NHL Hockey Odds and Picks: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 3/23/2015
I follow the NHL pretty closely as you might imagine, but I probably couldn't name you more than five Ottawa Senators off the top of my head. It's just such a non-descript franchise. However, the Sens have my attention right now as they are the biggest story in the NHL.
Entering Monday's home game against the Sharks, the Senators have won six straight and have just one regulation loss (one in shootout) in their past 16 matchups. Rookie Andrew Hammond is making a push for the Calder Trophy as he is 13-0-1 in the first 14 starts of his NHL career. He has a 1.65 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. Those would both lead the league if Hammond had enough starts to qualify. He was called up from the AHL on Jan. 29, simply to be the backup to Robin Lehner while starter Craig Anderson recovered from a hand injury. Now both Lehner, who got hurt on Feb. 16 to give Hammond a shot, and Anderson are being Wally Pipped. Hammond is 27 and wasn't even drafted. He had a 3.51 goals-against average and .898 save percentage in 25 AHL games. So if anyone said they saw this coming, that's a lie.
A win Monday would jump the Senators (83 points) past Boston (84) for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa was 14 points out of a postseason spot after dropping a 4-1 decision to the Blue Jackets on Feb. 8. Thus, they could now become the first team since the NHL went to the conference-based playoff format in 1993-94 to come back from that large a deficit in the standings to make the playoffs. The 1993-94 New York Islanders came back from a 12-point deficit after 47 games to make the playoffs that spring for the previous biggest rally. If you are wondering, the Bruins and Senators don't play again and Ottawa holds the tiebreaker thanks to a 3-2 season-series edge.
Hammond wasn't even named one of the NHL's three stars of last week. Teammate Kyle Turris was named the No. 2. Turris led all players with four goals and shared first in the NHL with six points. Now him I knew! The news isn't all good for Ottawa. Forward Matt Puempel (foot) is week-to-week, according to coach Dave Cameron, after blocking a shot Saturday. Forward Milan Michalek (seventh on team with 34 points) also left the game Saturday because of an upper-body injury.
Bovada oddsmakers still aren't on the Ottawa bandwagon as the Senators are just +1600 to win the East (only Florida has longer odds among teams not eliminated from playoffs) and +3300 to win the Stanley Cup.
This could be the week that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist gets back into game action, although backup Cam Talbot has been so good that the Rangers might have a problem on their hands. Lundqvist has been sidelined since Feb. 2 after taking puck to the throat. He was medically cleared last Wednesday to return from the vascular injury, but Tuesday's full skate will be his first work with his teammates. He had been scheduled to practice last Friday but instead was at his wife's side for the birth of their second child. The New York media speculates Lundqvist will play either Saturday in Boston or Sunday at home against Washington.
Canucks goalie Ryan Miller has been out since Feb. 22 with a sprained knee, and he's not going to return before the playoffs. Even if he's ready by then, he probably will be the backup to Eddie Lack now. Lack is 6-2-1 this month with a 2.24 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, one of the best two-way players in the NHL, hasn't played since March 15 due to an undisclosed lower-body injury. He could be back as soon as Tuesday against the Coyotes, but the Wings are being vague about his status.
Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis will not play again this season, general manager Jim Rutherford said Monday. Dupuis has not played since being diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung Nov. 19. He had 11 points in 16 games this season. Pens forward Evgeni Malkin has missed the past four games but might return Tuesday. Fellow forward Patric Hornqvist has been out since March 15 but probably needs another game or two before coming back.
Boston center David Krejci, who has been out since Feb. 20 with a knee injury, also is close to a return. He has seven goals and 19 assists in 38 games. However, when he does it might be at right wing on a line with Patrice Bergeron at center and Brad Marchand on the left side.
Rangers winger Martin St. Louis hasn't played since March 15 and is likely to miss this week as well with a lower-body injury. The 39-year-old is second on the team with 20 goals.
This Week's Games to Watch
Los Angeles at NY Rangers, Tuesday: It's the final regular-season meeting between last year's Stanley Cup Finalists. I don't see a repeat this June. New York might get there, but the Kings could miss the playoffs entirely. The Kings essentially won the Cup in their first game of the Finals at Madison Square Garden with a 3-0 win to take a 3-0 series lead. The Rangers avoided a sweep with a 2-1 home win two nights later before the Kings finished things off back at Staples Center in Game 5. The Rangers won in Los Angeles on Jan. 8, 4-3. Dan Boyle had a goal and an assist and Talbot made 28 saves. The Rangers opened as -141 favorites.
St. Louis at Pittsburgh, Tuesday: Potential Stanley Cup Finals preview here as the Blues are atop the Central Division with 97 points and Pittsburgh is third in the Metropolitan with 90 points -- it isn't going to catch the first-place Rangers (99 points). I do believe the Blues will hold off Nashville and Chicago in the Central even though St. Louis is currently on a three-game losing streak. The Blues lost the first meeting with the Pens 4-2 on Feb. 21. Backup Pittsburgh goalie Thomas Greiss stopped 21 shots and had the Blues shut out until giving up a goal to Dmitrij Jaskin with 5:27 left. No opening line because of Malkin.
Nashville at Tampa Bay, Wednesday: Here's another potential Cup Finals preview and two very different clubs. The Lightning lead the NHL in scoring at 3.2 goals per game with Steven Stamkos No. 2 in the league with 40 goals. Nashville isn't a great offensive team but is on defense behind Pekka Rinne, ranking fourth in goals allowed at 2.3 per games. Rinne is No. 2 in GAA behind Montreal's Carey Price, who is Rinne's top competition for the Vezina Trophy. The Preds won the first meeting 3-2 in overtime on Feb. 10.
Arizona at Buffalo, Thursday: This is sort of a trick game, but that's not to say it isn't important. It's all about jockeying for draft lottery position between two clubs who are 100 percent tanking. The Sabres enter this week with 47 points, the fewest in the NHL, while the Coyotes are next with 50. Remember, the team that finishes with the fewest is guaranteed no worse than the No. 2 pick, and that's crucial this year.
Anaheim at NY Islanders, Saturday: Here's another great matchup that we could see again in June. The Ducks are close to clinching the Pacific Division title as they have 99 points, 11 more than second-place Vancouver. The Islanders had been in a funk, dropping four straight, before winning 3-0 in New Jersey on Saturday night. Anaheim started a five-game trip with an ugly 7-2 loss at the Rangers on Sunday. The Ducks won the first meeting 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 5.
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