After a very entertaining new format in the All-Star Game, the NHL is back in action on Tuesday night. The Washington Capitals enter the second half of the season with an NHL-best 74 points. They have a 15-point lead over the second-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division and an 11-point lead over Atlantic-leading Florida for the East's top seed in the playoffs. At Bovada, the Caps are +400 favorites to win the Stanley Cup and +175 for the East title. Tampa Bay is next in the East at +550.
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Defending Cup champion Chicago leads the Western Conference with 70 points. The Blackhawks, led by Hart Trophy favorite Patrick Kane, are three ahead of the No. 2 team in the West and Central Division, Dallas. Chicago is +500 to win a fourth Cup this decade and +275 for the West, with Pacific-leading Los Angeles second at +350.
Of course, this is also Super Bowl week, so Bovada has a couple of NHL props to go with the game. You can bet total shots on goal by Washington's Alex Ovechkin on Super Bowl Sunday at home against Philadelphia in an NBC national TV game against the total touchdowns scored in the Super Bowl. Both options are -120. Ovechkin usually leads the NHL in shots and does this season with 234, 29 more than No. 2 Brent Burns, a Sharks defenseman. Ovechkin averages about 5.1 shots per game. He has eight shots in two games this season against the Flyers. I rather doubt there will be more than five touchdowns in the Super Bowl with two very good defenses. I'd take Ovechkin there.
You can also wager the total number of goals in the Carolina vs. Montreal game on Sunday vs. total catches by Panthers tight end Greg Olsen. Both are -120. The Habs beat the Hurricanes 3-2 in the only meeting this season on Dec. 5 in Raleigh. Montreal is 10th in the NHL in scoring at 2.7 goals per game and Carolina 23rd at 2.4 per game. Olsen is easily Cam Newton's favorite target and has had six catches in each playoff win thus far. I'd say he's good for at least that many again. I'd definitely take him on that prop.
McDavid To Return On Tuesday
It's probably too late in the season for him to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, but mega-hyped 19-year-old center Connor McDavid will return to Edmonton's lineup on Tuesday against Columbus. McDavid has been out since Nov. 3 when he broke his collarbone against the Flyers. In 13 games this year, the 2015 first overall pick has five goals and seven assists. He was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for October.
McDavid had been skating with the Oiler's AHL affiliate since early last week and took "bumps" from teammates after being cleared for contact. The Oilers were 5-8-0 with McDavid in the lineup and are 19-26-5 overall for 43 points. That's 13 points out of the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference and but also 10 points out of third place in the Pacific Division. The Calder winner, barring a major injury of his own, will be Chicago's Artemi Panarin, who leads all rookies with 46 points and with 17 goals.
This Week's Games To Watch
Chicago at Colorado, Tuesday: The Hawks are -125 favorites at BetOnline even they will be without captain Jonathan Toews. He is suspended for the game because he pulled out of the All-Star Game even though he had a legitimate reason to do so: an illness. But the NHL has that rule in place so there aren't mass defections from the game like in the Pro Bowl. I sort of agree with it, but if a player is legitimately hurt/ailing then the league shouldn't suspend the player. Toews has 19 goals and 16 assists this season. The time off might have been good for Toews as he closed January on a five-game scoring drought. It's the last meeting of the regular season between the Hawks and Avalanche. Chicago has won two of three games vs. Colorado. Toews has two goals and two assists vs. the Avs. Calvin Pickard will be in Colorado's net for this one with Semyon Varlamov unavailable.
Florida at Washington, Tuesday: The Capitals are -150 favorites even though they will be without Ovechkin, who is suspended for the same reason Toews is. Ovechkin is dealing with a lower-body injury but expects to be back in the lineup on Thursday. Ovechkin has 28 goals and 14 assists this season. The Panthers and Capitals have split two meetings thus far, both in south Florida. This is their final regular-season matchup. Ovechkin has a goal and two assists vs. the Panthers. His teammate, Evgeny Kuznetsov, was named on Monday as the NHL's first star of the month for January. He scored four goals and had 12 assists in 10 games. This game is nationally televised by the NBC Sports Network.
Anaheim at Los Angeles, Thursday: This game also is on the NBC Sports Network. The Ducks are probably the biggest disappointments in the NHL. They were the West's top seed in last year's playoffs and lost to Chicago in a seven-game West Finals. But the Ducks have just 51 points in 47 games, and they are five points out of the second wild-card spot in the conference. Anaheim is last in the NHL in scoring but might be snapping out of its funk with 24 goals over the past six games, five of which are wins. The Kings lead the Pacific Division by seven points over San Jose but lost three of four ahead of the break. This is L.A.'s final game before a season-high seven-game road trip. The Ducks and Kings somehow have played just once so far this season, a 3-2 L.A. road win on Jan. 17.
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, Friday: The Lightning were playing their best hockey when the break hit, winning eight of their past nine. They also ended Chicago's NHL-best 12-game winning streak. I still say the Bolts will take the Atlantic Division title unless they actually do trade superstar Steve Stamkos (more on that later this month). Tampa Bay finished with the best January points percentage (.818) in the NHL. The Lightning scored three or more goals in seven of 11 January games. Pittsburgh closed the first half on a three-game winning streak. The Lightning won the lone meeting thus far, 5-4 in overtime in Tampa on Jan. 15. Vladislav Namestnikov completed a hat trick in overtime.
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