NHL Betting: The Week's Biggest Stories
by Trevor Whenham - 01/19/2009
Rough Week For Pittsburgh Fans
If you are a Penguins fan and you shed a tear on Wednesday night then you can't really be blamed. First, the Pens got manhandled by Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals, and their two big stars didn't look nearly as good as Washington's one. Then, just as the loss was about to hit the books, Sidney Crosby limped off the ice with a knee injury. He missed practice on Thursday, and the game against the Ducks on Friday. Thankfully, he was able to return to action on Saturday. The injury comes at a bad time, as he had finally found the form that has eluded him for a while. He had nine points in the five games before the injury after having just four points in his previous nine games.
Pittsburgh has won three of their last four. It remains to be seen, though, if that's a sign that they are ready to live up to their potential, or just a delay to the inevitable firing of their coach so the team can find the direction that is clearly lost this year.
The good news for Vancouver fans is that goalie Roberto Luongo has finally returned to action. The bad news for bettors is that he has been truly lousy in his first two games back. He allowed four goals in his first game back against Phoenix. Next time out against Columbus he was much worse - allowing five goals on 28 shots, and then failing to stop either attempt in the shootout.
This is Luongo's first serious injury, so we can't compare his struggles now to what has happened in the past. Given that he missed nearly two months of action, it's not hard to imagine that he would have some rust to knock off. The fact that he is a goalie with a bad groin, though, really makes you wonder if there is more to this story. Regardless of what you believe, the Canucks have been favored at odds of -135 or more in six of their last eight games, and they have lost all six, so this is probably a good time to back off and let the dust settle on the coast a bit.
Which Flames Are The Real Ones?
The Flames are a very hard team to read. Halfway through December they were frustratingly inconsistent, and rumors were flying that Mike Keenan could be on his way out the door. But the things turned around. Calgary earned 23 of their next 26 points, capped off by two wins in nine days over San Jose, including San Jose's first loss at home. That last game was about as impressive as any team can look. But then they followed it up by dropping their next two games, against Phoenix and at Colorado. It's not just that they lost - that happens to every team - it's that they looked so very bad doing it. Calgary was so bad - unfocused and uninspired - in the weekend losses that you would never believe that they were good enough to get 23 points all season, never mind in 13 games.
Calgary is poised to likely win their division, and almost certainly to make the playoffs. They have some serious problems if they want to do anything once they get there, though. Jarome Iginla is their lone all-star, and is supposed to be one of the top power forwards in the league, but he's not even the team's leading goal scorer after a recent slump. His last goal came on the last day of last year. He has been inconsistent, and isn't carrying his weight. He's such an entrenched leader on the team that his struggles impact the entire squad.
Iginla isn't the only big name star with problems. Defenseman Dion Phaneuf scored his first goal in 26 games against San Jose. A defenseman can be forgiven for a lack of offensive power if he is taking care of business in his own end, but Phaneuf has been sloppy and, again, inconsistent. He's not nearly the player he was last year, and his meteoric development in the league has clearly stalled. Keenan will have to find a way to get Iginla and Phaneuf back in form before Calgary can become a team worth trusting in the long term.
Things might not get better for Phaneuf if he reads the news. Calgary could use another offensive center, and rumors are beginning to gain steam that Phaneuf could be shipped out to secure one. Phaneuf was drafted by Calgary, so he has never been subjected to rumors. He might not handle it well.
A Blast From The Past
San Jose has added a new player to their roster, but he certainly isn't young blood. After 23 games in the AHL, 43-year-old Claude Lemieux is back in the NHL. This is the culmination of a very unlikely comeback bid. He hadn't played in the NHL since 2003. He was still hungry, though, and his play in Worcester showed that he still has game - he had 11 points in 23 games, and was plus-2.
Lemieux is reportedly in very good shape, but it's far from certain that he will stick with the Sharks. I like the gamble a lot, though. The Sharks are clearly poised to go deep in the playoffs, and experience never hurts when you are trying to do that. They already have Rob Blake and Jeremy Roenick, who are both 39, but another old-timer can't hurt. Especially when that old-timer has four Stanley Cup rings, and is a very good playoff performer. This move won't put the Sharks over the top, but it sure is a nice piece of the puzzle.
It seems like it's usually baseball players that get injured in bizarre ways, but hockey players can pull it off sometimes, too. Ottawa forward Shean Donovan is out of action until after the all-star break after being injured on Sunday in the team's Superskills competition. Donovan lost an edge on the corner in the fastest skater contest and slammed into the boards. He has an unspecified lower body injury, but it's probably his pride that is more bruised than anything.