NHL Hockey Odds and Picks: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 4/6/2015
It's the final week of the NHL's regular season, with the last day of action on Saturday, and there are a ton of story lines to follow.
For starters, we have the race for the Presidents' Trophy and potential home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yet winning that Trophy is almost a curse. The Presidents' Trophy has been awarded since the 1985-86 season, and only eight of its winners have gone onto take the Stanley Cup. The last was Chicago in 2012-13. Four of the past nine winners have been eliminated in the first round: the 2011-12 Canucks, the 2009-10 Capitals, the 2008-09 Sharks and the 2005-06 Red Wings. Last year's winner was Boston and it was eliminated in the Eastern semifinals by Montreal.
Entering this week, Anaheim and the New York Rangers lead the league with 107 points, but the Rangers have two games in hand on the Ducks, who only have two left. Montreal (106 points), St. Louis (105), Nashville (104) and Tampa Bay (104) all still have a shot at the Trophy. Two division titles remain up for grabs, the Atlantic, where the Habs lead the Lightning by two points (but Montreal was swept all five regular-season games), and the Central, where the Blues lead the Predators by a point and Blackhawks by three. I guarantee you no team wants to open the playoffs with Chicago, especially with the news that star winger Patrick Kane is apparently way ahead of schedule with his broken collarbone and might be ready for the first round. The Hawks remain 7/2 favorites to win the West at Bovada. It might surprise you to know that Minnesota is now the 4/1 second favorite, and the Wild are likely to only finish fourth in the division.
It seems inconceivable a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could miss the playoffs, but that's very possible. The Penguins and Red Wings each have 95 points and hold the two wild-card spots in the East, but Ottawa is just two behind. All three clubs have three games left, and the Senators lose any tiebreaker with the Penguins and Red Wings. Ottawa hosts Pittsburgh in a huge game Tuesday night and opened as a -135 favorite at BookMaker. The Penguins lead the season series 2-0 but haven't yet faced Senators rookie goalie sensation Andrew Hammond, who was the NHL's No. 1 star for last week.
In the West, Minnesota holds down the top wild-card spot with 96 points and Los Angeles has the other wild card with 92 points. Winnipeg also has 92 but currently loses a tiebreaker with the Kings. Both L.A. and Winnipeg have four games remaining but don't play one another. The Jets won't have one of their best players, defenseman and occasional forward Dustin Byfuglien, until the regular-season finale Saturday vs. Calgary due to suspension. That's probably going to keep the Jets out of the postseason. I think we're looking at a Ducks-Kings first-round matchup, which would be phenomenal.
Don't overlook the race to the bottom, either. Buffalo looks as if it will be guaranteed a shot at either Connor McDavid (he's going No. 1 overall) or Jack Eichel in this summer's draft. The Sabres have 52 points, with Arizona at 56. Each has three games left. You will never see home fans root against their team harder than Saturday when the Sabres host Pittsburgh if finishing with the fewest points isn't clinched by then.
Washington's Alex Ovechkin is going to win the goal-scoring title with huge lead, but the overall points title is also up for grabs. Sidney Crosby has 81 points, one ahead of Ovechkin and the Islanders' John Tavares. Philly's Jakob Voracek is two back. I'm not sure who wins the Hart Trophy as league MVP -- hard to go against Ovechkin if he leads in goals and points -- but it's a lock that Montreal's Carey Price wins the Vezina as he's going to lead the league in GAA and save percentage and probably in wins. Maybe he becomes the first goalie to win the Hart as well since Jose Theodore in 2002. The Calder Trophy for rookie of the year will go to either Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau or Nashville's Filip Forsberg. The Norris Trophy for top defenseman probably goes to Ottawa's Erik Karlsson.
As for Tavares' Islanders, they will host the final regular-season game at storied-but-ancient Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday against Columbus. The only home the Islanders have ever known opened in 1972, the same year the Islanders entered the NHL with the Atlanta Flames. On Aug. 1, 2011, Nassau County residents voted against spending $400 million for a new arena and thus the Islanders will move to Brooklyn for next season.
Enjoy the final week and I'll have a playoff preview for you next Monday.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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