Picking the winners of Saturday's NHL contests.
This weekend is all about the dogs. This could end either very good or very ugly. Proceed with caution.
Record: 32 – 10
Well look at that, the Flyers decide to let one of their goalies run with it (not by choice) and they reel off seven straight wins. I am totally against the 1A/1B goalie approach that many NHL teams have now resorted to over about the past decade. There comes a point that you should just roll with one dude and give him the opportunity to run with it. That means letting your net minder work through the tough times rather than go to your second goalie. Anyways, that’s a debate for another time. Steve Mason continues to impress as his horrific start to the season seems to be finally behind him. The Flyers have propelled themselves to third in the Metropolitan division as they are 8-2 in their last 10 games played. Much of their recent success is due to the play of Mason, however, the big guns are also firing on all cylinders. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds having combined for 32 points in their last 10 games played. Needless to say the Flyers are flying high as everything has come together quite nicely over the last month. The man advantage has definitely been a catalyst for the Flyers as their power play currently ranks second in the NHL running at 23.6%.
The Dallas Stars on the flipside have had a poor season. Aside from their terribly inconsistent goaltending, the Stars have also had issues scoring. This may come as a surprise to many as they were touted as an offensive juggernaut heading into this season. However, the Stars find themselves middle of the pack in goal scoring with 72 goals on the season. To put that stat into perspective, the Calgary Flames (who were Gaudreau-less) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (who are full of youth) have more goals scored on the season. So what seems to be the problem in the big D? For one, injuries have devastated the Stars who fail to find consistency due to so much line juggling. Second, John Klingberg has taken a major step back this season and he was indeed a spark for the Stars last season on the blue line. All things considered I expect the Stars to heat up in the second half as bodies continue to return to their lineup. As for this game, I have to side with the Flyers as they are just rolling right now and the Stars are still trying to find traction. This could easily turn into a barn burner as both teams have suspect goaltending. Take the Flyers.
Key Stat: Flyers are 6-0 in their last 6 vs. Western Conference.
Pick: Philadelphia – Home Team Win – H
It was only a matter of time until Mark Stone and (obviously) Erik Karlsson got it going offensively. Consequently, the Senators are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games played. With 19 goals in their last five games, the Senators are looking dangerous offensively. However, this boost in scoring has come at a cost as they have also allowed a whopping 18 goals over the aforementioned five game stretch. The Kings head into this matchup riding a two-game losing streak. Peter Budaj has gotten lit up like a Christmas tree in his last three games allowing nine goals while posting a .838 SV%. The Kings are traditionally a strong team at home but the play of Budaj has got me worried. I like the Sens in this spot as they are playing much more aggressively as of late and Budaj is not at his best. Additionally, the Senators have been rather strong on the road as of late. Give me the Senators for an upset.
Key Stat: Senators are 5-1 in their last 6 road games.
Pick: Ottawa – Visitor Team Win – V
The Pens are finally healthy and as a result they are steamrolling teams at will. It’s very scary to see this Pens team at full strength and now they face a Bolts squad that has only three wins in their last 10 games played. Including that depressing stat is the fact that they lost to the Canucks 5-1 at home in their last game. These are tough times for the Bolts as life without Steven Stamkos has not been kind for them. In situations like this teams could either crumble or rise to the occasion and the Bolts are too good to crumble. That being said I expect this game to be close although the stats are pointing to one-sided affair. Interesting enough both of these teams have eerily similar goaltending situations. Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevsky are two backups who have made their cases in being starters. Marc-Andre Fleury and Ben Bishop are two starters that are under immense pressure as they are both being pushed out of the crease. Call me crazy but I think the Bolts will get a win here in what should be tight contest. This is a perfect rebound spot at home against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Take the Bolts.
Key Stat: Lightning are 7-1 in the last 8 games following a home loss of 3 or more goals.
Pick: Tampa Bay – Home Team Win – H
It is tough to bet against the Leafs this season. You just don’t know what to expect. One night they can beat the Capitals and the next they can lose to the Sabres. Regardless, I like the Bruins tonight. Tuukka Rask has been a beast this season posting a 1.79 GAA and .933 SV% thus far. Furthermore, Rask has enjoyed playing against the Leafs as he owns a 15-3-2 record versus them. Offensively, David Pastrnak has been a pleasant surprise for the Bruins. Pastrnak currently has 18 goals on the season which puts him atop of the league with elite company (Sidney Crosby). The Leafs currently sit dead last in the Eastern Conference which is mind boggling to me because I didn’t think they were that bad. In any case, they are and their rookies have gone to sleep as of late (refer to William Nylander). These two teams usually have spirited affairs and this could be the case yet again tonight. But I have to side with the Bruins here as they have a lot of veteran experience which should contain the likes of Auston Matthews. Give me the Bruins as Tuukka gets the W.
Key Stat: Maple Leafs are 7-17 in the last 24 meetings in Boston.
Pick: Boston – Home Team Win – H
Very rarely do I call a tie as it is a very risky bet. However, I think this game will be tight and mainly because there is no Alex Galchenyuk for the Canadiens which is huge. The Canadiens have been average as of late as they are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games played. Carey Price has not been his usual invincible self over that span although he hasn’t been bad by any means. The Avalanche seem to play the Canadiens quite well as they have won six of the last 10 games. As bad as the Avalanche have been this season I could see them pushing the Habs to overtime in this one. Alex Galchenyuk is huge for the Canadiens and his absence should complicate things for Montreal going forward. The Avalanche are pretty strong up the middle and they could expose the Canadiens and lack of depth at centre. Take the tie.
Key Stat: Canadiens are 7-22 in their last 29 vs. Western Conference.
The Flames are scorching hot as they head into this matchup riding a five-game winning streak. Christmas came early for Calgary as Johnny Gaudreau made his return to the lineup this past week and he has been a pleasure to watch. Electric is one word to describe Johnny since his return as he has six points in his last three games. Sean Monahan is definitely happy to see Johnny back as Monahan has five points since his return three games ago. The goaltending has been superb for the Flames as Chad Johnson has ripped away the reigns from Brian Elliott as the starter. Johnson has 12 wins with a 1.98 GAA and .932 SV% on the season, simply remarkable. The Flames now sit second in the Pacific division and trail the Oilers only by one point. The Winnipeg Jets occupy the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and to be honest I expect more from this squad. I really love what they got on the offensive side as Patrick Laine is an absolute monster. Unfortunately, the Jets have experienced some injury issues which has in my opinion stopped them from gaining momentum. With Mark Scheifele back and Bryan Little up and running, I expect the Jets to go on a little run. I like the Jets here on the road simply because of their scoring depth which I think will be too much for the Flames to match. Aside from Gaudreau and Monahan, I can’t see the Flames matching up with all the firepower that the Jets possess.
Key Stat: Flames are 0-4 in their last 4 Saturday games.
Pick: Winnipeg – Visitor Team Win – V
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