NHL Betting: The Week's Biggest Stories
by Trevor Whenham - 03/30/2009
Something Stinks in Colorado
The Colorado Avalanche are bad. Really, really, really bad. They have the second worst record in the league behind only the Islanders, but their play in the last couple of weeks has made it clear that no team has less going for them right now. They have lost their last seven games in a row, and they haven't managed to score more than two goals in any of those games. At the same time, they have given up more than five goals per game over their last five. There is some talent on the team, but injuries have just ravaged the squad and seemingly crushed the will of the remaining players. To top it off, a team that had a very long consecutive sellout streak end last year is now playing in a virtually empty building. Star Joe Sakic is due to return before the playoffs, but that's just symbolic - he'll make a last appearance before retiring this summer - and it will have little actual impact on the team. If the team doesn't manage a win against nearly-as-pathetic Phoenix on Wednesday then it seems almost likely that they won't win again this year. Perhaps the team's strategy is clear - really tank it to end the year to help their chances in the draft lottery so that they can replace Sakic with John Tavares.
Red Hot Hurricanes
Six weeks ago the Carolina Hurricanes were on the outside of the playoff race looking in, and it seemed unlikely that they were going anywhere. Since Feb. 19, though, the team has gone a stunning 14-3-2, and are now in fifth place in the conference and just one point away from hosting a playoff series. There are several contributing factors to the rise, including stellar play from goalie Cam Ward and periods of offensive explosiveness from Eric Staal. One factor that can't be overlooked, though, is the re-acquisition of Erik Cole. After letting Cole, a heart-and-soul guy that was immensely popular in Carolina, go to Edmonton before the season, they brought him back at the trade deadline. Cole isn't setting the world on fire offensively, but he is well respected in the dressing room, and he obviously has given the team what they needed - they are 9-1-2 since his return. The way a team plays in the last quarter of the season is a good indicator of what to expect from them in the playoffs, so Carolina finds itself high on my watch list heading into the postseason.
Disaster in Montreal
This season has been filled with a surprising number of mid-season coaching changes, and several are currently resulting in much-improved play - Chicago, Carolina, Pittsburgh and so on. One place it hasn't worked, though, is Montreal. On March 9, GM Bob Gainey fired coach Guy Carbonneau and took over coaching duties himself. Since then, the team has won just three of the nine games Gainey has coached. They are currently clinging to the last playoff spot by just one point, so needless to say this futility doesn't come at a good time. It can't be much of a surprise, though - it's the same thing that happened the last time Gainey tried to step in and play the hero. He fired Claude Julien in 2006 and took the reins, only to lose six of his first 10 games. Things got better after that, but he might not have the time to build to success slowly this year.
Boston had gone through a troubling late season swoon that lasted more than a month. Starting Feb. 7, the team went just 4-8-3 in 15 games, and they fell from looking unbeatable in the East to potentially being poised for an early playoff exit - especially given the rise of teams like New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Carolina. Since then, though, the team has gone 5-1-1, and some of those that panicked are climbing back onto the bandwagon. Like Carolina, the Bruins seem to have a trade deadline acquisition to thank in large part for their recent success - Mark Recchi. Recchi has five goals and seven points in his last six games, and he has paired well with Chuck Kobasew and Patrice Bergeron to give the Bruins three lines of offensive depth. As importantly, though, the veteran has been a good influence for the talented but largely young and inexperienced roster.
Not Going Away Quietly
Colorado has been bad, but some other cellar dwellers are still playing for some pride these days. The Islanders went into the very inhospitable Joe Louis Arena and shut out the Red Wings, 2-0, on Friday night, and then they took the playoff-bound Flyers to overtime the next night. They also had road wins at Montreal and Chicago on a recent extended trip. Atlanta has done even better, winning nine of their last 12 despite being mathematically eliminated. Ottawa has been hot despite having no hope as well. These runs combined with the recent hot streak of the Toronto Raptors in the NBA has to make you think that hopeless teams, if carefully identified, can provide excellent late season value for bettors.