NHL Betting: The Week's Biggest Stories
by Trevor Whenham - 11/10/2008
The news and developments that are catching the eye of this hockey fan and sports bettor this week:
Sharks Keep Biting
San Jose played their ninth home game on Saturday against Dallas, and they have yet to lose. Seven wins have come in regulation, with one in overtime, and one via the shootout. Only the Rangers have played more games at home than the Sharks. It hasn't always been pretty - they needed a very strange puck handling mishap in the last minute against Dallas to get the win - but they just keep winning. As consistent as they have been, though, the public has caught on, so there is little betting value. The team's best home price was -140, and that was in the first game of the year. Since then they have been heavily favored against good teams like Detroit, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. The real value is probably in trying to guess when the streak ends.
Firing Denis Savard after just four games and replacing him with Joel Quenneville seemed like a clear sign that the Blackhawks' front office had lost their collective minds. It turns out, though, that they knew what they were doing. Since making the change the young team has secured 14 of a possible 18 points. The goaltending duo of Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet seemed like a risky one coming into the season, but they have done very well so far while consistently platooning. The success hasn't been universal, though. Jonathan Toews, the 20-year-old team captain, is coming off a 24-goal rookie year. He's a key piece of the offense, so it was obviously concerning that he was scoreless in his first 12 games. He broke the streak of futility against Calgary, and almost scored again. As often seems to be the case, this first goal could lead to several more in quick succession.
Speaking of struggling young stars... Steven Stamkos was the first pick in the draft last year, and that position was a stone cold lock for almost as long as LeBron James' position was in his draft. He was picked by Tampa Bay - a good place for him to be because they have enough offensive depth that he doesn't immediately need to be the man on offense. It's a good thing, too, because Stamkos has struggled. He had one big game against Buffalo - two goals and an assist. He had just one assist in his previous eight games, though, and no points in the four games since. Stamkos isn't the only underachiever on the Lightning roster. Ryan Malone was signed for way too much money in the offseason, and he's justified the overspending with just three points in 13 games. It's not a wonder that the Lightning are only treading water so far. The Stamkos situation will be interesting to watch - it's too late to send him back to junior, so he will have to work out his problems in the pros.
The Fun Begins in New Jersey
Last week I mentioned that I was concerned about the Devils if Martin Brodeur was out with an injury. It turns out I was right to worry - Brodeur is out for months with an arm injury, and so far he has been sorely missed. The team has just one overtime win in four games without their superstar. The goaltending hasn't been terrible, but it doesn't have to be for this team to struggle. They don't score a whole lot, so they rely on their goalie to keep them in close games. Kevin Weekes and journeyman Scott Clemmensen haven't done enough to keep the team confident. Things will get better for the team as the memory of what they have lost dims, but for the short term their current struggles seem likely to continue. That's the problem with having a star goalie of the caliber of Brodeur - the team assumes he will be there and be good, so they have trouble adjusting when he struggles or is hurt. Teams like Vancouver, Anaheim and Calgary are similarly reliant on one star keeper to maintain the team's confidence.
Not Exactly Road Warriors
The Nashville Predators are a good team. Or at least they would be if they didn't have to leave home. In Nashville, the Preds look confident and effective. They have won five times in six games, and the only loss was thanks to a brutal third period collapse. The road, though, is a totally different story. They have just one shootout win and one shootout loss in their eight road games. Away from home they look confused and disorganized. It's truly like there are two different teams wearing the same uniforms. There is at least a partial explanation, though. Their home schedule to date has been ridiculously soft - they have only played two playoff teams from last year. The path gets tougher at home in coming weeks, so we'll have to check in again in a month to see if they are still virtually unbeatable at home. In the meantime, five of their next six games are on the road, so things could get really ugly if the team can't right themselves quickly.