Every one of the five games scheduled for this Friday will feature at least one team that could either move up or move down in the standings by the time the night is over. Perhaps the most significant change would occur if Calgary were to overtake Detroit for 8th place in the Western Conference, but also significant will be both New Jersey’s and Buffalo’s opportunities to recapture their respective division leads. Teams will be fighting harder for points during this time of the year, and the teams who don’t embrace this level of intensity will most likely be the ones to fall.
Therefore, it may also be worth keeping an eye out this week for who is ramping up their play and who is still stuck in mid-season gear.
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Nashville Predators (34-23-5) vs. Detroit Red Wings (29-22-12)
Nashville actually offers a bit of value here at +160. Unfortunately for them though, the Predators have lost their last 2 meetings against the Red Wings, and despite at one point in the season being one of the best road teams in the league, have had trouble winning on the road lately. There is a general expectation that a healthy Detroit squad should now be poised to go on a decent run of their own, but their most recent 6-3 loss to the Canucks seemed to tell a different story. The Red Wings are now clinging to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and have won just 2 out of their last 7 games at home. Detroit certainly cannot be trusted as a favourite in this price range, but the situation is definitely not ideal for Nashville either.
Philadelphia Flyers (33-26-3) vs. Buffalo Sabres (33-20-9)
A lot of buzz is still being made over Ryan Miller’s performance at the Olympics, and rightfully so, but the Buffalo Sabres may have been asking too much of him lately, giving up frequent odd man rushes and a ton of shots on goal. The Flyers had a bit of a letdown the other night in Florida, but the Sabres are the team that they are chasing down for 5th place in the conference, and they should have their focus for this matchup. It is a bit discouraging to see that the Flyers typically follow their first losses in a streak with a second loss, but it is no less discouraging seeing that the Sabres have now lost 8 of their last 9 games overall. It should be Flyers or nothing here.
Vancouver Canucks (39-22-2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (42-16-5)
The Chicago Blackhawks look a bit like a disinterested hockey club right now, and they probably can’t wait for the regular season to be over with. Chicago has just 1 win in regulation over their last 5 games, and that 1 win featured them breaking a 2-2 early third period tie against the lowly Oilers. On the other hand, how much fun are the Vancouver Canucks having right now? Late game heroics, depth players stepping up to fill roles, frequent multi-point games for the top six forwards, and a goaltender who hasn’t stopped smiling since they put that Olympic gold medal around his neck. For a team that has been on that kind of a roll, +150 is a lot of value to be offering, especially given what Niemi and Huet’s save percentage numbers have looked like recently.
Minnesota Wild (31-27-4) vs. Edmonton Oilers (19-38-6)
Unless I’m missing something, Minnesota has not been this big of a favourite all season, and strangely enough, they are now this significant of a favourite on the road, where they are just 10-19-2 this season. Generally, I would try to find every reason to play a home dog at this price, but this will be a tough spot for the Oilers, who will be playing just their second home game in the last 30 days. Minnesota sits just 4 points out of a playoff spot, and these will be 2 must-have points for them in the standings.
New Jersey Devils (38-21-3) vs. Calgary Flames (30-24-9)
This is a solid bounce-back spot for Calgary, who were shutout at home on Wednesday night. Calgary tends to respond well after these types of disastrous performances, and the last time they were shutout at home, they responded with a 4-1 win over Carolina. Apparently, the Flames can score, but only in games after they get their butts kicked. New Jersey beat the Sharks on Tuesday night, but Martin Brodeur still allowed 3 goals on just 20 shots, continuing his streak of mediocrity which dates back to the end of January. It’s home ice and goaltending advantage to Calgary.