NHL Betting: The Week's Biggest Stories
by Trevor Whenham - 03/02/2009
Signs of life in Montreal
The Habs were too good to be playing as badly as they were over their last 15 games before this week - just three wins. They are finally showing their potential, having strung together wins in their last four games, and capping that streak with a win over league-leading San Jose. Unlike a lot of streaks, the reason for this one is pretty simple to pinpoint - they finally got some goaltending. Starter Carey Price has been terrible recently, and the team has been wildly inconsistent between the pipes. Over the last four games, though, backup Jaroslav Halak has been significantly better. So good, in fact, that he has earned the distinction of being the No. 1 goalie until he plays himself out of the role. If Halak can stay healthy then this team certainly has the talent to run off a string of wins. They are a team to watch.
Oddity in Pittsburgh
Handicapping hockey is supposed to be made easier by a few rules. Among those - a team isn't likely to play better when their best player is out of action. That should be especially true when the team's best player is one of the two or three best players in the league. It could be reasoned, then, that Pittsburgh would be in a bit of a funk when Sidney Crosby was sidelined for three games this week. Not so much. With Crosby out, the Penguins have temporarily played themselves back into a playoff spot with three straight wins. They struggled offensively in the first game, slipping past the lowly Islanders, 1-0. Since then, though, they have averaged 4.5 goals per game, a goal and a half better than their season average.
Crosby isn't missed as much as you might expect, but he has a nice treat waiting for him when he returns. Crosby has struggled to find linemates that complement him as well as he would like, but a new trade brings exciting possibilities. The Pens traded defenseman Ryan Whitney to Anaheim for forward Chris Kunitz and a prospect. Kunitz isn't a big name, but he's a hard working, talented playmaker who will selflessly do what is needed for Crosby. It's a pairing with real potential.
Tough luck continues
Edmonton's Ethan Moreau just can't catch a break. The four-year contract he signed in 2006 was clearly a curse. He sprained his shoulder just seven games into the first season of the new deal. It initially seemed like a manageable problem, but surgery eventually led him to miss the rest of the season. A couple of weeks into last season, a fractured tibia sidelined him for 38 games. He returned from that injury only to break his left leg and miss the last 19 games of the season. This week, Moreau took a stick to the eye, and is dealing with a scratched cornea and bruised retina. The injury isn't as serious as originally thought, but he'll still miss several games. He'll also hopefully come to his senses and start wearing a visor, because that would have avoided this problem entirely. Moreau isn't a world-beater even when he is healthy enough to play, but he's a gritty, grinding player who can reliably fill several roles and adds his share of points. This latest injury is a loss for a team fighting for their playoff lives, but at least the team is used to dealing with his absence.
Dallas on a roller coaster
The Stars can't seem to decide what kind of team they are. They came into the season with high expectations, seen by many as a legitimate Cup contender. An absolutely brutal start to the season changed all that, and they were in last place in the Western Conference by late in November. December and January showed us another side of the team again. They were 15-7-3 over the two-month stretch, and they played themselves back into the heart of the playoff race. Given their talent from top to bottom they very much looked like a team that any squad would want to avoid in the playoffs. The pendulum has swung again, though. They have lost five in a row, and they have managed just six goals over that stretch. Of even more concern, all five losses have been at home. Given the nature of this team it's probably a good bet that they will turn things around again. And then falter. And then finish strong. Regardless, this is not a team to be trusted over the long term.
Calgary's Jarome Iginla had one heck of a night at home against Tampa Bay on Sunday. He had two goals, and added three assists for good measure. Iginla slumped through December and much of the new year, but this was emphatic proof that he is rediscovering his touch. It wasn't just an isolated outburst, either - the scoring included his 400th career goal, and the points that made him Calgary's all-time leading scorer. There was just one problem - the Flames lost. The final score was 8-6. To make matters worse, they lost to Tampa Bay, the team that took the Stanley Cup from the Flames in 2006. The game was offensively brilliant, but it was an uncharacteristic defensive disaster. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, who has the odd distinction of being the winning goalie in every Flames victory all year, was pulled after allowing five goals. He had an off night, but he also had absolutely no help. Though games can get out of hand, and they don't necessarily mean anything, this result is a good example of what concerns me about this team. Calgary is a very legitimate playoff contender, and they had come into this game with 16 of a possible 18 points in their last nine games. No matter how good they look, though, this team has a strange and disconcerting ability to turn their brains off at bad times. Sometimes their defense won't show up, and other times their offense is nowhere to be seen. You can never predict when or why it happens, and you never know how long the downslide will last. It makes this team harder than others of their caliber to trust over the long term.