If you’re new to everyday fantasy hockey, establishing a lineup can be a daunting task. However, to have a fair chance of recouping your investment, all you need to do is apply a few simple tactics. The investigation can take a long time, but it’s usually worth it at the end of the night. Let us begin.

Step #1: Extrapolate the potential offense

If you’re unfamiliar with NHL talent, you can rely on statistics to show you the way. Look for teams that allow a lot of goals and take advantage of them by starting one of your opponent’s lines/defensive units (step 2) that scores a lot of goals. However, you must be careful not to rely on too small a sample size as an indication of poor defense or formidable offense. If a team has played less than 10 games, it may be a fluke that they have allowed 4 goals per game. Perhaps they recently made a goalkeeper change or brought an injured star back from injury. You can also use the statistics from the previous season. Again, though, you need to be careful and make sure there are no major roster changes to the team during the offseason. Also, look at the recent game log. Contradictory to what I said above, hockey is a sport between streaks. If a team has scored 20 goals in 4 games, the odds favor that they continue to play well. I’m not trying to confuse you, but I encourage you to look at a match from all angles. You can also look at the Las Vegas lines to see which teams are the most favored in games with a 5.5 plus/minus. The standard above and below is 5, so 5.5 means that the audience expects a higher score than usual. Any team favored by more than -150 in these games (or not at all) is expected to score 3-4 goals. I recommend looking at the stats first, picking 2 or more teams that you think will have a good offensive night, and then confirming that your suspicions are legitimate by looking at the line of play. Relying solely on the game lines can be disastrous. Remember, oddsmakers set the line at the point where they calculate they will draw the same amount of money on each side. They are experts at predicting bettor behavior, not game outcomes. So now that you’ve decided which teams will score enough, it’s time to decide which specific players to include on the roster.

Step #2: Identify offensive lines, defensive units, and power play units

Each team has 18 offensive players, usually 12 forwards and 6 defensemen. The forwards play in groups of 3 for about a minute before being replaced by the next group of 3 or ‘line’ (hockey is that exhausting). The defenders play in groups of 2, but not both substitute as often as the forward 3. Defenders skate much less than forwards, and therefore can often stay in the game for longer periods of time. The point is: It’s hard to predict which teammates a defenseman will share ice time with throughout the game. Each team also has 2 power play units which are used to increase the chances of scoring when they have a one man advantage. Look to add a full lineup, perhaps along with a defender or goalkeeper (more below), from a team you think will score a lot of goals. When considering an offensive line, check to see if everyone plays together in a power play unit as well. Check if everyone gets enough time on ice (TOI). A player in a third or fourth lane can get significantly less TOI than their fellow laners. It may seem counterintuitive to add 3 or 4 players from the same team, but a goal scored with 3 or 4 of your players on the ice will bombard your opponent. For example, if you have 4 players on the ice and one of them scores assisted by another (or even 2), you will already have accumulated enough offensive points to win many head-to-head games, depending on the scoring system. If the other team scores with your players on the ice, this tactic (commonly called stacking) can also lose you points quickly, but that’s the risk we take when establishing a favorable lineup. Of course, having the front line of a team with a defenseman who plays all three on the first power play unit is ideal, but the budget doesn’t always allow it. Don’t be afraid to start a team’s second or third row in a favorable game. Especially if the line sticks on the second power play drive. In general, the philosophy is to pick offensive players based on matchup, as opposed to talent level. The opposite is true with goalies.

Step #3: Choose elite goalkeepers

It’s always a good strategy to start with the most talented goalkeepers on talented teams when setting up your lineup. They are often the most expensive options, but for good reason. A goalkeeper plays the entire game (ideally) and has a chance to score at any time. In most scoring systems, a dominant goal performance will generally produce more points than a dominant offensive performance and it is much easier to predict which high-priced goalkeeper will allow fewer goals in a win than it is to predict which high-priced striker will score 2 Gold 3 points. So, look for the more expensive options, and more importantly, make sure they are confirmed to play in-game. On countless occasions I have seen elite goalkeepers with the night off in the squads. If you’re sure which goalie to include on the list, look at his career stats compared to his opponents. Check out his recent games. Just like Step 1 above, look at your opponents’ offensive ability and the line of play in Las Vegas. Every once in a while a goalie is historically great but has faltered in recent games. This will cause the price of it to drop. If there is no other elite talent playing, start the struggling star. Most likely he will recover soon.

Having more information is always a good thing – I believe this is true in life and in the realm of fantasy hockey. Be sure to get as much information as possible when doing your research. Has Chicago recently lost a player to injury? Buffalo play significantly better at home? Does Philadelphia perform well without a break? When it’s time to get into your lineup, be conservative. Only risk 1% of your bankroll on each game and only 25% on any lineup. If you have $500, it is advisable to enter 25 games of $5 heads up. On a bad night you won’t lose much and on a good night you will see a very high ROI.