It’s the middle of the week in the NHL and you know what that means, rivalry night. With just four games on tap there’s still some excellent action and plenty of chances for betters and fans alike to get swept up in all the fun.
With the trade deadline fast approaching teams are trying to assess whether they have what it takes to become a playoff contender. That’s nearly impossible for about ten different teams as the Wild Card race is separated by just five or six points and four or five teams in each Conference. It’s only going to get more difficult down the stretch as the games start to mean just a little bit more. Let’s get to it!
Florida Panthers (-1.5)
San Jose (+1.5)
Total: 5 (-130u, EVENo)
Florida(+145) at San Jose (-175)
The Panthers return after their league-mandated “bye week” which is essentially a four game break just long enough to satisfy the players’ needs while also serving to throw some teams completely out of wack. Still, if any team needed it it was probably the Panthers who are fully healthy now for the first time this season and ready to make a run at a playoff spot.
They’re currently 24-20-10 and just three spots behind the Maple Leafs for the final wild card spot but there’s still two teams in front of them chasing Toronto as well. Florida is coming off a huge 7-4 win on the road in Nashville and now have the daunting task of trying to do the same against the Sharks in their own building.
San Jose is first in the Pacific Division with a 34-18-5 record and are coming off a win of their own against the New Jersey Devils. The Sharks were struggling a bit before hand with four straight losses but are still 5-2-3 in their last ten games and own an excellent record of 18-7-2 at home. With Anaheim and Edmonton both trying to catch them in the Division they’ll need to be sharp against a Florida team just trying to earn their ticket to the playoffs.
Florida enters with the league’s 25th ranked offense, averaging just 2.48 goals a game, but that was during a season in which they had lost so many key players and scorers. Over their last ten games they’ve averaged 3.2 goals a game and are coming off an enormous seven goal performance. They fire the 4th most shots on net out of anyone in the NHL and with players like Johnathan Hubderdeau and Aleksander Barkov back and healthy those shots will start turning into more goals. Their power play still needs some work as it succeeds just 15.05 percent of the time for the third worst mark in all of hockey.
Huberdeau will try and improve that mark as well. After a goal and two assists against Nashville the star Panthers forward now has five points in his first three games this season and looks fully recovered from an achilles injury that forced him to miss the first 50+ games. At just 23 years old he remains one of the premier young talents in the NHL and he is determined to bring his team to the postseason.
On the opposite end of the age spectrum is Jaromir Jagr who has had a quiet season by his standards with just 31 points in 54 games, but that’s still incredible impressive when you consider that he’s 44 years old. He’ll have way more room on the ice with this injured teammates back in the lineup as evidenced by his two points in two games since their return.
In San Jose the Sharks average a respectable 2.74 goals a game for the 16th highest total in hockey but their offense can still serve to do a little more. Their leading scorer is not Joe Pavelski, or Joe Thornton or Logan Couture but Brent Burns. Yes their defenseman has 59 points in 57 games and is in the top five of all scorers this season in the NHL. His 24 goals also rank in the top ten and he is making a strong case not just for the Norris Trophy, but for the Hart Trophy as well.
One player who is starting to pick up steam for the Sharks is Patrick Marleau. He has just 33 points in 57 games this season but has started to pick up his play. Despite being held off the score sheet against the Devils in his last outing he still has five points in his last fives games including a goal and is starting to round into playoff form. Teams need to be weary of the sneaky veteran who keeps getting it done in hid age 37 season.
Where the Sharks really succeed is their defense. They have the third best goals allowed ranking, limiting teams to just 2.37 goals game on just over 27 shots. Led by the stay at home play of Marc-Edouard Vlasic the Sharks can afford to have rushing defensemen like Brent Burns lead the attack. The results have paid off well as San Jose remains one of the scariest defenses to play against.
Their forwards help out as well with Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski both sitting in the top four in plus/minus rating on the team with +9 and +7 marks respectively. It continues to be defense first in San Jose which is why the Sharks seem to be in the playoffs every single year.
In Florida the Panthers have a middle-of-the-road defensive unit, allowing 2.83 goals a game for the 15th best mark in the NHL. They’ve given up ten goals combined in their last two games and will try and remedy that during their four game break before taking on the Sharks.
Having Aleksander Barkov back in the lineup is huge not just for the offense, but the defense as well. He leads the team in plus/minus with a +7 on the year and his ability to play both sides of the puck will significantly improve the Panthers’ chances of making the playoffs.
There’s been an ongoing battle in Florida between James Reimer and Roberto Luongo but it looks like Luongo will get the start after the four day break. He was sharp earlier in the year but seems to have lost it a bit down the stretch. Despite winning against the Predators in his last outing he still gave up four goals on 30 shots and will have to be much sharper against a dangerous Sharks team.
Part of the reason San Jose’s defense has been so good this year is the play of Martin Jones in net. Jones stopped 21 of 22 shots in his last game against the Devils and the victory lifts his record to 18-15-4 on the year with a .916 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average. His play gets lost in the talk of Devan Dubnyk and Carey Price but he’s still one of the elite goaltenders in the game and capable of shutting down any team.
Jonathan Huberdeau against Brent Burns. Huberdeau has looked incredible since returning from his injury but now has to go up against one of the best defenses in all of hockey including Brent Burns. Not only will Burns be determined to shut down Huberdeau, he’ll also be looking to find the back of the net. Cue the fireworks.
Florida is getting incredible odds and enjoying a long four day break while the Sharks are still recovering from their dismal road trip. Take the Panthers on the spread and hope they keep it close.
Toronto Maple Leafs (N/A)
Columbus Blue Jackets (N/A)
The Leafs play their second game in as many night when they travel to Columbus for a big Eastern Conference showdown. At the time of this writing Toronto was still hanging on to a Wild Card spot with a record of 25-18-11 on the year but just 4-4-2 in their last ten games. Now they need to go into Columbus after just playing in Toronto and try to get it done against one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference this season.
The Columbus Blue Jackets sit third in the Metropolitan Division with a 35-15-5 record this season but haven’t looked themselves since the All-Star break. They’re coming off a tough 3-2 loss to the Rangers and are now just 4-5-1 in their last ten games. Their normal balanced scoring attack has taken a hit recently.
The Jackets have scored just eight goals over their last five games and only four over their last three including being shutout by the Canucks. Their points leader has gone unusually quiet over his last five games and Columbus has suffered because of it. Cam Atkinson has 49 points in 55 fames this season but just two over his last five outings. He was held off the scoresheet against the Rangers in his last game out and finished with a -1 rating. He’ll need to pick up the play if the Jackets are going to be successful.
As for the Leafs it’s all about the defense. Toronto has impressed the entire league with their ability to score the puck, but their ability to stop it has been less than impressive. The Leafs average 2.98 goals against per game which ranks 24th in the NHL. While Frederik Andersen has struggled in net it hasn’t been all his fault. The Leafs still give up the third most shots a game and will need to tighten up along the blue line if they have any shot of making the postseason.
Mitch Marner against Sam Gagner. Gagner has 34 points this season but has gone completely silent lately. He hasn’t recorded a single point in his last five games and will now be responsible for helping to stop the hottest rookie in the league. Marner enters the matchup as the rookie scoring leader and (discounting the Islanders game) now has 47 points on the year. He also has five points in his last five games and has shown no signs of slowing down.
The Leafs may be tired and coming off a game against the pesky Islanders but the Jackets are struggling and Toronto is getting great odds. The Leafs haven’t beat the Jackets in two straight games but we like them at the very least to cover. Take Toronto on the spread.
St. Louis Blues (-1.5)
Detroit Red Wings (+1.5)
Total: 5.5 (+110o, -140u)
St Louis(-130) at Detroit (EVEN)
Now this is a rivalry. Dating back to the 90’s these two teams have never liked one another thanks to some epic games and less-than-friendly-competition. Despite playing in different conferences it’s always a good time when these two get together and Wednesday night should be no exception.
St. Louis enters Detroit a completely different team than the one that was struggling before the All-Star break. After firing coach Ken Hitchcock the Blues have responded in a major way and have now won four straight and own a 6-4-0 record in their last ten games. They’re third in the Central Division behind powerhouses Chicago and Minnesota and will continue to try and gear up for a deep playoff run.
Their biggest change has been in net. The Blues have allowed just three goals in total over their last four games and have two shutouts during that span. After struggling all season long Jake Allen seems to finally have his game together. He was chosen as the second star of the week after posting a 3-0-0 record with 1.00 goals against average, .967 save percentage and one shutout. After a horrific January it appears Allen is finally ready to stop pucks again.
That’s bad news for the Red Wings who are dead last in the East and have lost three straight games. They’re defense has been atrocious as they’ve given up 17 goals over their last four games including two games where they let in a shocking six goals. Detroit is now seven points back of a playoff spot and it appears their lack of depth and production has finally caught up to them.
Henrik Zetterberg against Jake Allen. If any player can bring his sad team out from under themselves it’s their leader Zetterberg. At age 36 he leads the team in points with 41 and is on a three game point streak despite the losses. It won’t be easy for him to go against the suddenly surging Blues but there’s few players more capable of leading their team by example. He’ll have to get his players and himself past the red hot Allen who is finally turning his season around.
The Wings won the last meeting between these two teams but now have to go on the road where they’re just 11-12-5 this season. The Blues wait for them in their own building where they’re 17-9-4 and playing some inspired hockey under their new coach. Take St. Louis on the spread and the Under in what should be a low scoring affair.
Philadelphia Flyers (+1.5)
Calgary Flames (-1.5)
Total: 5.5 (+115o, -145u)
Philadelphia(+110) at Calgary (-140)
The Flyers keep hanging around no matter how hard they try to be a bad team. They have one of the worst goal differentials in all of hockey at -21 and yet are tied with Toronto for the final wild card spot. The Leafs still have two games in hand but Philly isn’t ready to away just yet. They’re coming off a big 2-1 win against the San Jose Sharks of all teams and continue to do their best Jekyll and Hyde impersonation.
One minute the Flyers are the high scoring darlings of the NHL, rattling off a ten game win streak and leaving teams in their dust. The next moment they can’t stop anyone and find themselves out of the playoff picture. Now they’re 5-4-1 in their last ten games and travelling to Calgary for a much needed win.
The Flames greet them in a similar situation. Calgary is one points behind the LA Kings for the second Wild Card spot but are struggling more than the Flyers lately. They’re just 4-6-0 in their last ten games and coming off arguably their worst loss of the season, a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the suddenly hot Arizona Coyotes.
Calgary’s biggest problem has been on offense. The Flames are averaging just 2.61 goals a game and continue to score inconsistently. Kris Versteeg’s production has been a point of contention all season long for Calgary. The 30 year old has just 23 points in 45 games and hasn’t hit the scoresheet in three straight. He’ll need to get something going if the Flames want to contend with the firepower of the Flyers.
Sean Monahan against Claude Giroux. Monaghan has been on fire since the All-Star break and now has 35 points on the year. He hasn’t hit the scoresheet in two straight games but had four points in his last three prior to that. Another player due for a breakout is Claude Giroux who hasn’t found the scoresheet in four straight. The heart and soul of the Flyers will need to start producing in a hurry if he wants to get his team into the playoffs.
Philadelphia has won two straight and six of the last ten against the Flames and are getting excellent odds on the road. The Flyers are equally as desperate as Calgary but seem to be a bit more complete at the moment. Take Philly on the spread and hope Giroux and the boys show up to score goals.
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