NHL Hockey Odds and Picks: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 3/30/2015
We are in the penultimate week of the NHL's regular season, and I'm surprised it took so long, but finally Chicago has been dethroned as the Stanley Cup betting favorite at Bovada. The Hawks are 15/2, replaced at the top by the New York Rangers at 13/2.
The Blueshirts, who lead the NHL with a goals differential of plus-51, are going to win the Metropolitan Division, leading the second-place Islanders and Penguins by six points each. The Rangers still have the goal of the Presidents' Trophy, which goes to the team with the most overall points in the league. New York (101 points) is four behind leader Anaheim. Of more importance would be the 102 points by Montreal (entering Monday) for possible home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals.
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New York has lost two straight entering this week -- its first two-game losing streak in regulation since January -- but saw the return of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist on Saturday, a 4-2 defeat at desperate Boston. Lundqvist missed seven weeks after a puck hit his neck. He stopped 26 shots in his return. I will be fascinated to see how Coach Alain Vigneault manages the team in the net between Lundqvist and Cam Talbot (who started and lost Sunday against Washington). You can play two guys during the regular season but really can't in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang is going to be out for an indefinite period of time after he suffered a concussion thanks to a hit from Arizona's Shane Doan on Saturday. Letang, third among NHL defensemen in scoring with 54 points, left with 4:45 to play in the second period. Letang could miss quite a while because he has a history of concussions and suffered a stroke last year. It wasn't a dirty hit; even Letang's teammate Steve Downie said it wasn't. Doan wasn't penalized on the play.
Boston defenseman Dougie Hamilton has missed the past four games with a shoulder injury and his return is unknown. It's isn't expected that he will return this week and it could linger into the playoffs if Boston gets there. Hamilton is one of the three most valuable Bruins. He has 10 goals and 32 assists.
Tampa Bay defenseman Jason Garrison will miss 3-4 weeks after a questionable hit by Detroit's Justin Abdelkader on Saturday. Abdelkader got a two-minute boarding penalty and Bolts goalie Ben Bishop called the hit dirty, but the league didn't suspend Abdelkader. Garrison has four goals and 30 points through 70 games this year, third on team in scoring among blueliners. His plus-27 plus-minus is tied for fifth-best in the NHL and is No. 1 among league defensemen.
Predators defenseman Shea Weber, a leading candidate for the Norris Trophy, is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. He missed both games this past weekend. Weber had appeared in all 75 of Nashville's games before that, averaging 26:22 of ice time (No. 5 in NHL). He has 15 goals and 30 assists.
This Week's Games to Watch
Florida at Boston, Tuesday: Huge, huge game for Florida and the Panthers think they will have No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo in net. He aggravated a shoulder injury in Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss in Montreal. Backup Dan Ellis started Sunday in Ottawa, a 4-2 victory (a game in which, rather amazingly, the Panthers scored their first short-handed goal of the season). The Bruins hold the final wild-card spot in the East with 89 points, with the Senators (86 points) and Panthers (85) still very much alive. This is the final road game of the regular season for Florida, so getting the last five at home is a big advantage. After this, the Bruins play four of their final five away from home. Boston and Florida have split two meetings, each finishing 2-1 in at least overtime. There's no opening line yet because of Luongo.
Ottawa at Detroit, Tuesday: Obviously a big one for the Senators, who were the hottest team in the NHL when I wrote about them last week. Perhaps I jinxed them as Ottawa enters this having dropped three straight games for the first time since the start of February. Rookie sensation Andrew Hammond suffered his first career loss last Thursday against the Rangers and didn't play Saturday in Toronto or Sunday against Florida due to a lower-body injury. It's not clear if he will be in net for this one or whether it will be Craig Anderson. Detroit (92 points) is trying to hold off Boston for third in the Atlantic Division. The Wings aren't going to finish any higher than that and still could miss the playoffs. The Senators and Red Wings have split two meetings, both in Ottawa. Detroit forward Erik Cole, who has missed the past three games with an injury, might return for this one. Detroit is a -150 favorite.
Washington at Montreal, Thursday: This could be a first-round playoff preview. It's now clear that Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is going to win another Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer. He has 49, nine more than second-place Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay and Rick Nash of the Rangers so pretty clearly we will have only one guy reach 50. Ovechkin has won that trophy four times, including each of the previous four seasons. I think it's also pretty clear that the Habs' Carey Price will win the Vezina Trophy for the first time (he was my pick back in the preseason). Price might win the goalie Triple Crown as he's No. 1 in goals-against average (1.88 -- only guy under 2.05) and save percentage (.937) while tied with Nashville's Pekka Rinne in victories (41). Montreal has won two one-goal games against the Capitals this season, one in OT and one a shootout.
St. Louis at Chicago, Sunday: Here's another potential first-round playoff preview; the teams met in that round last year and the Hawks won the final four games after St. Louis took the first two. The Blues (99 points) are second in the Central Division, three behind Nashville. The Hawks are three behind St. Louis. If those two finish second and third, in whichever order, that will be your first-round matchup. This is the Blues' final road game of the regular season. Chicago leads the season series 2-1.
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