rangers, whose 96 points put them in a funny in-between spot -- they won't catch the other three, but no one's going to take a wild-card spot from them, so they could theoretically let their collective foot off the gas for a bit down the stretch here.
In the Atlantic, Montreal leads Ottawa by only three points, but the Sens have a game in hand; both those teams can be expected to fight hard to the finish. The Leafs, Bruins and Lightning are battling for that final Atlantic Division spot as well as the second wild-card; the Islanders, the Hurricanes and even the Flyers (distantly) are in the mix for that final playoff spot as well.
On the other hand, while Florida, Buffalo and Detroit haven't been eliminated yet, they might as well be. The Devils are sunk.
In the West, we've got a host of teams with no hope: Colorado, Arizona, Vancouver, Dallas, Winnipeg, Los Angeles. The Blackhawks have little left to play for, as they have a near lock on the top seed; the Wild have to play for pride, as they've lost a ton of ground recently and need to regain some momentum heading into the playoffs; the Preds, Blues, Sharks, Oilers and Flames are locked in tight battles for seeding purposes, but they're all pretty much guaranteed to make the playoffs.
Keep those situations in mind down the stretch, as some teams may give their stars some rest ahead of the playoffs, while others may battle it out at full force through the last day of the season.
Senators (PP:23, PK: 17) at Flyers (PP: 15, PK: 22), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Craig Anderson (22-10-2, 2.32, .927), Steve Mason (23-21-7, 2.72, .906)
Key Injuries:Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Marc Methot (hand), Chris Neil (finger), Viktor Stalberg (upper body), Nick Cousins (upper body), Michael Raffl (lower body)
The Flyers are one of those funny/annoying teams that seem to always underperform when I'm looking for them to do well, then stunningly outperform when I think they're going to get sunk. And yet here I am again, trying to predict the unpredictable. This time, I go against them -- while Philly's been a good home team, the Sens offset that by being a quality road team. Ottawa's making a push to pass the Canadiens for tops in the Atlantic, and with the Flyers sagging out of the playoff rate, a loss Tuesday could be the nail in their coffin. Mason's poor play throughout the year has been well documented, and with him coming off emotional road wins in Pittsburgh and Minnesota, I'm looking for the veteran netminder and his Flyers to take a step back in this one.
Jets (PP: 19, PK: 29) at Devils (PP: 18, PK: 21), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Connor Hellebuyck (23-19-4, 2.95, .906), Cory Schneider (20-24-10, 2.71, .911)
Key Injuries:Joe Blandisi (illness), Michael Cammalleri (shoulder), Jacob Josefson (upper body), Devante Smith-Pelly (lower body), Dustin Byfuglien (undisclosed), Toby Enstrom (concussion), Patrik Laine (illness), Shawn Matthias (shoulder), Tyler Myers (lower body), Ondrej Pavelec (knee), Paul Postma (lower body)
Schneider's last 10 games: 1-6-2, 3.18 GAA, .895 save percentage. There's no reason to fade guys when they're playing in Jersey these days, and Hellebuyck's sub-mediocre stat line makes this an enticing prospect for offense on both sides. Laine is expected to play, which is pretty huge. Kyle Palmieri, Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little all stick out as outstanding values in daily leagues. So does Jacob Trouba, who really comes at a bottom-dollar price despite being a terrific DFS contributor.
Panthers (PP: 25, PK: 1) at Maple Leafs (PP: 2, PK: 10), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:James Reimer (16-15-5, 2.58, .917), Curtis McElhinney (2-1-2, 2.39, .924)
Key Injuries:Aaron Ekblad (neck), Roberto Luongo (lower body), Frederik Andersen (upper body), Eric Fehr (hand), Josh Leivo (undisclosed), Nikita Soshnikov (undisclosed)
If I didn't get to look at the list and was asked what the top penalty-killing team in the NHL is, I probably wouldn't have named the Panthers in my first three tries. As is a theme on Tuesday's slate, their strength at penalty killing will meet Toronto's terrific power play. While I'd typically give the edge to the Leafs, considering how poor Reimer has been in general, he and the Panthers actually routed Toronto only two weeks ago. Of course, that was in Florida; Reimer may not be so fortunate when he returns to his former digs to face his old teammates again Tuesday. With Andersen out due to a minor injury, the Reimer-McElhinney matchup could yield a number of goals. You'll have to pay up for the Leafs -- and you probably should -- but you'll find more value in Florida skaters like Vincent Trocheck and Jaromir Jagr.
Predators (PP: 13, PK: 18) at Bruins (PP:8, PK: 3), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Pekka Rinne (30-16-8, 2.48, .916), Tuukka Rask (33-20-4, 2.38, .910)
Key Injuries:David Krejci (upper body), Tim Schaller (lower body), Mike Fisher (lower body), Miikka Salomaki (lower body), Yannick Weber (upper body)
Here we have a matchup between two name-brand Finnish goalies who have often found themselves playing like off-brand Finnish goalies. Rask has lost four straight, giving up 15 goals in that span; Rinne, on the other hand, enters on a five-game winning streak in which he's allowed only nine total goals (four of them in one game), but he's had a wildly inconsistent campaign. The Preds are also on the second of back-to-backs.
Red Wings (PP: 28, PK: 11) at Hurricanes (PP: 22, PK: 2), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Jimmy Howard (9-8-1, 1.91, .935), Cam Ward (24-20-11, 2.72, .904)
Key Injuries:Eddie Lack (undisclosed), Jay McClement (lower body), Jonathan Ericsson (wrist), Johan Franzen (concussion), Luke Glendening (lower body), Niklas Kronwall (knee), Ryan Sproul (knee), Joe Vitale (concussion)
The Wings are in the unusual situation of playing back-to-back-to-backs, rematching Monday night's game against Carolina in the same place. Howard and Petr Mrazek have been trading off starts, and both goalies are now in the midst of strong runs, including Mrazek beating the Hurricanes on Monday. With two tired teams, this game could feature a lot of back-and-forth action.
Sabres (PP: 1, PK: 27) at Blue Jackets (PP: 9, PK: 9), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Robin Lehner (22-23-8, 2.63, .922), Sergei Bobrovsky (40-13-5, 1.99, .934)
Key Injuries:Taylor Fedun (undisclosed), Cody Franson (undisclosed), Johan Larsson (wrist), Rasmus Ristolainen (suspension), Oliver Bjorkstrand (undisclosed), David Clarkson (back), Ryan Murray (hand)
The league's best power play overall has been boosted by a ridiculous 41.2 percent success rate in March, but the Jackets have a stingy penalty kill and a Vezina-contending goalie, not to mention home-ice advantage in this game and the motivation of potentially retaining home ice throughout the playoffs.
Stars (PP: 20, PK: 30) at Canadiens (PP: 12, PK: 20), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Kari Lehtonen (20-22-7, 2.79, .905), Al Montoya (8-6-4, 2.67, .912)
Key Injuries:Jiri Hudler (lower body), Mattias Janmark (knee), Antoine Roussel (hand), Patrick Sharp (hip)
Here's another fine opportunity to find offense, as Dallas is a brutal away team, especially defensively, and Montoya isn't scaring anyone in the Montreal net.
Here we are again -- Holtby facing off with another Vezina contender. He's won four straight, including taking down Bobrovsky and the Jackets in a shootout. It's been a very different story for Dubnyk, who's 2-7-1 with a 3.13 GAA and .881 save mark over his last 11 starts. If he doesn't right the ship right away, his Vezina chances will be gone with the wind. And no, I don't think this is the game that sees Dubnyk right the ship.
Kings (PP: 14, PK: 6) at Oilers (PP: 3, PK: 16), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Jonathan Quick (5-3-1, 2.20, .920), Cam Talbot (37-21-8, 2.40, .920)
Key Injuries:Matt Benning (undisclosed), Tyler Pitlick (knee), Matt Greene (undisclosed), Nick Shore (upper body)
While Edmonton's given up the fewest power-play goals in March (three), Los Angeles has posted this month's second-best power-play success rate, potting 12 goals on 39 man-advantage opportunities. It'll be interesting to see how these two teams match up for this one, especially considering that the Kings are basically just playing for pride now.
Ducks (PP: 21, PK: 5) at Canucks (PP: 29, PK: 26), 10:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Jonathan Bernier (18-7-3, 2.47, .917), Ryan Miller (18-24-6, 2.77, .915)
Key Injuries:Simon Despres (head), Joseph Cramarossa (foot), Derek Dorsett (neck), Loui Eriksson (lower body), Brendan Gaunce (undisclosed), Markus Granlund (wrist), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Jacob Markstrom (lower body), Jayson Megna (upper body), Anton Rodin (knee), Jack Skille (ankle), Troy Stecher (upper body)
Bernier has apparently finally remembered that he's in a contract year, as he's 9-1-1 with a 1.71 GAA and .943 save mark in his last 11 starts. Injured No. 1 netminder John Gibson is, however, ready to serve as his backup, so look for him to return to the blue paint soon. Tuesday's starter hasn't been determined for sure, in fact, so be sure to check back if you're invested.
Rangers (PP: 16, PK: 23) at Sharks (PP: 24, PK: 12), 10:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Henrik Lundqvist (30-18-2, 2.70, .912), Martin Jones (32-20-6, 2.34, .913)
Key Injuries:Logan Couture (mouth), Micheal Haley (suspension), Chris Tierney (upper body), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (undisclosed)
Lundqvist got thrashed for five goals in his first game back from injury, but he'll likely get a shot at redemption against Jones and the Sharks. Jones is a funny sort of goalie because his real-life value has outpaced his fantasy value -- he only has a league-average save percentage, but his wins and GAA are both very helpful in our realm.
Radko Gudas, D, PHI -- Fantasy owners in leagues that tally hits and PIM already know the tough Czech's value, but he's contributing enough on all fronts to merit our attention. Counting his goal Sunday in Pittsburgh, Gudas has six points, a plus-11 rating and 21 PIM through his last 11 games. The guy's never going to be mistaken for Shayne Gostisbehre on the offensive end, but Gudas is quite capable of throwing pucks on net, and he's been doing so pretty consistently of late. Even in formats that don't count his hits, Gudas can help.