NHL Hockey Odds and Picks: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 12/29/2014
Hockey being what it is, I will rarely lead this column looking forward to an actual game that isn't a playoff matchup. However, the NHL's signature regular-season event is the Winter Classic, and that is staged Thursday for the first time in Washington, D.C. Nationals Park is the location as the Capitals host the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Winter Classic is always the highest-rated nationally-televised game of the season as fans love to see guys play hockey outdoors and hopefully in the snow, which is how it's meant to be played. Alas, it doesn't look like we will get snow for this year's game. If you haven't seen any of the time-lapse video of how they are transforming Nationals Park, it's pretty cool. It will be a sellout. I will be curious what the ratings are this year with a 1 p.m. start time on NBC as it's opposite a great New Year's Six Cotton Bowl featuring No. 8 Michigan State and No. 5 Baylor. Also around that time are the Outback Bowl, featuring No. 19 Auburn and No. 18 Wisconsin, and Citrus Bowl, where No. 16 Missouri and No. 25 Minnesota face off.
The Blackhawks should be slight favorites for the game as they remain Stanley Cup favorites at all the sportsbooks and with the largest goal differential by far in the NHL, although the Capitals are playing much better of late. This will be the second Winter Classic for the Blackhawks. They hosted the second Classic on New Year's Day 2009 at Wrigley Field -- still the best Classic setting in my opinion -- and lost 6-4 to Detroit. The Capitals played in the 2011 Classic at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field and beat the Pens 3-1.
It will be the final meeting of the season between the Capitals and Blackhawks unless they square of this summer in the Stanley Cup Finals. Chicago is +220 at Sportsbook.ag to win the West and Washington +1200 to win the East. The Capitals won in Chicago on Nov. 7, 3-2. the Hawks led 2-0 with around five minutes left in the second period, but the Caps scored three times to close that period out. That was back when Chicago was still scuffling and didn't have winger Patrick Sharp.
You may want to bet on the Hawks for this one as the visiting team has won five of the previous six Winter Classics.
More mumps problems for the NHL as New Jersey forwards Patrik Elias and Michael Ryder became the third and fourth players on the team to test positive for the disease. Elias has four goals and nine assists in 29 games this season. He is expected to skate in the next few days. Ryder has four goals and 10 assists in 34 games.
St. Louis No. 1 goalie Brian Elliott hasn't played since No. 25 because of injury, but he has been cleared by doctors and returned to a full practice. The Blues won't put him in there until he's 100 percent with his conditioning, so Elliott (8-4-1, 1.82 GAA) wasn't going to play Monday. Once officially activated, the Blues will have to make a move with either Martin Brodeur or Jake Allen. Brodeur hasn't been great, so he could be sent down or released.
The Islanders activated No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak off injured reserve, and he returned to practice on Sunday. Halak was placed on IR on Saturday, retroactive to Dec. 20, with a lower-body injury. He is 18-6-0 with a 2.24 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts. Halak was likely to get back in the net Monday vs. Washington.
Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier missed Sunday's game against the Panthers with flu-like symptoms, and obviously the mumps are a concern there. Bernier is 14-8-3 with a 2.65 GAA.
Minnesota center Mikael Granlund was placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury on Sunday. Thus, he will miss at least a week. Granlund has four goals and 11 assists.
What Are Devils Doing?
If you are old enough, you may remember that in the early 1960s the Chicago Cubs used something called the "College of Coaches" instead of just having one manager. They used the regular coaching staff with a head coach that was designated for a few weeks at a time, and they also had coaches rotate between the major league Cubs and minor league affiliates in 1961 & '62. The Cubs were terrible those two years, and the idea was considered a joke.
I mention this because the New Jersey Devils are trying something similar in the wake of firing Coach Peter DeBoer over the weekend. Former Capitals coach Adam Oates, ex-Devils assistant and star defenseman Scott Stevens and GM Lou Lamoriello will split duties on the bench. Oates will handle the forwards, and Stevens will oversee the defense. Lamoriello will just oversee everything. This can't possibly work. At least in baseball it's a slow-moving game to give guys time to decide things. Lamoriello made his league-record 14th coaching change.
The Devils have just 31 points entering this week, tied for the second fewest in the Eastern Conference.
This Week's Other Games to Watch
St. Louis at Nashville, Tuesday: Perhaps Elliott plays in this game as it's the second of a back-to-back for St. Louis after it hosted Colorado on Monday, and Brodeur was to start that one. The Blues entered Monday on a four-game skid. Also the second game in 24 hours for Nashville as the Predators visited Chicago on Monday. Nashville is right on the Hawks' heels in the Central Division. Nashville is 2-1 against the Blue s this year with each game decided by one goal. All three were decided in regulation.
San Jose at Anaheim, Wednesday: The Ducks continue to lead the NHL in points and have the largest division lead of any club, up 11 on the Canucks, Kings and Sharks in the Pacific entering this week. Anaheim remains the -200 betting favorite at Sportsbook.ag, with San Jose at +300. It will be the second of a back-to-back for the Sharks as they host Vancouver on Tuesday looking to end a two-game slide. That mini-skid started with a 3-2 overtime loss at Anaheim last Monday. San Jose had won the previous two meetings handily.
Montreal at Pittsburgh, Saturday: The Penguins continue to pace the East with 49 points, but the New York Islanders are right on their tail in the Metropolitan Division. The Canadiens are only two points out of the lead in the Atlantic Division. The Habs and Penguins have met once so far, a 4-0 Penguins win in Montreal on Nov. 18. That was when Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was on a red-hot streak. The Penguins won't have right wing Patric Hornqvist for a couple of weeks. Hornqvist, who is third on the team with 29 points, suffered a lower-body injury in the first period Saturday and is expected to be out "a few weeks," according to coach Mike Johnston. The Penguins still have a couple of guys dealing with the mumps as well.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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