April is here. Donít worry, Iím not going to open this with some sort of April Foolís Day prank. You know, writing about Sidney Crosbyís season-ending injury or something. Thatís not my bag. Iíd rather focus on something of substance, like the NHL playoff races. The only problem is that we donít really have a race to speak of.
In the Western Conference, we know all eight teams already. Technically, that may not be true, but the Kings arenít going to make it. Jarome Iginla didnít put them over the edge. Thereís just a bit of jostling left to be done. In the East, thereís more jostling, but there may not be much of a race, either. Five teams are officially in, and Ottawa is all but a lock at this point. Really, it just comes down to whether or not Tampa Bay can take a spot from Toronto or Boston. Sure, maybe Carolina and the Islanders are in the race, but do you see either of those teams making it into the postseason?
To be fair, do we ever really see more than that? We might like to imagine exciting playoff races, but in truth usually the best we can hope for is two teams fighting over one spot on the last day of the season. Maybe weíll get that this year in the Eastern Conference. Letís hope. Otherwise, we shall be the April fools.
Wild (PP: 10, PK: 10) at Predators (PP: 14, PK: 20), 2:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Devan Dubnyk (37-19-5, 2.23, .924), Pekka Rinne (30-18-8, 2.48, .916)
Key Injuries: Zach Parise (upper body), Miikka Salomaki (lower body), Craig Smith (upper body), Yannick Weber (upper body)
You canít look at the Wild as the team they were early in the season. The team that seemed to be cruising toward the top seed in the West, with Dubnyk seemingly on his way to a Vezina. In March, Minnesota allowed 3.06 goals per game. Their great numbers were always a bit reliant on goaltending, because the Wild arenít in the top 10 in shots allowed per game. Dubnyk has been anything but great recently, as in March he posted a 2.94 GAA and a .889 save percentage in 14 games. Basically, donít worry about using your Predators in this matchup. Filip Forsberg has 30 goals on 225 shots, and Viktor Arvidsson has potted 29 goals on 231 shots. Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, and Ryan Ellis all have at least 36 points. Subban is the one with 36 points, but heís done that in a mere 61 games. Martin Hanzal struggled after getting traded to the Wild, but in his last eight games he has two goals and four assists. Joel Eriksson Ek is more a name to keep in mind for the future, but he was called up by Minnesota recently, and he scored a goal against the Senators in his first game since November.
Canadiens (PP: 11, PK: 18) at Lightning (PP: 4, PK: 15), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Carey Price (36-18-5, 2.23, .924), Andrei Vasilevskiy (20-16-6, 2.68, .915)
Key Injuries: Jordie Benn (upper body), Al Montoya (lower body), Ryan Callahan (hip), Jason Garrison (lower body), Tyler Johnson (lower body), Nikita Kucherov (illness), Cedric Paquette (lower body), Steven Stamkos (knee)
Kucherov couldnít play Thursday because of his illness, but the Lightning will have to really hope he can play in this one. The Lightning are fighting for a playoff spot, and Kucherov has been making a run at the Hart Trophy with his play. Heís notched 38 goals and 80 points in 68 games, including a staggering 31 points with the extra man. Despite the presence of Price, Montrealís penalty kill has been middling. That being said, since the All-Star break the Canadiens have the seventh-ranked penalty kill. There is a Hab down in the Recommended Pickup section. Paul Byron has doubled his career high in goals (22), but heís done that with a 23.7 shooting percentage. Expect a lot of regression next season. With the injury issues the Lightning have had, Yanni Gourde has been playing quite a bit in March. He has a goal in each of Tampaís last two games, including a huge game-winning goal against Chicago. However, heís only taken 19 shots in 14 games, so donít get too excited.
Ducks (PP: 20, PK: 5) at Oilers (PP: 6, PK: 13), 10:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: John Gibson (23-16-8, 2.28, .921), Cam Talbot (39-21-8, 2.37, .921)
Key Injuries: Simon Despres (head), Andrew Ference (hip), Tyler Pitlick (knee)
Donít expect a lot of scoring in this one, at least based on how these teams have played defensively. Both teams rank in the top seven in goals allowed per game, and as you can see both Gibson and Talbot have had excellent seasons. Talbot has played in a whopping 69 games, but he doesnít seem to be dealing with any fatigue. In his last 10 contests, he has a 2.16 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Of course, itís hard to say there wonít be a lot of scoring in a game featuring the leagueís leading scorer Connor McDavid, who has 91 points in 77 games. Mark Letestu has had a weird season. Heís tallied 15 goals and 18 assists in 74 games. Thatís not the surprising part. Whatís notable is that 12 of those points, and 10 of those goals, have come on the power play. You probably know that Corey Perry has had bad puck luck this season (8.7 shooting percentage). However, in his last 11 games heís notched seven goals. Finally, fortune smiles on Perry. Thirteen of Sami Vatanenís 23 points have come with the extra man.
Panthers (PP: 25, PK: 1) at Bruins (PP: 8, PK: 3), 1:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Reto Berra (0-3-0, 3.38, .874), Tuukka Rask (35-20-4, 2.31, .912)
Key Injuries: Frank Vatrano (upper body), Aleksander Barkov (upper body), Aaron Ekblad (neck), Roberto Luongo (lower body), James Reimer (upper body)
Well this matchup looks a lot different with Berra in net. Obviously, heís not on Luongo or Reimerís level as a netminder. Thatíll get the Bruins excited. If you think Perry has been unlucky, Patrice Bergeron has put 279 shots on net but only potted 18 goals. Thatís a 6.5 shooting percentage, folks. Jonathan Huberdeau has 23 points in 26 games. His fellow Jonathan, Marchessault, has 29 goals in 70 games.
Senators (PP: 23, PK: 19) at Jets (PP: 19, PK: 28), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Craig Anderson (22-11-3, 2.38, .925), Connor Hellebuyck (24-19-4, 2.94, .905)
Key Injuries: Alex Burrows (upper body), Erik Karlsson (undisclosed), Marc Methot (hand), Chris Neil (finger), Zack Smith (upper body), Toby Enstrom (concussion), Shawn Matthias (shoulder), Tyler Myers (lower body), Ondrej Pavelec (knee), Paul Postma (lower body)
Not having Karlsson would really hurt the Senators. They arenít used to it either, as before missing Thursdayís game he had played in 324 straight games. However, the Jets have allowed 3.15 goals and 31.0 shots on net per game, so Ottawa should still be OK. Mathieu Perreault has been on fire recently, as heís tallied 11 points in his last eight games. If thatís not exciting enough, six of those points have come with the extra man.
Maple Leafs (PP: 2, PK: 9) at Red Wings (PP: 28, PK: 11), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Frederik Andersen (31-15-14, 2.63, .919), Jimmy Howard (9-9-1, 2.02, .932)
Key Injuries: Jonathan Ericsson (wrist), Luke Glendening (lower body), Anthony Mantha (finger), Ryan Sproul (knee), Eric Fehr (hand), Josh Leivo (undisclosed), Joffrey Lupul (abdomen)
Tale of two power plays here. Since returning from injury, Howard has a 2.15 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Iím definitely not a bitter Red Wings fan wondering what might have happened had he stayed healthy. Three Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, and James van Riemsdyk, have registered at least 217 shots on goal. Both Matthews and Kadri have hit the 30-goal mark. Under the radar, Connor Brown has 19 goals in 76 games.
Devils (PP: 18, PK: 20) at Flyers (PP: 15, PK: 22), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Cory Schneider (20-24-11, 2.71, .911), Steve Mason (25-21-7, 2.71, .907)
Key Injuries: Jacob Josefson (upper body), Devante Smith-Pelly (lower body), Nick Cousins (upper body), Michael Raffl (lower body), Matt Read (upper body)
The Devils are the only team stuck playing on back-to-back nights Saturday. When playing on zero days of rest, New Jersey has allowed 33.7 shots on net per contest. Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds both have 52 points and 16 power-play goals, but Schenn has played in three fewer games.
Stars (PP: 21, PK: 30) at Hurricanes (PP: 22, PK: 2), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Kari Lehtonen (20-23-7, 2.81, .905), Cam Ward (26-20-11, 2.66, .906)
Key Injuries: Eddie Lack (neck), Jay McClement (lower body), Ryan Murphy (lower body), Jiri Hudler (lower body), Mattias Janmark (knee), Curtis McKenzie (eye), Antoine Roussel (hand), Patrick Sharp (hip)
First off, best wishes to Lack. I was watching the game where he got hurt. It was on at a bar I was at for Simpsons trivia. I came in second. I had won three times in a row before a new guy showed up. I donít want to talk about it. Anyway, itís surprising to see how good Carolinaís penalty kill has been, considering how badly their netminders have performed. On the flip side, the Hurricanesí power play could benefit from this matchup with the leagueís worst penalty kill. Sebastian Aho could particularly benefit, as heís tallied 15 power-play points. Dallas is quite top heavy, relying on the dynamic duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Both have 25 goals, and no other Star has more than 14. That Star? Brett Ritchie.
Brendan Gallagher, RW, MON Ė This season has not been kind to Gallagher. In addition to being held to 59 games due to injuries, his shooting percentage is a staggeringly low 5.8. Luck has not been on his side. However, as the Habs head into the playoffs, Gallagher is finally finding his footing. In his last nine games heís tallied nine points, and over the last 30 days he has 48 shots on goal in 13 contests. The last time Gallagher had a healthy season, he notched 24 goals and 47 points. Thereís clearly talent here. Now that heís finally (seemingly) at 100 percent and seems to have more luck on his side, he can help your fantasy team in the dwindling days of the season.