NHL Hockey Odds and Picks: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 12/22/2014
The NHL takes three nights off starting on Christmas Eve this week, so it seems a good time to check on updated futures odds at Sportsbook.ag.
The Chicago Blackhawks have pulled away from the field by quite a margin in the odds to win the Stanley Cup at +400. The Hawks, who still trail Anaheim for the most points in the West, lead the NHL in goals-against average despite No. 1 netminder Corey Crawford missing a large chunk of the season with injuries (back now). They are No. 1 in penalty killing and No. 4 in goals per game. It's a team that doesn't appear to have any major flaws. Chicago has lost just once in regulation in the past 13 games. Expect another win Tuesday at home vs. Winnipeg before Chicago gets time to rest up. Chicago is -240 on BookMaker vs. the Jets, who have been better than expected. The Blackhawks are +220 to win the West and -120 to win the Central Division.
The two biggest division favorites are Pittsburgh at -200 in the Metropolitan and Anaheim at the same price in the Pacific. The Ducks are +800 second-favorites for the Cup with the Penguins at No. 3 with Los Angeles and St. Louis at +1000. Pittsburgh entered Monday with small lead in points over the second-place Islanders in the division and just one regulation loss in its past 10. The Pens are top five in the league in scoring, goals-against, power-play percentage and penalty killing, but if there's one worry it's depth. And goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the playoffs.
Statistically, Anaheim is middle of the pack in the important categories, but also remember the Ducks have played several games without their best player, winger Corey Perry. He's close to returning but wasn't expected to Monday. Look for him Saturday at Arizona. I'm also not sold on Ducks top netminder Frederik Anderson despite his 18-5-4 mark. His 2.41 GAA ranks only 16th.
The most wide open division certainly looks to be the Atlantic, with Tampa Bay at +200 and followed closely by Montreal (+250), Boston (+300) and Detroit (+350).
Here we go again with more guys possibly contracting the mumps. The Penguins announced Monday that Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter and Thomas Greiss have been sent home to be tested for the mumps. The players had traveled with the team to Florida on Sunday, where the Penguins will play the Panthers on Monday night. and in Tampa on Tuesday. All three will be placed in isolation pending the test results. Three Penguins already have had the mumps, including Sidney Crosby. The Rangers announced on Monday that winger Lee Stempniak had the mumps. He's the third player on the team to get them.
New Jersey's top line left wing Michael Cammalleri, who has missed the past four games with a lower-body injury, returned to practice on Monday and could play Tuesday against visiting Carolina. However, forward Patrik Elias and Martin Havlat did not practice because of illness. They are being tested for mumps. Travis Zajac and Adam Larsson have already had the illness on the Devils. The Ducks' Perry also had them. This is getting to epidemic status.
Carolina is the worst team in the Eastern Conference but might get back a key player next Monday in Center Jordan Staal. He sustained a broken right fibula during a preseason game Sept. 23 at the Buffalo Sabres. He is on injured reserve and missed his 33rd consecutive game Sunday. Staal was expected to miss between 3-4 months. He had 15 goals and 25 assists last season.
The Maple Leafs have been really streaky this season, and they are currently going the wrong way. They won't get help this week from winger Leo Komarov. He suffered a major concussion in late November and missed his 11th straight game Sunday. He has been skating and improving the, but the Leafs are now saying he won't return until the New Year. Komarov had 16 points in 23 games.
This Week's Games to Watch
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, Tuesday: It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see these high-scoring clubs face off in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the young, exciting Lightning should be a force for years to come. As noted above, the Penguins will be missing three key players and playing the second of a back-to-back. The Lightning, who are second in the NHL in scoring, have hit a bit of a rough patch in losing six of eight. The Bolts haven't scored more than three goals in any of those. It's not clear if Lightning No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop will play in this one. He has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury. Tampa lost 4-2 in Pittsburgh in the teams' only meeting on Dec. 15. Sutter and Downie both scored in that one for the Pens. Bishop was hurt in that game and left after the first period. Tampa Bay's last win vs. Pittsburgh came on Nov. 17, 2011 This line is TBA at BookMaker but I expect a Lightning win, Bishop or not.
Washington at NY Rangers, Tuesday: The Blueshirts are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference as they bring a six-game winning streak into this one and are -145 BookMaker favorites. The Rangers beat Carolina 1-0 on Sunday behind backup goalie Cam Talbot and have a league-leading eight shutouts on the season, which is the most shutouts in their opening 31 games since the 1928-29 season. Talbot has three wins on the year as the No. 2 and all three are shutouts. The Rangers have outscored opponents 20-8 during the six-game streak and have allowed two goals or fewer in their last five contests. It's the first meeting of the year with Washington. The Caps hosted Ottawa on Monday night.
San Jose at Los Angeles, Saturday: This one is nationally televised on the NBC Sports Network. The Sharks had won five straight and nine of 10 entering this week but aren't gaining much ground on Pacific-leading Anaheim. San Jose and L.A. haven't played since the season opener when the Sharks laid a 4-0 beatdown on the Kings on the night they raised their championship banner. The Kings will remember that. L.A.'s Anze Kopitar was the First Star of the NHL last week as he begins to warm up. Kopitar led the NHL with nine points and eight assists in three games.
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