Thursday Night NHL – Jackets Over Capitals and Predictions for Each Game

by Aaron Brooks
on January 5, 2017

Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals

The Lines

Moneyline

  • Columbus (+110) at Washington (-140)

Spread

  • Columbus +1.5 (-270) at Washington -1.5 (+220)

Total – Over/Under

  • 5 (-150 over, +120 under)

It’s hard to make two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference playing each other much more exciting, but there’s still a way to do it. Slap one of the teams with a 16-game win streak and a chance to tie the all-time record and the stakes get a little more interesting, don’t they?

Columbus was supposed to barely sniff the playoffs this season, and yet here they are dominating the entire NHL. They own a ridiculous 27-5-4 record and have a downright laughable goal differential of +52. They just came off an impressive 3-1 road victory over Connor McDavid and his Edmonton Oilers and now the fun really begins.

They travel to Washington to take on a Capitals team that has found its extra gear over the past month. The Caps have won three straight games, including a thrilling come-from-behind overtime win against the red-hot Leafs and are now 6-2-2 in their last ten games and just two points behind the Rangers in the Metropolitan division.

Columbus has been steam rolling the best, worst and average teams all season long, but the Washington Capitals know exactly how to rise to the occasion. If Alex Ovechkin and the rest of his teammates ever needed a reason to go on a second half run, this would be it. It’s going to be good.

Offense

If someone had dropped these two roster sheets in front of you to start the season and then said point to the team with the better offense, ten times out of ten you would have chosen the Capitals, and ten times out of ten you would have been wrong.

Columbus is tied with Pittsburgh for the best offence in the NHL, averaging 3.50 goals a game and outscoring their opponents by that aforementioned ridiculous number if 52 goals on the season so far.

They’re accomplishing this historic run with a balanced attack and a team-first attitude on offense. Coach John Tortorella is firmly in line to win the Jack Adams trophy for coach of the year after rallying his troops to believe in themselves despite a lack of true star power up front.

The big four for Columbus this season were just four average hockey players last year, albeit with flashes of upside. Now Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Alex Wennberg and Brandon Saad are some of the most consistent and highest-scoring skaters in all of hockey.

Add in the resurgence of Sam Gagner, nine goals from Scott Hartnell and the 49 points from the combination of Zach Werenski and David Savard along the blue line and it becomes clear just how balanced the Jackets’ attack truly is.

It gets even more impressive with the extra attacker. After scoring on the power play against Edmonton, Columbus now owns a 28.30 percent success rate with the extra man attacker. To put that number in perspective, no team since the 70’s has touched the 30-percentage point mark, and the next closest team this season is at 23.45 percent (Tampa Bay).

To make matters worse for the opposition, only three other teams get less chances on the power play per game than Columbus. If Tortorella and his boys start figuring out how to take more penalties, the rest of the league may just want to throw in the white towel.

Thankfully for the rest of the league, teams like the Capitals exist, and there won’t be any surrendering anytime soon in Washington. The Caps aren’t too shabby at scoring the puck either, averaging just under three goals a game at 2.84.

They’re led (as per usual) by Alex Ovechkin and his 18 goals on the season so far, but also have a wealth of a players that can find the back of the net at any moment. T.J. Osha has 12 goals on the year and showed his prowess with a snipe against Toronto, while Justin William’s 10 and Marcus Johansson’s 14 are also a huge part of Washington’s success.

Add in the always dangerous Nicklas Backstrom who leads the team in points with 30 and Evgeny Kuznetsov who just scored his first goal in 17 games and the Capitals begin to look pretty scary with the puck on their sticks.

Defense

You don’t win 16 straight games without stopping your opponent a few times as well, and that’s as true as ever in Columbus. Not only are the Blues scoring better than anyone else in the NHL, they’re also defending better than anyone else. They’re letting in just 2.06 goals a game and shutting down some of the best offenses in the league (shoutout to that 7-1 beatdown of Pittsburgh in late December).

They’ve got an excellent netminder, and we’ll get to him in a minute, but their defense in its entirety has also been impossible to break. Since Seth Jones returned from a hairline fracture in his foot, the Jackets have gone 17-2-1. He’s as steady as they come and can also chip in offensively with 17 points in 30 games. Joining him are Dennis Savard and Jack Johnson. These two are as dynamic as they come with a combined plus/minus rating of +45 on the season with Savard also chipping in 24 points. You round out that top four with Zach Werenski and his 25 points and the Blue Jacket’s blue line becomes downright legendary.

If legendary is the line for Columbus, Washington is at the very least renowned. The Capitals boast the fourth best defense in the NHL, allowing just 2.24 goals a game with a penalty kill operating at a fantastic 86.36 percent success rate.

John Carlson seems to have found his stride along the blue line after assisting on the tying goal and setting up Alex Ovechkin’s winner in overtime against the Leafs. His +1 rating could improve, but as an offensive defender it’s his job to take some risks.

Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik are all plus-defenders and despite having some trouble with the speed of the Leafs on Tuesday night won’t under estimate the streaking Blue Jackets on Thursday.

Goalies

After winning the Vezina Trophy last season, Braden Holtby started off the year a little shaky after suffering an injury at the World Championships, and just when it looked like he was back to peak performance he got lit up by the Leafs.

Holtby was pulled to start the second period after letting in three goals on just eight shots, and it will be tough to bounce back from that performance against Columbus. His 2.06 goals against average and .926 save percentage are still excellent marks, and his last game is likely just a blip on the radar.

Sergei Brobovsky hasn’t had a blip in what feels like years. During the Jackets’ win streak, the Russian goalie has let in just 22 of goals on 392 shots which amounts to a gorgeous .941 save percentage. His goals against average on the year is sub-2 at 1.92 and he’s already beat the Capitals once. There’s little left to say about the best goalie in the NHL right now.

Key Matchup

Alex Ovechkin against Cam Atkinson. Atkinson leads the Jackets in points this season despite usually being the smallest player on the ice. With Ovechkin picking up steam and coming off a huge win against the Leafs, look for him to throw his weight around and try to slow down Atkinson. Ovechkin leads his team in hits with 95 on the year and is 23rd overall in the NHL.

Advice

Whether you’re a bettor, a fan or turning into a hockey game for the first time ever, cheering for history is the way to go. With the way these two teams are playing it’s almost impossible to pick a winner, but with Washington being favored at home you have to at least take the Jackets to cover the spread. Long live the streak.

Pick

Columbus
4
Washington
2

Edmonton Oilers at Boston Bruins

The Lines

Moneyline

  • Edmonton (+120) at Boston (-150)

Spread

  • Edmonton +1.5 (-250) at Boston -1.5 (+200)

Total – Over/Under

  • 5 (-130 over, EVEN under)

The Oilers travel to Boston to take on Bruins after losing (just like everyone else does) to the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 on Tuesday night. Despite the loss, the Oilers are still 5-2-3 in their last ten games and just three points out of first place in the Pacific division.

Connor McDavid was held off the scoresheet against Columbus but is still tied with Evgeni Malkin for the league lead in points with 43. That distinction has earned him the Captaincy for the Pacific Division team in the upcoming all-star game and it’s well deserved. He’ll need his leadership skills to be on full display against a tough Bruins team, but Boston has been struggling as of late.

The Big Bad Bruins are just 4-4-2 in their last ten games and coming off an embarrassing 3-0 shutout against the New Jersey Devils. They’re still struggling to score and its become a problem that not even their stellar defense and goaltending can account for.

Brad Marchand is the only player with more than 30 points and while he’s taken a giant step forward this season as an offensive playmaker, you usually don’t want one of the smallest guys on the ice to be both your pest and your primary goal scorer.

Ryan Spooner has shown promising signs of giving Marchand some help. Before the Bruins failed to score against the Devils Spooner was on a five game point streak with three goals and four assists. They’ll need him to continue emerging as an offensive weapon if the Bruins want to stay competitive in the East.

Key Matchup

Brad Marchand against Connor McDavid. It’s tough to make anyone on the Oilers not named McDavid part of this segment, but that’s just how good he is. It will be particularly interesting to watch the much smaller Marchand try to get under his skin, a job few people in the NHL are better at.

Advice

Edmonton is the better team, and their road record is superior to how they play at home. Boston is just 9-9-0 at home this season and hasn’t looked the part of the normally scary Bruins team. Take the Oilers to cover the spread on the road and if you’re feeling up for it the moneyline as well.

Pick

Edmonton
4
Boston
2

Nashville Predators at Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lines

Moneyline

  • Nashville (-105) at Tampa Bay (-125)

Spread

  • Nashville +1.5 (-310) at Tampa Bay -1.5 (+245)

Total – Over/Under

  • 5.5 (EVEN over, -130 under)

These two teams have quickly become a mark of resilience in a league that doesn’t let you live for long when you’re down. Tampa Bay has had injury after injury pile up and its shocking that they’re still in the playoff picture in the East. Honestly, just look at the list of names that are sitting out right now:

  • Steven Stamkos
  • Ben Bishop
  • Brayden Point
  • Brian Boyle
  • Cedric Paquette

Wow. At least Nikita Kucherov is healthy again. He scored twice and grabbed an assist in the Lightning’s 6-4 loss to the Jets in his last game. He now has 38 points in 32 games and trails only Sidney Crosby in points per game on the season. If only the goaltender could perform as well.

Andrei Vasilevsky let in five goals on 33 shots in that loss and now has a record of 10-6-2 with a 2.63 goals against average and a .914 save percent. He hasn’t been terrible, but he’s no Ben Bishop and it’s beginning to show.

Pekka Rinne is normally the Ben Bishops of Ben Bishops, if that makes any sense. He’s perennially one of the best goalies in the league, except for this season. Maybe it’s the departure of Shea Weber, but Rinne has now lost four straight games and owns a 2.50 goals against average with a .917 save percentage. Those numbers are only slightly better than Vasilevsky’s but it’s not all his fault.

Not a single Predator has hit the 30-point plateau with Ryan Johansen’s mediocre 27 leading the charge. That would be alright if everyone was chipping in, but it’s just not happening in Nashville the way they’re used to. If Rinne can recapture his form and the forwards start putting a few more pucks in the net, this team will be hard to handle. Until then, we’ll wait.

Key Matchup

Nikita Kucherov against Roman Josi. With P.K. Subban out indefinitely more of the defensive burden falls on Josi. He’ll be tasked with stopping one of the best players in the NHL this season, and with his -5 rating on the year, it’s not looking good for the Nashville defenseman.

Advice

Nashville is just 6-9-2 on the road this season, and after a heartbreaking loss at home against former teammate Weber and the Habs, they may not have it in them to travel to Florida to take on a sneaky good Lightning team. We like Tampa on the moneyline.

Pick

Tampa Bay
3
Nashville
1

Carolina Hurricanes at St.Louis Blues

The Lines

Moneyline

  • Carolina (+130) at St. Louis (-160)

Spread

  • Carolina +1.5 (-240) at St. Louis -1.5 (+190)

Total – Over/Under

  • 5 (-145 over, +115 under)

We underestimated the Blues in their first outdoor game and honestly, that’s on us. We keep getting surprised by how good this team is and we shouldn’t. Vladimir Tarasenko is truly one of the top ten players in the league this season, and continues to perform on the biggest stage.

He scored the game-winner and the insurance goal against the Blackhawks on New Year’s day and now has 41 points in 38 games to sit just two points out of first place for the league lead in scoring. He’s starting to get some help too. Robby Fabbri is now second in scoring on the team with 25 points after collecting six goals and nine assists in his last 15 games. He’s become a weapon alongside Tarasenko and the two are starting to terrorize opponents together.

The Hurricanes don’t have quite the same firepower, with just 95 goals on the year so far, and they’ve lost two straight including a 3-1 loss to the suddenly hot Devils. Sebastian Aho appears to be the only bright spot for Carolina, as he’s now found the score-sheet in four straight contests. The 19-year-old rookie now has 21 points in 37 games and appears confident with the speed of the NHL game.

Cam Ward is still able to produce some solid play in net, where his 2.32 goals against average this season is a career best, but he’s posted a sub -.900 save percentage in three of his last four games. As good as Carolina has been at keeping pucks away from their netminder, it could prove a little more difficult against this potent St. Louis team.

Key Matchup

Robby Fabbri against Sebastian Aho. Fabbri is a sophmore so it’s not quite an even matchup, but the two play similar styles and have both found the shooting bug. Expect a lot of shots from both players as they try and help their teams win an important East vs. West showdown.

Advice

Carolina sings the Blues. St. Louis is rolling at home with a 15-3-4 record this season and after such an emotional win outdoors in their own city against Chicago, you can expect them to go on a little run, especially against a weaker team in the Hurricanes. Take the Blues on the moneyline.

Pick

St. Louis
4
Carolina
1

Buffalo Sabres at Chicago Blackhawks

The Lines

Moneyline

  • Buffalo (+170) at Chicago (-210)

Spread

  • Buffalo +1.5 (-185) at Chicago -1.5 (+155)

Total – Over/Under

  • 5 (-125 over, -105 under)

If you’re a fan of fun hockey, then the Sabres are a team to keep an eye on. If you’re a fan of the Sabres however, you may want to look away. Buffalo has some of the most talented skaters in the NHL on their roster, but a combination of a lack of depth and inexperienced has caused them to plummet to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

The Sabres are just 14-15-8 on the season, but at least they have Jack Eichel heating up again. After missing time to start the season, Eichel now has 13 points in 16 games and is on a nice four game point streak after scoring a goal in Buffalo’s impressive 4-1 win over the New York Rangers.

Now Eichel and his teammates will be faced with a much tougher task when they travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks. Still reeling from their New Year’s Day defeat, Chicago has lost two in a row and will be out for blood on their home ice.

They’re 13-4-4 in their own building and still sit in first place in the Central Division out west, but they’re struggling lately. They’ve lost four of their last five games and continue to inexplicably struggle given their deep roster. One player they desperately need back is veteran Marian Hossa. He has16 goals and 23 points in 34 contests but is day to day with an upper body injury.

The Blackhawks have more than enough skill to defeat the Sabres, but losing can be contagious and lately that’s all Chicago has been doing.

Key Matchup

Jack Eichel against Jonathan Toews. Toews isn’t scoring at his normal clip, but he still provides entire defense at the forward spot and is one of the best two way players in all of hockey. It will be interesting to see Eichel try to create space for himself against such a suffocating player.

Advice

Chicago’s losing stops now. The Sabres and their 7-7-5 record on the road are just what the doctor ordered for the Blackhawks. Expect a blowout and take Chi-Town on the money line and the spread.

Pick

Chicago
6
Buffalo
2

Detroit Red Wings at LA Kings

The Lines

Moneyline

  • Detroit (+170) at LA (-210)

Spread

  • Detroit +1.5 (-170) at LA -1.5 (+140)

Total – Over/Under

  • 5 (-120 over, -105 under)

A day after being shutout by the Ducks the low-scoring Red Wings now have to travel to LA to take on the Kings. The travel itself isn’t far, but the emotional drain may be. Detroit has now played in back to back games where they’ve either been heartbroken in overtime or crushed the entire contest, and now must try and redeem themselves against a strong Kings team.

LA has been inconsistent all year despite their depth of talent, but they have won two in a row including an impressive 2-1 road victory over the very difficult San Jose Sharks. While we would like to tell Kings fans that the recent surge has been a team effort, it really boils down to the same guy who’s been doing it all year for LA: Jeff Carter.

Carter scored a goal and an assist in the latest 2-1 win and now has seven goals and nine points in his last seven games. His shots are up to 128 on the season and 21 have them have turned into goals meaning he trails only Sidney Crosby for the lead league. Anze Kopitar and the rest of the Kings forwards owe this guy a dinner.

Detroit would love for a player as dominant as Jeff Carter, but all they have is 36-year-old Henrik Zetterberg trying to carry this team on his own, with poor results. He leads the team in points with 28 but with Thomas Vanek being the next highest scorer at 21 you can easily see how difficult it’s been for Detroit to score.

They rank 24th in the NHL with 2.45 goals a game but help may slowly be on the way. Rookie Anthony Mantha has been heating up as of late with five goals in six games including two against the Leafs. Detroit hopes he’s the spark they’ve been looking for to try and salvage their season.

Key Matchup

Jeff Carter against the Red Wing’s D. With Niklas Kronwal, Mike Green and Brendan Smith all dealing with injuries it’s going to be difficult for Detroit to stop one of the best goal scorers in the league, not to mention the rest of his teammates.

Advice

Detroit is too injured and drained to put up much of a fight in this contest so we recommend the moneyline and the spread in what should be a big LA victory.

Pick

LA
4
Detroit
1

Minnesota Wild at San Jose Sharks

The Lines

Moneyline

  • Minnesota (+110) at San Jose (-140)

Spread

  • Minnesota  +1.5 (-260) at San Jose -1.5 (+210)

Total – Over/Under

  • 5 (-110 over, -120 under)

Our last game of the night also happens to be one of the best. The second best team in the Central Division takes on the best team in the Pacific in a huge Western Conference battle of two very similar teams.

It feels like we haven’t checked in with Minnesota in forever, and that’s because we haven’t. The Wild have been off since their epic New Year’s Eve loss to the Blue Jackets and with all their rest will be excited to jump back on the ice against a good Sharks team.

With all the hype surrounding just how good Columbus has been this year, some fans may forget that Minnesota was on a ten game win streak themselves before losing to the Jackets and are now still 9-1-0 in their last ten games.

They still have the second best defense in all of hockey, allowing just 2.11 goals a game and their penalty kill is humming along nicely at an 85.71 percent clip. An incredible five Minnesota player still sit in the top ten in plus/minus ratings with Ryan Suter leading the entire NHL at +26/

Devan Dubnyk still leads the league in goals against average with 1.75, save percentage at .941 and shutouts with 5 and is making a strong case for this year’s Vezina trophy. Simply put, the Wild are hard to score on, but so are the Sharks.

San Jose ranks just behind Minnesota in goals allowed per game at 2.16 and kill off 83.50 percent of their penalties. They have one of the deepest defensive cores in hockey led by Brent Burns but took a huge loss last week when Marc-Edouard Vlasic went on the injured reserve after taking a puck to the face. The Sharks best stay at home defenseman is expected to be out until at least January 7th and that’s bad news for San Jose.

Key Matchup

Charlie Coyle against Joe Pavelski. The two top scoring forwards on each team will be asked to find the back of the net against two excellent defenses, and it could be tough. Look for a physical game with small scoring chances that only the best players can take advantage of.

Advice

San Jose is dynamite after losing at home this season and after a tough loss to the Kings on the road will want to prove their skill against a dominant Wild team. Take the Sharks on the moneyline but avoid the spread as the Wild will likely make it close.

Pick

San Jose
3
Minnesota
2
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