It might just be that time of the year now to begin focusing on arguably the two most profitable types of teams at this juncture in the season: those looking to make a realistic “charge” at a better playoff seeding (chargers) and those looking to simply “spoil” the fun of of their playoff-hopeful opponents (spoilers). There may simply be no other teams that care more about winning at this time of the year than the teams that fit into these two categories. This is not to say though, that the teams near the top of standings will stop winning altogether, but it should also be no surprise if we start to see the effort and intensity of these elite teams diminish noticeably as they “cruise” towards home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Last season, the 6 division-winning teams in the NHL combined for a mediocre win/loss record of 32-28 over their respective last 10 games of the season. This may still represent a winning record overall, but even if the combined average betting price for these top teams over these 60 games was a mere -135, these teams still would have yielded a combined -4.30 units. Hence, not so profitable.
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Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are one of those teams that has it in cruise control right now, but even cruise control for them is a lot to deal with for most opponents. The Penguins gave a pretty determined effort in their loss to Detroit on Monday, but the absence of Evgeni Malkin was noticeable. It doesn’t look like the Penguins will be able to compete with the Capitals here, without the second half of their dynamic duo. Their PP continues to struggle, and the goals have not been coming, which is also detrimental to those looking to play the Over.
New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers
Whether it’s a lack of team chemistry or a lack of confidence, the Rangers have averaged under 25 shots on goal per game over their last 6, and have lost their last 3 games by way of not capitalizing on good scoring chances. With that said though, this probably won’t be the best spot for the Islanders to play spoiler to their New York rivals, as this will be their first game in New York since their West Coast road trip. The jetlag and the multiple days of rest may have the Islanders a little bit out of sync. It’s hard to say which of these two teams will really look sharper here.
St Louis Blues vs. Detroit Red Wings
The Blues are 4-0-1 against the Red Wings this season, and always seem to save their best for Detroit. There is also probably still belief within the St Louis locker room, that they can still make the playoffs, and beating Detroit here will be vital to keeping that hope alive. Look for the best road team in the Western Conference to have a lot of jump in this game. Meanwhile, the Red Wings will also know what’s at risk, and could end up hanging their usual 40 SOG on St Louis. This could very well come down to goaltending then, in which case, the advantage does go to Jimmy Howard, but +160 is still some pretty decent value with St Louis, when taking everything into consideration.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Buffalo Sabres
Given the course of Montreal’s season so far, there is good reason to believe that they will lose the next few games, and then win the next few after that, and so on. The Habs have been streaky all season, and are looking like they are just about to begin another cold spell. The Northeast Division is kind of predictable anyway, in that most head-to-head series this season have been completely one-sided, and in this case, the dominant team has been Buffalo. The Sabres are also peaking at the right time, as they’ve scored 17 goals in their last 4 games. Personally, I’m leaning towards the Sabres.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche are actually getting annihilated on special teams lately, which is a sign that they are not working hard. The Avs have gone 1 for their last 13 powerplays, while killing just 10 of their last 17 penalties (that’s 59%!!!). If the LA Kings were playing like they were before the Olympic break, I would be all over this one. Unfortunately, the Kings have been mired in a dramatic offensive slump, but they may have reawakened from it during their last game against the Avalanche on Monday. I believe that the Kings can turn around their offensive slump faster than Colorado can solve their PK problems.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Vancouver Canucks
When I saw Corey Perry break his stick last night after a costly turnover, it appeared as though the Anaheim Ducks were a team that was still trying to win and possibly make the playoffs. The Ducks have some very competitive guys in their locker room, and they won’t let Vancouver get an easy win here. In fact, the Ducks may also offer a bit of a matchup problem for the Canucks, as they have already beaten them twice this season, and 4 straight overall. I expect Vancouver to bring it here too though, especially after losing to the Oilers. Vancouver just doesn’t appear to be in that high gear though, as they have played with no physical edge or commitment to defense. The value is on the Ducks and the Over 5.5.