After Tuesday night, it’s safe to say the wild nature of the NHL’s second half is fully underway. We got treated to a Ryan Miller shutout, Sergei Brobovsky’s return between the pipes, a 13 goal game, and oh yeah, a coach being fired. Jack Capuano was let go as the Islanders’ bench boss a year after taking them to the second round of the playoffs. He has his team at a mediocre 17-17-8 on the year, but even that mark doesn’t put you in contention in an improved Eastern Conference.
Doug Weight, the Islanders’ assistant GM and ex-legendary player himself will take over the head coaching duties while New York scrambles to find a permanent replacement. The Islanders .500 record still keeps them alive with lots of games left to play, but as we’ll see in our previews for Thursday’s game the competition is only getting harder.
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The Dallas Stars and New York Rangers combined for 13 goals on Tuesday in an effort to pay homage to the 15 goals the Capitals and Penguins scored just a night before. While they didn’t reach that mark, it reminded everyone in the NHL just how impressive it was that Washington managed to score seven goals, and lose a hockey game. They were the first time since the 90’s to do so, and yet no one is pointing fingers, laughing, or even being critical.
That’s because the Capitals are still 9-0-1 in their last ten games, tied with the Blue Jackets for first place in the Eastern Conference (and the entire league) and perhaps even more dangerous after their seven goal outburst despite the outcome not being a win.
In St.Louis the Blues have struggled in January, at least by their standards, but are still a respectable 5-5-0 in their last ten games and coming off a tough 6-4 road loss to the Ottawa Senators. The Blues have been bad on the road this season, with a record of just 7-11-1, but luckily of them they’ll get to skate on home ice when they prepare for the storm that is the Washington Capitals.
Washington’s offense ranks fifth in the NHL after their recent surge, averaging 3.28 goals a game. This number is continuing to grow based on performances like their seven goal outburst against the Penguins, and rightly so given the depth they have. In that seven goal game, their leading scorer didn’t even find the back of the net.
Practically capable of scoring seven goals by himself some nights, Alex Ovechkin was limited to one assist in the offensive onslaught, which can be taken as a good sign for the Capitals. Lars Eller was the only player to score twice in that game for Washington and his two goals still only give him five on the season.
It’s clear that anyone can score on this Washington team, and as impressive as Ovechkin’s 21 goals have been this season, the support of his teammates has been equally as threatening to opponents. T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams have 15 goals apiece while Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstroke have 14, and 13 respectively.
Washington’s power play can still stand to improve as the Capitals are operating at just 18.00 percent, but with a downright shocking 27 goals over their last five games no one’s complaining much about the Caps’ ability to score the puck.
In St.Louis the Blues are no strangers to scoring either. They’re finding the back of the net 2.84 times a game which ranks six spots behind the Capitals but still well above the league average. They’ve scored 14 goals over their last five games which is almost laughable compared to the Capitals’ 27, but still averages out to just under three a game and is in line with their production all season long.
The Blues’ biggest problem on offense comes from a lack of support for Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian sniper has 20 goals and 45 points in 45 games this season, but his next closes teammates has just 30. That’s still a respectable mark for Kevin Shattenkirk, but if you’ve watched any Blues games this season you know that the scoring starts and ends with Tarasenko.
The loss to the Senators wasn’t the outcome the team wanted, but there were promising signs on offense. The Blues scored four goals, all from different players and none named Tarasenko. Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund, Paul Stastny and Kevin Shttenkirk combined for the goal scoring and gave a brief glimpse into the window of the Blues’ depth.
The eight goals the Penguins scored against the Capitals did little to show the league how dominant their defense has been this season, but the numbers tell a different story. Since going on their nine game win streak Washington now has the best ranked defense in all of hockey allowing just 2.14 goals a contest.
Before the eight goal performance the Capitals had limited teams to just three goals in their last four games including two shutouts. We’ll get to the steady goaltending in a moment, but first, appreciate just how deep Washington’s defense is. Even with top blue liner John Carlson day to day with a lower body injury, the rest of the defensemen have stepped up.
Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov are no strangers to big minutes, and they’ve proved it with their recent play. Alzner, who is still relatively young by NHL standards is having a terrific season and just reached a milestone no other player has accomplished in Washington. On Friday night he played in his 500th straight game and is a testament to the grit and grind of this Capitals team.
The Blues have long been one of the scariest defenses to go up against and yet this season find themselves on the wrong end of that argument. St.Louis is letting in a dismal 3.00 goals a game which ranks well below the league average and just seven spots out of last place in the entire NHL.
With the exception of Kevin Shattenkirk and his offensive production, the rest of the top four have left a lot to be desired this season. Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester have combined to go -14 on the year and their abilities at moving the puck out of the neutral zone have been a point of contention for head coach Ken Hitchcock.
If the Blues have trouble moving the puck out of their own zone against the Capitals that could spell disaster against a Washington team that may be better than anyone else on changing turnovers into goals.
The Blues’ defensive woes can’t fall just on the defensemen. There is, after all, a player directly responsible for stopping pucks every night and in St.Louis and the Blues have two men who haven’t been up to the job recently.
After being pulled three times in his last five starts, Jake Allen made way for Carter Hutton to start in net against the Senators and the results were the same. Hutton allowed five goals on 23 shots and now has a 2.70 goals against average and a .898 save percentage. Allen certainly isn’t the answer, but with numbers like those we wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in net against the Capitals.
Washington can count their lucky stars they don’t have to deal with that situation. The Capitals have a guy named Braden Holtby between the pipes, and outside of his last performance he’s been downright supernatural this season. He’s 21-8-4 with a goals against average of just 1.94 and a save percentage of .930. After his last brutal performance he’ll be itching to shut the door against the Blues.
Vladimir Tarasenko against Alex Ovechkin. The two russian superstars are separated by many years in age, but not goals. After being held off the scoresheets in their last game both will be hungry to contribute.
We love how dominant Washington has been recently, but the Blues are getting good odds at home. Take St.Louis on the spread and hope they can get to Holtby early.
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The Stars are slowly becoming the most unpredictable team in all of hockey. We thought that mantle belonged to the Kings, but we’re slowly figuring out they just show up for big games. The Stars show up when they feel like it, and that was the case on Tuesday night.
After losing 4-1 to the Sabres in their previous matchup Dallas proceeded to score seven goals on Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers, and still almost lost! Thankfully for the Stars they held on in dramatic fashion for the 7-6 win, but their defense has become a real problem.
Dallas allows 3.13 goals a game now which ranks in front of only Arizona, Philadelphia and Colorado in the league standings and their goaltending has been a big reason why. After being pulled against the Rangers, Antti Niemi now had a 3.16 goals against average and a .902 save percentage while fellow netminder Kari Lehtonen isn’t doing much better with a 2.86 goals against average and a .900 save percentage himself.
Regardless of who gets the start, that’s good news for the Islanders who will play their first game without head coach Jack Capuano. We’ve seen flashes of New York’s ability to score the puck, especially with John Tavares who now has 16 goals and 32 points on the season.
He’ll still need more help from his supporting cast, but hopefully assistant general manager Doug Weight can help light a fire under his Islanders and make a run at the playoffs. At 17-17-8 they’re not to of it just yet.
Thomas Greiss against Niemi/Lehtonen. Whoever gets the start for Dallas will have to contend with new starting goalie Greiss. Greiss has been excellent for the Islanders despite the losses with a 2.41 goals against average and a stellar .925 save percentage. If he can make some stops early the Islanders may just be in line for a win.
We love taking teams with new coaches at home for their first game since the change. They get to prove to their fans that they’re still in this, and against a team that lets in more goals than almost anyone. Take the Islanders on the moneyline.
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The Senators travel to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets coming off a huge 6-4 win over the St.Louis Blues and winners of three of their last five games overall. Ottawa’s six goals against the Blues were the most they’ve scored during that span and a welcome sign for a team that’s had inconsistent production from their offense this season.
Ottawa is averaging just 2.64 goals a game this season which ranks well below the league average and in front of just a handful of teams. The main problem has been their reliance on defenseman Erik Karlsson. While the Swedish workhorse continues to be one of the most offensively gifted blue liners in the game it’s tough to lead your team in points and be responsible for shutting down the opposition’s best player every night.
Enter Mark Stone, who had 17 points in his last 17 games before going up against the Blues. Stone kept on chugging along with two goals including the tie breaker early in the third period to help his Senators steal a road win. Stone now has 34 points on the year, just two behind Karlsson. If he can continue his production Ottawa will have to rely less and less on their start defenseman to get the puck in the back of the net.
Columbus has had no trouble scoring all season long, with a goals for average of 3.37, good for third among all NHL clubs. They’re also coming off a 4-2 win over the Senators the last time these two teams played and have three wins in their last five games overall.
With Sergei Brobovsky back in net the Jackets look like a different team. He was brilliant in allowing just one goal against the Hurricanes in his latest victory and will be ready to go against a Senators team that has trouble scoring this season.
Erik Karlsson against Cam Atkinson. Atkinson continues to produce at exactly a point a game with 43 in 43 this season and he’ll try to keep that ratio up against Karlsson and the visiting Sens. Both players are relatively undersized (especially Atkinson) so we expect the skill to rise to the top and be on full display.
Ottawa has been playing better of late, especially on offense but with a healthy Brobovsky back in net and the Jackets playing at home where they’re an excellent 17-4-1 we fully expect them to pull out the victory. Take Columbus on the spread and the moneyline.
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Remember when the Leafs were lumped in with the Devils, Coyotes, and Avalanche as a rebuilding team incapable of making the playoffs this season, or anytime soon for that matter? Well Toronto has used those opinions to launch a second half onslaught on the rest of the NHL.
Led by a constantly improving cast of rookies Toronto has catapulted themselves into third place in the Atlantic Division with a 21-13-8 record and an 8-1-1 mark in their last ten games. They’ve won three in a row and their powerplay is an astonishing 11 for it’s last 19. Those numbers will obviously regress, and who knows if the rookies can last the length of an entire season to try and sneak into the playoffs, but they’ve become more than just a fun team to watch. They’re flat-out dangerous.
Just ask the Rangers what it’s like playing against the speedy Leafs. New York lost their last meeting 4-2 in their own building and now have to travel to Toronto where the Buds are 11-7-2 this season. Still, if anyone’s up to the task of knocking down the young guns a few pegs its the veteran Rangers.
New York is coming off a brutal 7-6 loss at the hands of the Stars and looking for anyone to pick on. With that being said, the Rangers have lost three straight and are now in a Wild Card Spot. they still own a seven point lead over the Senators, but their struggles are concerning, especially with Henrik Lundqvist.
King Henrik has looked more like a jester over his last three games, stopping 60 of just 76 shots in seven periods alone during the span. His goals against average has sky rocketed to 2,89 and his save percentage is almost below .900 at .902. The 34 year old won’t have it any easier against one of the best offenses in the NHL.
Auston Matthews against Derek Stepan. Stepan has been stellar for the Rangers all year and his 36 points are a nice bonus to the strong defense he plays. His defense will be put to the test against the young, strong Matthews who’s 22 goals lead the Leafs this season.
The Rangers have been dominant all year long, but with more being asked of Lundqvist, their recent defensive woes, and playing on the road against Toronto, we like the Leafs on the moneyline in a game that could go down to the wire.
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The biggest mismatch of the night easily falls in the Coyotes visiting the Wild. Arizona has lost three of their last five games including two straight and are now dealing with injuries to some of their best forwards.
Brad Richardson is out indefinitely with a tibia injury, Ryan White is doubtful to play with a lower body issue and Max Domi, arguably their most talented young forward is out indefinitely with a hand injury.
The Coyotes still have a four point lead over the Avalanche for dead last in the NHL, but with rumors swirling that long-time captain Shane Doan is ready to waive his no trade clause, it truly feels like the end of hope in the Desert. Whether the team lasts there long-term is of little concern to us however, as the immediate impact of their fateful trip to Minnesota is first on the docket.
The Wild are rolling despite a road loss to the Devils in their last outing with a record of 7-2-1 in their last ten to propel them to first place in the Central Division. Minnesota gets it done on both ends of the ice with the second ranked defense and fourth ranked offense. They’re goal differential of +45 is second only to Columbus and a quick look at their plus/minus leaders tells you all you need to know.
In one of the more ridiculous stats this season, the top five leaders in plus/minus rating all play for the Minnesota Wild. That’s right, Jason Zucker, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Mikael Granlund and Mikko Koive are your top five leaders with a plus mins of at least +23.
Good luck Arizona.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson against Eric Staal. It feels like every game the Coyotes play OEL is our key matchup man, and rightly so. With Domi hurt, the only player seemingly worth watching on this team right now is Ekman-Larsson, who will be tasked with stopping the Wild’s leading scorer.
The best team in the West at home against the Coyotes? As bad as the odds are you simply can’t take Arizona in this matchup. If you want to avoid the bad odds consider the over, as Minnesota is likely to beat up on the hapless Desert Dogs.
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Are the Predators ever going to wake up and take control of a weaker Western Conference? They’re the only team outside the postseason picture with a positive goal differential and have a record of 12-5-5 at home this season. They have one of the deepest teams in all of hockey and despite the injury to P.K. Subban are clearly capable of beating any single team any night.
With that being said, they can’t win on the road. Nashville is just 8-12-3 away from their own building this season and now have to travel to Calgary where the Flames are 13-11-0 this year. Calgary is coming off a 5-2 road win over the plucky Panthers and now get to return home for a battle with the Preds.
Nashville is going to be in trouble trying to stop Calgary. While the Flames only score 2.64 goals a game this season, they now get to go up against a Predators team that has no P.K. Suburban OR Roman Josi. That’s terrible news for Nashville’s defense that already allows 2.61 goals a game.
Mikael Backlund against Ryan Ellis. Ellis is the third man up on defense for the Predators which means he’ll have to keep an eye on the red hot Backlund. The Flames’ forward scored twice and dished out an assist in his last game and now has 32 points on the season.
Nashville is terrible on the road this year, and now without their top two defensemen it’s anyone’s guess how they’re going to stop their opponents from scoring. Calgary meanwhile is coming off a win and decent at home this season. Take the Flames on the moneyline.
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We have a new challenger for mismatch of the night. The last-place Avalanche visit the Ducks in Anaheim in one of the more lopsided games we’ve seen all season long. Colorado owns an 8-12-0 record on the road which is actually significantly better than their record at home, so take that grain of salt as you will.
Regardless of their overall record they’ve lost three straight including their latest blunder on the road, a 6-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. If the Avs can take anything positive from that game it’s the four goals. They had scored six combined in their four games prior, so the offensive output was at least a positive sign.
Matt Duchene continues to be one of the only players in Colorado capable of scoring as he netted his 13th and 14th on the season in the loss, but he’ll be hard-pressed to score on a Ducks team giving up just 2.49 goals a game this season.
It’s not just Anaheim’s defense that has been on point lately either. The Ducks offense is slowly but surely showing signs of life, and a game against Colorado’s last place defense may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Ryan Kesler continues to lead the team in points with 38 with a healthy Ryan Getzlaf hot on his heels. The two will look to score early and often against the hapless Avalanche.
Matt Duchene against Cam Fowler. Fowler has been the biggest surprise this season for the Ducks, playing along the blueline in all 47 games and amassing 23 points with a plus/minus rating of +3. His job will be to stop the always potent Duchene on Thursday night, and we think he’s up to the challenge.
The Ducks have won the last two meetings between these teams with both victories coming on the road. Now they get to play sat home where they’ve been excellent on the year. We expect a blowout, so take Anaheim on the spread and the line.
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The Lightning try to strike in San Jose for our last game of the night. When Ryan Callahan went down with an injury we thought that was truly the end of Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes, but instead they went out and beat the Kings 2-1. They dropped their next games against the Ducks by the same score, and despite the loss the result was encouraging.
The Lightning have been a beacon of resiliency this season and as their players get healthier their chances of making the playoffs in the East increase. They’re just three points out of the second Wild Card Spot but more bad news keeps coming. Victor Hedman is questionable for the game against the Sharks with an illness meaning even more responsibility will be placed on Nikita Kucherov’s shoulders.
He has to try and lead his team past a healthy Sharks squad that is letting in just 2.32 goals a game and boasts two of the best defensemen in the entire NHL in Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. San Jose has won three of their last five and are 15-6-1 at home this season.
If the Sharks have any weakness it’s their powerplay, operating at a brutal 15.83 chances. That means Tampa can take a few more risks with their physicality considering their opponent can’t seem to capitalize on their opportunities with an extra man attacker. Whatever it takes, the Lightning will try it.
Ben Bishop against Martin Jones. With Bishop back and healthy he gives his team the best chances to win, and he’s looked better and better with each game. If he can turn away some key shots early, the Lightning may be inspired to get a few goals past the beatable Jones.
The Lightning are a resilient bunch, but not to the point of beating San Jose on the road. The Sharks are healthy, hungry, and ready for a home win. Take San Jose on the spread.
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