One of the interesting trends in the NHL in recent years is coaches tending to lean on duos instead of full lines. Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek among others serve as result examples. In fact, chasing the third wheel of a line is a common fantasy pursuit.
The Mark Scheifele-Nikolaj Ehlers-Patrik Laine trio has been explosive with 10 goals and 13 assists over the past three games. Could they be the next marquee line? Scheifele and Ehlers clicked last season with Blake Wheeler, and the line posted a third-ranked 4.42 goals for per 60 minutes among trios with at least 200 minutes at five-on-five.
Laine offers a sniper's mentality and shooting arsenal that Wheeler just doesn't bring to the table, though. In a small sample size of just over 40 minutes at five-on-five, Laine, Scheifele and Ehlers have posted a league-best 10.31 GF60. They're not going to maintain that rate of production, but even with significant negative regression, this trio has the potential to provide elite offensive numbers similar to the best in the league.
The only thing left is figuring out what we're going to call them.
Islanders (PP: 26, PK: 25) at Lightning (PP: 5, PK: 7), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Jaroslav Halak (3-3-2, 2.82, .908), Ben Bishop (5-4-0, 2.91, .907)
Key Injuries: Travis Hamonic (arm), Brock Nelson (leg), Ryan Pulock (lower body), Jonathan Drouin (head), Valtteri Filppula (lower body)
A rematch of last season's playoff matchup, both teams enter playing high-event, high-scoring games to start the year. John Tavares has seen five-on-five time with 13 different players already this season, and the winger carousels on his flanks are near maddening. The latest experiment of head coach Jack Capuano is Cal Clutterbuck, and the hit-happy winger receives a significant fantasy boost alongside Tavares.
The Lightning have lost five of their past seven games, but home ice should help. Bishop posted a 66-22-9 record with a .924 save percentage at Amalie Arena through his first three full seasons with Tampa Bay, so look for him to improve on his early-season struggles. Additionally, if there is a buy-low window, it's going to slam shut soon. The Lightning top line of Vladislav Namestnikov, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov offers a lot of upside Thursday with the Islanders allowing a league-high 25.79 scoring chances per 60 minutes this year.
Blues (PP: 19, PK: 3) at Predators (PP: 4, PK: 26), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Carter Hutton (2-1-0, 2.00, .926), Pekka Rinne (3-4-3, 2.46, .922)
Key Injuries: Mike Fisher (upper body)
If St. Louis' game against Chicago on Wednesday was a sign of things to come for Central Division showdowns, sit back and enjoy. The Blues are winning games, but many of their players -- outside of Vladimir Tarasenko and Kevin Shattenkirk -- have been underwhelming fantasy assets. There should be positive regression ahead, though. The Blues have a team shooting percentage of just 7.75, which is ninth lowest in the league, after all.
The Predators have also stumbled early this year, but they've only won four of their first 12 games. Still, Nashville has now recorded a point in each of its past four outings, and the offense is picking up. Nine Preds have multiple points through four November games, and Rinne sports a 2-0-2 record with a .948 save percentage and a 1.44 GAA. The preseason darlings still have hurdles to overcome to climb the standings, but Nashville appears to be trending in the right direction.
Stars (PP: 19, PK: 27) at Flames (PP: 30, PK: 29), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Antti Niemi (3-2-1, 3.65, .892), Brian Elliott (3-6-0, 3.33, .887)
Key Injuries: Matthew Tkachuk (wrist), Kris Versteeg (groin), Cody Eakin (knee), Ales Hemsky (hip), Jiri Hudler (illness), Mattias Janmark (knee), Patrick Sharp (concussion), Jason Spezza (lower body)
The Dallas roster is depleted with injuries, but the Tyler Seguin-Jamie Benn duo is a nightly consideration for daily contests. Similarly, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have been offensive stars on home ice. This has the potential to be a track meet, which is always entertaining for our virtual purposes. Interestingly, Dallas has averaged 2.54 goals per game while allowing 3.54, whereas Calgary sits with 2.5 and 3.57 marks, respectively.
Last season, Calgary owned a league-worst save percentage at five-on-five (.908), and Dallas ranked fourth last (.917), but neither club has shown much improvement in the area with .911 and .919 marks, respectively. While the two offenses are sputtering to start the year, this could be the perfect storm for a high-scoring game with plenty of fantasy implications.
Blue Jackets (PP: 1, PK: 2) at Bruins (PP: 23, PK: 13), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Curtis McElhinney (0-0-1, 1.88, .933), Tuukka Rask (7-1-0, 1.74, .941)
Key Injuries: Frank Vatrano (foot), Brandon Dubinsky (lower body), Seth Jones (foot)
Columbus travels to Boston following a 3-2 overtime win on home ice over Anaheim on Wednesday. The Blue Jackets have rode Sergei Bobrovsky (.946 save percentage), but unfortunately he's unlikely to play against equally impressive Rask (.941).
Wild (PP: 22, PK: 1) at Penguins (PP: 7, PK: 14), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Devan Dubnyk (5-3-1, 1.46, .951), Marc-Andre Fleury (6-2-2, 3.07, .908)
Key Injuries: Erik Haula (lower body), Zach Parise (foot), Marco Scandella (ankle), Derrick Pouliot (undisclosed)
Having last played Saturday, the Wild have been sitting on a two-game losing streak where they scored just one goal. Despite having ample motivation and time to dwell on it, a road date with Pittsburgh is a daunting test. The Penguins are 6-0-1 at home, and 6-0-1 with Sidney Crosby in the lineup.
Ducks (PP: 3, PK: 12) at Hurricanes (PP: 9, PK: 5), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Jonathan Bernier (1-1-0, 2.03, .939), Eddie Lack (1-2-1, 3.80, .856)
Key Injuries: Simon Despres (head), Bryan Bickell (undisclosed), Justin Faulk (upper body)
Anaheim enters on the wrong end of back-to-back road games, and this projects as a low-event game. Look out for the new-look Jeff Skinner-Victor Rask-Elias Lindholm top line for Carolina, and Noah Hanifin is a player on the rise given the likelihood of increased ice time with Faulk out of the lineup.
Kings (PP: 28, PK: 24) at Canadiens (PP: 13, PK: 23), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Peter Budaj (7-3-0, 1.86, .919), Carey Price (8-0-0, 1.63, .953)
Key Injuries: Marian Gaborik (foot), Tom Gilbert (suspension), Brayden McNabb (collarbone), Jonathan Quick (groin), Artturi Lehkonen (upper body)
Montreal hasn't lost at home this season, and Price boasts an 8-0 record with a .953 save percentage and a 1.63 GAA. He's also faced 37.3 shots per game over his past six starts, though. Los Angeles has the star power to upset.
Canucks (PP: 29, PK: 9) at Red Wings (PP: 17, PK: 20), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Ryan Miller (1-6-0, 2.75, .910), Petr Mrazek (4-4-1, 3.18, .904)
Key Injuries: Tomas Jurco (back), Thomas Vanek (hip), Jannik Hansen (undisclosed), Chris Tanev (lower body)
The Canucks broke out against the Rangers on Tuesday to snap a nine-game losing streak, but Detroit is a superior team throughout the lineup. This could be a solid spot for Mrazek to turn his season around given Vancouver has averaged just 1.86 goals per game this year.
Sharks (PP: 16, PK: 6) at Panthers (PP: 15, PK: 16), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Martin Jones (6-6-0, 2.33, .909), Roberto Luongo (4-5-0, 2.36, .917)
Key Injuries: Nick Bjugstad (hand), Jonathan Huberdeau (lower body), Jaromir Jagr (undisclosed)
Can an impressive win in Washington kick-start San Jose's road warrior ways from 2015-16? The Sharks went 28-10-3 in away games last year, and they look to win their second straight game against the injury-riddled Panthers. Florida is mired in mediocrity as a result, as their roster isn't imposing.
Jets (PP: 21, PK: 18) at Coyotes (PP: 27, PK: 28), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Connor Hellebuyck (4-4-0, 2.91, .905), Louis Domingue (4-6-0, 3.63, .896)
Key Injuries: Martin Hanzal (lower body), Mike Smith (lower body), Michael Stone (upper body), Joel Armia (undisclosed), Bryan Little (lower body), Shawn Matthias (lower body), Mathieu Perreault (undisclosed), Drew Stafford (upper body)
Arizona has allowed more goals per game than any team in the league (3.67). So, after touching on the Jets' exciting top line, you should be jumping to pounce on the soft prices of Scheifele, Laine and Ehlers in daily contests.
Noah Hanifin, D, CAR - Justin Faulk's upper-body injury opens the door for Hanifin to see his offensive role expand. He practiced with the No. 1 power-play unit Wednesday, and the sophomore has posted a second-best 2.44 points per 60 minutes among defensemen with at least 100 minutes this year. He isn't going to pad the peripheral statistics, but with an uptick in ice time, he'll have more opportunity to chip in more frequently. Plus, it's the offensive upside you're chasing.