The NHL playoff picture is beginning to clear with all but the final seeds locked up. And with a different brand of hockey beginning, the daily racket takes on a new life. In the final Beat the Cap column of the year, it seems fitting to highlight things to keep tabs on and what to look for during the second season.
There is a two- or three-day window between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs. If you're serious about playing daily hockey through the second season, it would be wise to look back over your results during four- and three-game slates through the regular season.
Were you successful those nights? Selecting the right players, as opposed to the wrong ones, goes a long way, obviously, but where cap space was allotted and particular lineup strategies can be telling. For example, was selecting a balanced lineup more successful than mixing high- and low-priced players?
Look for trends over multiple contests with limited player pools. Approximately how many fantasy points will it take to cash in guaranteed prize pools or 50/50s? How effective was stacking an entire line? Again, when you select the right players, you do well, so it is best to look over a number of contests.
With fewer games and a shallower player pool, selecting the right goaltender is even more important than ever. Last season, there was a night during the opening round of the playoffs when five of the six goaltenders allowed at least three goals, and Henrik Lundqvist held Philadelphia to one.
Other nights yielded far fewer goals, and there were even three shutouts in the same night last year during the first round. However, having one of those three goalies was a huge advantage over the field. Picking the right goalie with a third-line winger will almost always work out better than the wrong goalie and skater who registers two points.
All said, don't suddenly change your approach to goaltenders now that the playoffs have begun. Continue to build from the crease out. The limited skater options should make it easier to spend up for a goalie and sacrifice other positions when needed.
The home team wins significantly more in Round 1 of the playoffs. Over the past two seasons, home teams have won 69.5 percent of all games in the first round, winning 30-of-47 and 33-of-48 games in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Rounding up, just three of every 10 games will end with a road victory.
There is also a disparity in power-play success. In the 2013 playoffs, home teams scored on 18.6 percent of their power-play opportunities, as opposed to a success rate of just 13.9 percent for road teams. While the gap was smaller in 2014, it was still there. Home teams converted 19.2 percent of the time, and road teams cashed in 16.5 percent of their chances.
These trends shouldn't be ignored, especially in the first round when there are more options to choose from. As the player pool becomes shallower with fewer games, your hand is going to be forced more often. Still, playing on home ice has had a significant impact on results in the playoffs which will roll over into your daily contests.
Tuesday night was a perfect example of the significance momentum plays in sports. The Penguins opened a three-goal lead in the first period over Ottawa only to allow four unanswered goals and leave with a loss. Putting it lightly, Pittsburgh is limping into the playoffs, if they even make them.
Last season, the Blues dropped six consecutive games leading into the postseason and then lost to Chicago in six games in the first round. Granted it was a difficult first-round draw, but it wasn't a shocking result given their poor play leading into the playoffs.
Minnesota, on the other hand, entered last season's playoffs with a 6-1-1 run and upset Colorado in the first round. Trends to consider this season would be the Islanders' and Red Wings' inability to keep the puck out of their own net down the stretch, and Boston's current five-game winning steak, to name a few.
One reason teams win so consistently on home ice is the home team has the last change. It is the trump card for line matching. The Rangers shut down Claude Giroux in their barn last season, feeding him a steady diet of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, and he finished with one goal and one assist in four games at Madison Square Garden. He has five points in the three games played at Wells Fargo Center.
It is easier to avoid difficult matchups on home ice with the last change, and the home coach is capable of initiating and dictating the matchups he prefers. It is worth noting every coach is different ,and some are less concerned with matching lines, however, two games into each series, you'll have an idea of whether there are matchups to exploit or avoid.
Simply put, some players can elevate their play and overcome daunting shadows while others can't. It is ill-advised to chase fantasy points in unfavorable spots, and it is worth the time to identify those and the plus-matchups.