NHL Hockey Odds and Picks: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 1/19/2015
The NHL All-Star Game is Sunday in Columbus, and the league continues its interesting format of choosing up sides not by conference but via what essentially is a fantasy draft. The two choosing captains are the Blue Jackets' Nick Foligno -- not exactly a household name but obviously picked because the game is in Columbus -- and the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews. They will make their selections on Friday night, televised nationally by the NBC Sports Network.
The first six All-Stars were chosen by the fans, and five were from the Stanley Cup-favored Blackhawks: Toews, Patrick Kane, defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and goalie Corey Crawford. Toews can't pick his buddy Kane as Kane is an alternate captain to Foligno along with the Kings' Drew Doughty. Toews will be joined by Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and Rick Nash of the New York Rangers.
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The sixth player voted in by fans may surprise you: Buffalo center Zemgus Girgensons. How did this unknown player get so many votes? Because nearly 80 percent of his total votes were from his native Latvia. Girgensons finished with 1,574,896 votes, more than 300,000 than any other player. To make that even more awesome, a Latvian rap group made a song about Girgensons, and of course it went viral.
The teams will be coached by Peter Laviolette of the Nashville Predators (Team Toews) and Darryl Sutter (Team Foligno) of the Los Angeles Kings. Each of the 30 NHL teams will have at least one representative in the game; 21 forwards, 10 defensemen and five goalies were added to six players chosen by fan vote.
Bovada is a great site for hockey -- it's based in Canada -- so check back there later this week for some interesting All-Star Weekend props. The Skills Competition is on Saturday.
Big injury news last week when the Central Division-leading Nashville Predators revealed that star goalie Pekka Rinne will miss at least three weeks and perhaps five with a sprained left knee suffered in last Tuesday's win over Vancouver. Rinne crashed into the wall behind the net with Vancouver's Christopher Higgins and Predators defenseman Anton Volchenkov.
Rinne is first in the league with 29 wins and second in goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.931). He was the Vezina Trophy favorite and a candidate for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Rinne has been a Vezina finalist twice but yet to win it. He also was an All-Star selection but obviously won't play Sunday. The Predators beat visiting Washington 4-3 on Friday in their first game without Rinne but were clobbered 5-2 in Detroit on Saturday. Carter Hutton started both of those in net but was pulled early against the Wings after making just one save on four shots. He's just 1-4-2 with a 3.04 GAA and .892 save percentage. Last season, when Rinne played in only 24 games, Hutton won 20 games and finished with a pretty good.910 save percentage.
Nashville leads Chicago by four points for the division lead, but the Hawks are -110 favorites at Sportsbook.ag, with the Predators at +175 and St. Louis at +170. I don't see how Nashville hangs onto this lead without its best player. If Rinne misses the optimistic timeframe, he could be back in time to face the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 5, missing a total of eight games. I guess if this was going to happen, it was best to do so with the All-Star Break approaching.
Montreal is going to be without forward P.A. Parenteau for an indefinite period as he's dealing with concussion-like symptoms. He last played Thursday against Ottawa, and he took a big hit along the boards early in the third period by Senators defenseman Marc Methot. Parenteau missed a few games earlier this month also with concussion-like symptoms. He has six goals and nine assists.
This Week's Games to Watch
Boston at Dallas, Tuesday: The Bruins will be without forward Brad Marchand here as he serves the second game of a two-game suspension for a hit on the Rangers' Derick Brassard last Thursday. Marchand has 12 goals and 12 assists this season. Bruins fans will feel bittersweet watching this game as they see how good that young forward Tyler Seguin has become. He is now one of the league's best players, blossoming in Dallas after being part of a five-player trade from Boston in July 2013. Seguin is tied for the league lead with 28 goals and has 183 shots, second after Alex Ovechkin. Seguin, 22, is under contract through 2019 at $5.75 million annually, which is a steal. The B's had a five-game winning streak snapped Saturday in Columbus. Dallas has won two straight, scoring 11 goals over the weekend in wins over Washington and at Chicago. The Stars are -110 favorites on BookMaker.
Vancouver at Tampa Bay, Tuesday: Tampa Bay continues to lead the Eastern Conference with 62 points. In Saturday's 3-2 shootout win over Colorado, the Bolts saw the return of top defenseman Victor Hedman. He had missed the previous two games with a lower-body injury. Lightning star Steven Stamkos, who is third in the NHL with 26 goals, saw a four-game goal streak snapped. It's the second of a back-to-back for the Canucks as they were at Florida on Monday. The Canucks lost at home to Tampa 4-2 on Oct. 18. Stamkos had two goals. The Lightning are -160 favorites.
Chicago at Pittsburgh, Wednesday: It's the final day of action before the All-Star Break, and there's no better way to wrap up the first half than with this matchup. It's Chicago's only visit of the season to Pittsburgh, and I think most neutral hockey fans hope that this is a Stanley Cup Finals preview. The Hawks are 11/2 Bovada favorites to win the Cup with Pittsburgh at 10/1. The Penguins have lost four of six and have to play in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. But it's the second of a back-to-back for Chicago as well as it hosts Arizona on Tuesday. The Blackhawks are just 3-5 in January after they went 10-2-1 in December.
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