With just 32 games left for some teams before the postseason it's not unreasonable to start seeing matchups and wanting to view them through a "can't wait for this one in the playoffs" lens. To that end, the highlight of Thursday's nine-game slate is the Boston Bruins visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bruins are unquestionably a powerhouse this season, and they came out on top in both previous matchups with the dynasty Bolts -- 5-3 in Tampa on Nov. 21 and 3-1 in Boston on Nov. 29. But the Lightning have been playing better defensive hockey lately; while they rank 13th in goals against per 60 at five-on-five this season, they rank fifth if you look at just the past month. Both teams boast top-five offenses in goals per 60, but I expect the defenses are the stars of this show -- especially with the Bruins penalty kill (fewest power-play goals against in the past month) available to nullify the Bolts power play (second-most power-play goals in the past month).
The teams will meet one more time on March 25. It is unlikely they are destined to be first-round opponents at this stage, but it is likely their road to the Stanley Cup final this season will involve a meeting, so each regular season matchup is a chance to size up the competition.
Elsewhere on Thursday, it's unclear if new Avalanche players Matt Nieto or Ryan Merkley will be with the Colorado Avalanche as they host the Anaheim Ducks (or if the latter is even destined for the NHL as opposed to staying in the AHL). Nieto has been a second-line winger for the San Jose Sharks this season prior to Wednesday's trade that netted the Sharks forward Martin Kaut and defenseman Jacob MacDonald, but Nieto won't likely be destined for the Avs top six. In fact, the only thing that is likely to make this trade fantasy relevant for this season would be Kaut thriving with opportunity in San Jose. But Nieto is a good depth piece and he completes his destiny with this trade as his NHL career has now been Sharks, Avs, Sharks, Avs.
As for back-to-back sets, none of Thursday's 18 teams played on Wednesday, but the Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils will all suit up again on Friday.
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All times Eastern.
Favorable scoring matchups
Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals
7 p.m., Capital One Arena, Watch live on ESPN+
With Tristan Jarry out until after the all-star break, the Penguins appear content to play for final scores you're more likely to see in lacrosse, winning 7-6 against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. A good ol' matchup with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin always has the potential for fireworks, too. The Capitals lineup is in flux with Nicklas Backstrom questionable with an illness, T.J. Oshie probable after missing the last game for the birth of a child and Tom Wilson leaving the last game after taking a puck off his leg. If you do want to target the Caps in this one, Dylan Strome feels like the safest available bet, but note that Nicolas Aube-Kubel was taking shifts with Ovechkin in the last game. Kris Letang and Jeff Petry are both back for the Pens now and should be locked back into lineups, while Jason Zucker remains the available member of the top six to add for matchups like this.
St. Louis Blues at Arizona Coyotes
9 p.m., Mullett Arena, Watch live on ESPN+
The Coyotes are a place to attack for offense and the Blues have a lot of available pieces in play. Torey Krug and Vladimir Tarasenko returned from injury on Tuesday and are both back on the top power-play unit. Brayden Schenn also stayed there with Pavel Buchnevich hitting the injured reserve. And, with that Buchnevich news, Brandon Saad was elevated to the top line. Use any and all of them against the Coyotes.
Anaheim Ducks at Colorado Avalanche
9 p.m., Ball Arena, Watch live on ESPN+
The Avs are a top-five team on the season when it comes to goals against per 60, but they only rank 13th in the past month. This coincides with signs of life out of Trevor Zegras, who has turned over a new leaf in January with 14 points in 11 games while only missing the score sheet once. No, don't expect anything other than another steamroll by the Avs here, but I think there's a chance we'll see some Ducks offense going back the other way. Unlike the recommendation for most of the season to date, I think Zegras is a start here, along with Adam Henrique and Troy Terry on the other scoring line. But the Ducks also have no defense, so feel free to pile on your usual Avs. Cale Makar remains questionable, so Devon Toews should be elevated to must-start.
Mid-tier fantasy forwards
Tyler Bertuzzi, W, Detroit Red Wings (42.5%): Expected to return to the Red Wings lineup on Thursday following his latest injury absence, Bertuzzi will get his usual roles back and should be a threat to do damage in a matchup with the Montreal Canadiens and their 31st-ranked power play over the past month.
Jason Zucker, W, Pittsburgh Penguins (24.4%)
Dylan Strome, C/W, Washington Capitals (29.0%)
Brayden Schenn, C/W, St. Louis Blues (49.7%)
Adam Henrique, C/W, Anaheim Ducks (12.1%)
Ondrej Palat, W, New Jersey Devils (43.7%)
Deep league/Daily Fantasy value forwards
Dillon Dube, C/W, Calgary Flames (1.8%): It's a plus matchup for the Flames against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. Dube is on a line with Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli, and has potted four goals in the past six games.
Pavel Zacha, C/W, Boston Bruins (6.9%)
Michael Rasmussen, C/W, Detroit Red Wings (1.9%)
Brandon Saad, W, St. Louis Blues (3.1%)
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, W, Washington Capitals (0.5%)
Cody Glass, C, Nashville Predators (0.3%)
Mid-tier fantasy defensemen
Damon Severson, D, New Jersey Devils (48.4%): The Devils have been putting forth a power-play unit with two defensemen of late, which elevates Severson to a solid start most nights -- even when the opposition is the shutdown Nashville Predators.
Erik Gustafsson, D, Washington Capitals (21.1%): It's too bad that Gustafsson couldn't be a true fantasy replacement for John Carlson, but the opportunity remains as there's no one else to turn to as the power-play quarterback. While he hasn't been great in the past seven games, the Penguins have a porous penalty kill with 13 power-play goals against in the past month (rank 28th).
Torey Krug, D, St. Louis Blues (35.8%)
Jeff Petry, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (69.8%)
Ben Chiarot, D, Detroit Red Wings (42.7%)
Deep league/Daily Fantasy value defensemen
Mike Matheson, D, Montreal Canadiens (3.1%): The Red Wings penalty kill isn't one of the team's strengths and Matheson continues to hold down the point for the Habs on their advantage. The unit has talent (Nick Suzuki, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov and Kirby Dach) and has been making small gains at getting better of late.
Cam York, D, Philadelphia Flyers (2.0%)
Filip Gustavsson, G, Minnesota Wild (25.2%): If this is a rotation, this is Gustavsson's turn. He had his first rough outing in a while in his last outing, allowing four goals to the Panthers. But this is a winnable home game against the Flyers.
Jacob Markstrom or Dan Vladar, G, Calgary Flames (80.6% or 4.4%): Just like Monday, I don't even want to hazard a guess as to who is starting, but it's a golden matchup for streaming if Vladar gets the nod and a great matchup if Markstrom is on your bench. After losing to the Hawks on Jan. 8, I think the Flames won't let these points get away.
Magnus Hellberg, G, Detroit Red Wings (0.2%): This could be a decent Hail Mary stream start, as the Red Wings play the New York Islanders on Friday and might save Ville Husso for that one. The Habs are beatable -- even by Hellberg and the Wings.