Picks and Predictions for Every March 19th NHL Game
After a busy Saturday in the NHL, we have 7 games on tap Sunday. The tension in every match continues to rise and we inch closer and closer to the playoffs. 6 six teams in the East and 3 in the West are battling for the final 2 spots for the postseason.
Even the teams that know they will be playing well into April have tons on the line. Home ice throughout the playoffs and the President’s Trophy seemed all but wrapped up by the Capitals and is now very much up for grabs for the likes of the Penguins, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks and Wild. We have teams playing the second night of back to backs and backend of a home and home for the two top teams in the Atlantic. With that, there are loads to break down… Here we go!
These two Atlantic division foes are in dogfight for the top spot and renew their rivalry just 24 hours after concluding their first game of a home and home series. Just the two points separate Montreal and Ottawa, the Habs with the slight advantage but the Sens do have a game in hand. The question is, do you even want to win the Atlantic? The reason is awaiting the winner is the Rangers perhaps the superior opponent to Boston or Toronto, whoever sits 3rd in the division when the season ends. Nonetheless, at this point, I’m sure both teams will be firing on all cylinders.
Saturday’s game in Ottawa was an exciting back and forth affair. Both Carey Price and Craig Anderson may remarkable saves at times. The Canadiens scored twice within 29 seconds to take a 3-2 3rd period lead but the Sens captain Erik Karlsson tied it with less than 5 minutes to go. In the end, Paul Byron and Alexander Radulov scored in the shootout to give Montreal the bonus point.
The season has been an odd one in Montreal. A fantastic start winning 13 of their first 5 games. Then they struggled mightily leading to the firing of their head coach despite still being in 1st place in the Atlantic. We know they are one of the best teams in the NHL when Carey Price is between he pipes but he likely won’t be here. Montreal has been successful as of late winners of 8 of 10 but amazingly 5 of those have come in OT or a shootout.
In may look like smoke and mirrors to some but the Ottawa Senators are for real this season. Other than Karlsson they don’t have a bona fide star and lack superior scoring depth but there they are 2 points out of a division lead. They ran off 6 in a row earlier this month but have dropped their last 3 but two of those were in OT and a shootout so they are still a solid 6-2-1 over their last 9. For team that has been injury prone they may be slowing down late in the season.
Neither of these two teams boast the most prolific offenses. Ottawa averages 2.6 goals per game and Montreal just 2.7 to sit 19th and 17th in the league respectively. However, the nod probably has to go to Montreal as they have more elite scoring. Kyle Turris, Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman have been solid pieces for Ottawa all with 20+ goals and of course one of the best offensive defenseman in Karlsson plays for the Sens but the bigger names come on the Habs. The likes of Max Pacioretty who has 33 goals to go with Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk Montreal just seems like it has more firepower.
As you might expect when you don’t boast top-15 offenses you must be pretty good on the backend to be in a division title race. These two teams certainly are at 8th in the league for Montreal and 9th for Ottawa. Also, they both have defensive stalwarts in Shea Weber and the aforementioned Karlsson. Weber has been such a quieting force on the blue line for the Habs since he was traded for the talented but far more offensive minded PK Subban in the offseason. Of course, a lot of what goes on defensively lives and dies with the goalies and the Habs have the advantage there or do they?
With the backups expected to suit up Sunday the Habs will be without Price and Ottawa without Anderson. When we look at the backups though Ottawa certainly has the better one in former Canadiens Mike Condon. When Anderson had to step away for family reasons for an extended period of time Condon was more than up to the task. He boasts a respectable 18-12-6 record with a 2.52 GAA and a .914 save percentage. When we look at Al Montoya he’s just 8-6-3 with 2.72 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
Ottawa Kyle Turris v. Montreal Alex Galchenyuk
These two centers should see a lot of each other Sunday and the veteran Senator may be able to have his way with the inexperience of Galchenyuk. Both are very dynamic and can light the lamp but Turris is solid with his defensive responsibilities although his plus/minus is less than fantastic at -5. Still, he’s been around long enough to know when he needs to be smart in his own zone and Galchenyuk may still be learning that part of the game while in a playoff race.
This one will come down to the goalies no doubt about it. If the backups play and they should then it’s all Ottawa for me. The question is can Montreal keep snatching these extra points in OT or a shootout. I think this time Ottawa gets out to an early lead and holds on to finish the deal in regulation. If they do they will be tied atop the Atlantic the two teams still have one more game to go against each other.
- Columbus (-155) at New Jersey (+140)
The Blue Jackets are back to rattling off solid winning streaks. We all remember the 16 they won in a row earlier this season but after they had slowed. Now they’re once again flying high and battling for tops in the league. Not so for the Devils their season has gone completely off the rails losers of 11 of 12.
There’s a reason Columbus is one of the top teams in the NHL and it lies in their balance on both sides of the puck. The depth of scoring the Blue Jackets have received this season has been truly remarkable un quite frankly really unexpected. 11 players in all 10 or more goals this season and names like Cam Atkinson who has 32 and Zach Werenski who has 11 as a rookie defenseman are certainly not household names. Add to the 3rd best offense the 3rd best defense and it’s no surprise where the Blue Jackets stand in mid-March even if we couldn’t have seen it coming back in October.
Nothing has gone right as of late for the Devils. As mentioned, they have lost 11 of 12 but what’s even more shocking is on two of those came in overtime or a shootout. That essentially means night in and night out the Devils are being soundly beat. Averaging just 2.3 goals a night good for 28th in the league former All-Star Corey Schneider has just hasn’t been good enough to keep the Devils in games. His 2.72 GAA and .911 save percentage are easily his worst since he arrived as Martin Brodeur’s replacement in New Jersey in 2013-14.
Columbus Cam Atkinson v. New Jersey Kyle Palmieri
The two right wingers should see plenty of time against each other Sunday. As the team’s leading scorers, they should also see a lot of each team’s top-defensive pairing. The pressure lies squarely with Palmieri himself and Taylor Hall are the only players you would fear from and offensive perspective for the Devils while Atkinson has loads of backup if he is successfully shutdown.
Columbus is on the second night of a back to back after winning in OT against the Islanders earlier in the day Saturday. However, with Joonas Korpisalo getting that start they should have their Vezina candidate Sergei Bobrovsky so there’s no issue there, this could be a blowout. I’ll give New Jersey the benefit of the doubt with one tally but that may be a stretch.
The top-3 teams in the Metropolitan have been battling for top spot most of the year. Other than a brief spell where the Rangers came back into play its been the Pens, Caps and Jackets. Pittsburgh looks primed at a run to defend the Cup and home-ice against the aforementioned clubs would be huge. Florida is on the outside looking in and need wins fast! That and they will need some help from teams ahead of them down the stretch.
Evgeni Malkin is expected to be out again Sunday along with 6 other players including star defenseman Kris Letang the Penguins have kept pace in the Metro. They did lose their last two before a 6-4 win against New Jersey but that came on the heels of a 5-game win streak and Pittsburgh been consistent all season. That can be attributed to never being out of a game with the top offense in the NHL. With likes of Sidney Crosby and his tied-1st 37 goals this season to go with Malkin, Phil Kessel and Connor Sheary who all have 20+ the Pens average 3.5 tallies a night. Where they do struggle, is on defense. That type of hockey is scary come the postseason just going back and forth with opponents but in the regular season it can get the job done and it has for the Pens.
The Panthers have won 2 of 3 however that was after a run of 8 losses in 9 games, a stretch that may have sunk their season. Florida lacks scoring depth as can be seen with their 17th ranked offense and only 2 players with 20+ goals. Couple that with a defense in the bottom 10 in the NHL and your number one goalie in Roberto Luongo sidelined and you don’t have a recipe for much success to end the season. Jaromir Jagr plays in his 1700th game Saturday and it will be against the team he had so much success with. The 45-year-old is having a remarkable season with 14 goals and 39 points considering he is 45! He is also tasked with helping to develop the younger players on the Panthers.
Pittsburgh Matt Murray v. Florida James Reimer
The Penguins have had a stellar duo in net all year but with the playoffs approaching the bread winner in net from last year’s playoffs, Matt Murray, should start to see the bulk of the starts. He has an okay 2.41 GAA but a solid .923 save percentage as Pittsburgh tends to give up a lot of shots. With Luongo out Reimer is the man and he’ll need to be outstanding against the high-powered Pens offense.
Pittsburgh in the heat of a President’s Trophy battle and I really do think seeding will matter. The defending champs are without a key cog in Malkin but it’s nothing they can’t handle. 1st place in the Metro will have home-ice until at least the Conference Finals and also will have a much easier matchup in Round One.
- Los Angeles (+104) at Calgary (-115)
There was a time just a few weeks ago, Los Angeles and Calgary would be the two teams battling for the final playoff spot. However, the Flames have run-off 11 wins in 12 games and are much more supplanted in a playoff spot while the Kings are still on the outside looking in. The Flames won 2-1 OT the last time these two met they will meet twice more after Sunday before the season is out. LA has done this before in 2011-12 when they snuck into the playoffs as an 8-seed and won the Stanley Cup. This isn’t that team but there’s a lot of experience in LA and I wouldn’t want to play them in the first round. They’ll need to get hot though to give that a shot.
In a season where the likes of Columbus, Philadelphia, Minnesota and more have had extended runs of success Calgary has got into the action over the last month. The biggest aspect to the turnaround for Calgary has to lie between the pipes. Brian Elliott has finally taken the reins in net and has become the player they thought they were getting in the offseason. He has won 10 in a row for Calgary with two shutouts and letting 3+ goals just twice.
The Kings have been far less dominant but do have points in 7 of their last 9. Jonathan Quick returned February 25th and with the addition of Ben Bishop at the deadline the goaltending seemed to be in good shape. Quick has been solid giving up just 8 goals in his last 5 but Bishop has struggled a bit more. Nonetheless, it’s the offense that disappears too often. Netting just 2.4 goals a game for 25th best in the NHL it’s tough to consider yourself a playoff team.
Los Angeles Anze Kopitar v. Calgary Sean Monahan
Kopitar has been very disappointing from a points production perspective with just 9 goals this year. He is however, a key cog to this Kings squad and will need to contribute down the stretch. He may have an advantage in this one against the younger Monahan. The Flames may put their Matt Stajan out more often than Monahan but Stajan averages far less minutes so Kopitar can take advantage of the younger centreman in Monahan.
Elliott is between the pipes and I can’t believe I’m saying this but they have the advantage over Quick. Having said that this is a heavy Kings squad who needs a win to catch the Blues for the last playoff spot. If they don’t start getting some production from the likes of Kopitar they may be on the outside looking in. Quick as always it seems will need to be at his best against a red-hot Calgary team. I see a similar game to the 2-1 OT game last time out.
Two teams on opposite ends of the Western Conference hook up at the Mad House. Both are on the second night of the back to back and should be ushering out their back-ups between the pipes. Chicago has been great as of late as they have extended their lead atop the West to 5 points and the Avs are just running out the clock on their year.
On Saturday, the Hawks ground out a tough road win 2-1 in OT over a young and game Maple Leafs team. That should make the fight back home a lot more enjoyable but it’s still a tough turnaround for Chicago. They are such a well-balanced team ranked top-10 on both sides of the puck. Their special teams could use some work especially the penalty kill that’s shutting opponents down at just 77.9%. In the end though the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been on fire down the stretch with Kane at 77 points on the year and a chance to defend his Art Ross Trophy.
Colorado is just plain bad at everything this season. Last in goals per game 2nd to last in goals against, last on the power play and 24th on the penalty kill. All that leads to being the worst team in the NHL by a full 18 points. The lone bright spot in this one would be that they have gone .500 over their last 6 games but just got stomped by Detroit 5-1.
Colorado Jeremy Smith v. Chicago Scott Darling
The two backups are just as different as the two team’s records are. Smith hasn’t seen much time at all this season and when he has he’s been subpar with 3.12 GAA and sub .900 save percentage. For Chicago, Darling is arguably the best backup in the league with sterling numbers like 17 wins in 24 starts, a 2.08 GAA and .933 save percentage.
The Avalanche have 9 wins on the road this year, they may get 10 one day but not in this one. Chicago is just way too deep and way too experienced to let these two points slip away amidst a chase for 1st in West and home ice advantage for a couple rounds. They begin to rest veteran guys such as Keith and Seabrook who log serious minutes but not until the top-seed is a bit more secure even against the lowly Avs.
- Carolina (+127) at Philadelphia (-140)
Two teams who are likely playing for pride meet up in Philly. Both clubs are 7 points out of the final playoff spot and running frantically out of time to make a run. Carolina is playing better of late winners of 4 of their last 6 and getting a point in the other 2 losses.
The Flyers won 10 in a row in December this year and looked like a team with Stanley Cup aspirations rather than a 2017 lottery pick. However, since then they have gone 13-20-5 and unless they rattle off something like that streak they will be the first team to win 10 in a row and miss the playoffs. Lack of depth scoring has been an issue for Philadelphia. Just Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds have 20+ goals which has led to 22nd ranked offense. Goaltending has been an issue as well Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth have a 2.76 and 2.91 GAA respectively.
The Hurricanes were hoping to make a step forward this year and it just hasn’t panned out. They also lack any depth scoring and outside of Jeff Skinner and a surprise season from Sebastian Aho there hasn’t been a lot of positivity from on the offensive side of the puck. Couple that with sophomore Noah Hanafin taking a step back on defense and a mediocre year from Cam Ward and it’s understandable why they are likely to miss the postseason. Nonetheless they are young and have played well of late as they all fight for jobs in 2017-18.
Carolina Noah Hanafin v. Philadelphia Shayne Gostisbehere
Both 2nd year players have not progressed as they may have liked in 2016-17 but the year is not done and with both sides missing the playoffs they will get plenty of time down the stretch to end on a good note. At a combined -43 but quite often out against the other team’s top line the pressure will still be there even if the games don’t matter. You’d like to see one if not both rally to finish the year out strong especially Gostisbehere who has been a healthy scratch at times this season for Philly.
Neither of these teams give me inspiration to think they have an advantage but I like the way the Hurricanes have played of late despite losing may be the best policy for the better pick. Look to Skinner to have a good night as he scored a pair Saturday. Also, Sebastian Aho may very well have won a Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year but thanks to the likes of Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine he’s very under appreciated. He should have a nice stretch drive himself.
Minnesota has seen its lead in the West slip away as the Blackhawks have surged past them by 5 points. The Jets have seen their playoff hopes do the same as losers of 4-straight they are now a full 12 points out of a playoff spot.
Minnesota is not a flashy team by any means but if you take a look at the numbers Bruce Boudreau’s team is one of the best for a reason. They are 2nd in goals against with 3.2 per game and couple that with a stellar 5th ranked defense. Devan Dubnyk may very well be your 2016-17 Vezina Winner and the defensive scheme keeps them in a lot of hockey games. Having said all that they have dropped 7 of 9 and perhaps the wear and tear of the vaunted Central Division is catching up with this young core.
The Jets haven’t been much better of late going 3-4-2 in their last 9 games. Unfortunately for Winnipeg they didn’t have a 12-game winning streak like the Wild to bank a lot of points for this type of stumble. The biggest issue has been goaltending for the Jets. Head Coach Paul Maurice has gone with Connor Hellebuyck a lot lately but he has given a whopping 17 goals in his last 5 starts and was yanked in one of those games after less than 30 minutes. The Jets can score at 7th in the NHL but they cant find anyone to stop enough shots.
Minnesota Ryan Suter v. Winnipeg Patrik Laine
The veteran Ryan Suter will be tasked with slowing down the possible Rookie of the Year Patrik Laine. He has 33 goals two ahead of fellow rookie Auston Matthews and 5-point lead in the overall points race over Matthews and his teammate Mitch Marner. Don’t expect Suter to care too much the 32-year-old is an amazing +32 this year as the Wild’s number 1 defenseman. That +32 comes with the responsibility night in and night out of stopping the other team’s best and is truly remarkable. You don’t hear a lot of Norris Trophy talk because he lacks the scoring touch but there are few defensemen more relied upon than Suter.
The Jets are finished but I don’t see them going too quietly into the night. Perhaps the most telling stat is that this is game 5 of the year for the two clubs and the Wild have won the first. Taking care of a team 5 times in one season is tough. Minnesota is tumbling to the finish line and may begin to think less about the Blackhawks and 1st in the West and more about resting players to be ready for the playoffs.