Picks and Preview for NHL Games on March 11th
The playoffs are right around the corner and as the races heat up in both conferences points are becoming more and more important. In the East 4 teams are within the 6 points of the final wildcard spot and in the West, we have 3 teams within the same amount of points of that final spot.
Very little is settled up and down the standings so being on either end of a streak could change your team’s post season aspirations dramatically. There are 11 games in the NHL Saturday so let’s get down to business!
- Capitals (-120) at Kings (EVEN)
Two teams that you would have thought would be Cup contenders in the Fall hook up in the nightcap Saturday. The big and heavy defensive minded Kings host the high-octane offense that is the Washington Capitals. The Caps know their fate, they are playing postseason hockey. They can even be relatively sure that they will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Kings on the other hand not so much. They sit 3 points behind the Blues and need to pile up the wins.
The Capitals are so well-rounded. Yes, they have the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Bakstrom and now Kevin Shattenkirk to boost their offensive prowess but remember when I wrote defensive minded Kings? Well, Washington is tops in the league in goals against giving up just 2.1 a night. Everything seems to be clicking for the Caps before losing their last two they were 11-2-1 and running away from the field in the Eastern Conference.
The Kings need wins and they need them badly. If they get in though they are not a team you want to see in the first round of the playoffs. In fact, if they did get in I’d argue winning the West would be a detriment to whoever has the task to face the Kings remember they won the Cup as the 8th seed in 2011-12 and were 3rd in their division when they took home the biggest prize of the year in 2013-14. The Kings have no issue keeping opponents at bay with the 5th best defense but scoring has been an issue all season.
If I am taking one team to score a goal when there’s 2-minutes to go in a game, it’s the Washington Capitals. They are fast, deep and have an eye for the net. Led by Ovechkin some nights it seems the Caps score at will. They had an 11-game stretch in January where they scored 56 goals in 11 games that averages to just under 5.1 a night. They also have the 9th best power play which is actually surprising considering their talent but since adding Shattenkirk should be even better.
The Kings don’t score, they just don’t. As mentioned they put up about 2.1 a night and that’s a lot of pressure on your goaltender. Jeff Carter has been great with 30 goals but has been slowed as of late and their biggest issue has been Anze Kopitar. The centreman has just 8 goals this year tied with Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez two defensemen. Kopitar has had less than 20 goals just once in his 10-year career that wasn’t a shorten season and that number was still 16 which he will come nowhere near this season.
The Capitals as stated already have been spectacular on defense. Their issue in year’s past has always been allowing too many goals to allow for their great scoring ability. However, under head coach Barry Trotz that has all changed with even Ovechkin becoming a bona fide two-way player.
Defense is the one thing the Kings does great and much of that is Drew Doughty. He’ll likely be considered for the Norris trophy again this year and he takes care of the back-end better than almost anyone in the NHL. They also boast the league’s 3rd best penalty kill which helps keep the goals per game so low.
This one is a tale of two studs. Brayden Holtby has had another fantastic year and may be on his way to another Vezina Trophy. He’s 3rd in wins, 1st in GAA at sub 2.00 and 5th in save percentage. Johnathan Quick had been injured of late but has been solid since his return. When the netminder is on he is one of the best in the league and will need to be against the Capitals.
Washington Alex Ovechkin v. Los Angeles Jeff Carter
It has been a down year for the Great 8 as down years go when you have 27 goals. However, he hasn’t needed to be so impactful with secondary scoring from Backstrom and T.J. Oshie among others. Carter, on the other hand, has had to be the superstar. He’s the only genuine threat at least this season for LA and if the Capitals get going he better have a few goals up his sleeve.
The Kings need this one way more than the Capitals and they have been solid at home with 18 wins to 14 losses. I think Quick saves the day with a 40+ stop night and they win a tight low-scoring game.
- Flyers (+175) at Bruins (-210)
Both of these teams are right in the middle of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are locked in at 3rd in the Atlantic but hold just a 1 point lead over the Maple Leafs with Toronto holding a game in hand. Those Leafs just dropped the Flyers 4-2 Thursday.
The Bruins had a big shakeup 12 games ago by firing head coach Claude Julien. Since then they have won 9 of 12 and are one of the hottest teams in the league. Despite all of that thy still can’t be comfortable with their current situation. Their defense has been solid over the last month giving up more than 3 goals just 4 times since the 24th of January. Their goaltending has been fantastic as well, the dup of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have combined for a GAA just over 2 in their last nine.
Time is running out on the Flyers and they need to make a run. A lot has gone wrong since they rattled off 10 in a row back in November and December and are on the outside looking in in the Eastern Conference. The trouble lies in the fact they haven’t received much goaltending. Whether it’s been Steve Mason at a GAA of 2.76 or recently Michal Neuvirth at 2.91 their 21st ranked offense just hasn’t been able to overcome the weak net minding this year.
Philadelphia Wayne Simmonds v. Boston Patrice Bergeron
Simmonds has been spectacular all season with 28 goals. 14 of those have come on the power play leading his team to a top-10 rank with the man advantage. When the Flyers are up a man they have been clicking so Bergeron who finds himself often centering the penalty kill will need to be at his best if the Bruins find themselves with a man in the penalty box. He’s also been contributing on offense as of late he has 28 points in his last 23 games.
Hard to see the Bruins slowing down here especially at home but the Flyers are desperate. The two teams have split their first two games so this should be a tight checking battle. If the Flyers can get some goaltending, I’ll give them the edge for the upset.
- Predators (+135) at Sharks (-155)
As the standings sit now these two wouldn’t meet up until possibly the second round however, if the Predators slide back into the wildcard spot this definitely is a first round possibility. These were considered to be favorites in the pre-season out of the West and will see each other one more time in two weeks.
San Jose has played a lot of hockey since the start of last season. They had their run to the finals last year and now are looking to make another run in 2017. You’d think that would begin to wear on a team but it hasn’t for the Sharks. They are 7-1-2 in their last 10, lead the Pacific conference and are right behind the Wild for tops in the Western Conference. With the likes of Thornton, Burns, Pavelski and Marleau you’d expect the Sharks to be prolific on offense but what perhaps is most surprising is they are 3rd in goals against giving up just 2.3 a night. This team is well rounded and deep.
You don’t hear a lot about the Predators playing in the stacked Western Conference can do that to you but they quietly have had a solid year. Unfortunately, March hasn’t been kind to them as they are winless this month. Their last two losses were in the shootout and overtime respectively but they can’t afford a bad run this late in the season. Usually a sound defensive side they have struggled to keep the puck out their net especially when down a man so they will have to stay out of the box against the aforementioned Sharks deep offense.
Nashville Pekka Rinne v. San Jose Martin Jones
Rinne hasn’t been his Vezina-like self this season with a GAA of 2.55 and the predators have gone as he goes. In wins he has a 1.82 GAA in losses 3.31. The Preds need him to be solid down the stretch. Jones has been consistent all year. He’s top-5 in wins and top-10 in GAA and fresh off holding to high-flying Capitals to just 2 goals.
If this one was in Nashville I may be a little less confident but at 21-7-4 the Sharks are legit at home. Couple that with the Predators woeful 13-16-4 road record and this may be a blowout. The Sharks already won at home against these Predators 4-1 this year I like that score line again.
- Jackets (-150) at Sabres (+130)
These two teams battled Friday night as they wrap up a home and home. Columbus got the better of the Sabres with a late tally by Boone Jenner. It was another game that got away from Buffalo late who has seen this movie before over the past month. Not all is lost for Buffalo as they are 9 points back of a playoff spot but time is running out.
It has been quite a season for the Blue Jackets. Surprise scoring across the board has led them to a top seed heading into the playoffs. They certainly are well rounded 5th in goals for per game and 2nd in goals against. Nine players have double digits in goals led by Cam Atkinson’s breakout season with 30. They obviously haven’t been as good as their 16-game win streak back in December but have won 4 of their last 5.
This was supposed to be the year the Sabres took that next step. Losers of 8 of their last 9 has all but eliminated that story from playing out. Their defense hasn’t been good enough giving up 2.5 goals per game which is 22nd in the NHL but a pleasant surprise has been their power play clicking at 23.4% for 2nd in the league. Jack Eichel has lived up to his billing since returning from injury he has 45 points in 46 games this year unfortunately that ties him for tops on the team with 19 less games played.
Columbus Sergei Bobrovsky v. Buffalo Robin Lehner
What a return to form it’s been for Bobrovsky. He struggled all of last year but is back to his Vezina winning ways with a 2.05 GAA and 35 wins to go with it. Not so much for Lehner as he has a 2.65 GAA and given up a whopping 19 goals in his last five starts. He’ll need to better if they want the much needed two points.
It can’t get much worse in upstate New York, and playing the Blue Jackets won’t help. I don’t see the Sabres finding their stride in time this season and I doubt it starts here if they do.
- Leafs (-110) at Hurricanes (-110)
Before the season started you would have thought one of these teams would be in a race for a lottery pick and one on the edges of the playoffs, you just probably wouldn’t have thought it was Toronto looking to make the post season. That is the case however, the young Toronto squad is looking to take a huge step forward late this season.
The Leafs looked primed to take one of the three playoff spots in the Atlantic a few weeks ago, but a 5-game losing streak saddled those hopes. Nonetheless they are just 2 points back of Boston for third and 1 point behind the Islanders for the final wildcard spot. The offense has been clicking on the backs of the rookies Matthews, Marner and Nylander. Toronto is 6th in the league in goals per game and their power play is even better, it’s tops in the NHL. What has been an issue is holding a lead in third period. Toronto has lost 11 times when leading after two periods but have converted their last two games with third period leads.
The Hurricanes were right there in January but a 3-6-1 month of February made them sellers at the deadline. Cam Ward has come back down to Earth after a great start and has a mediocre 2.69 GAA. Also, they Canes can’t find the back of the net averaging just 2.5 goals a game. What has been great is their penalty kill at 8th in the league and if they find themselves down a man they’ll need to be great against Toronto.
Toronto Auston Matthews v. Carolina Sebastian Aho
In a year that didn’t include Matthews and Patrik Laine Sebastian Aho’s 20 goals would have in the Calder Trophy race for top rookie. He’s coming off a great night in New York where he spotted a pair of power play goals and added an assist. Matthews has been nothing short of fantastic for Toronto. Since his 4 goals opening night the rookie has been a leader in points while occupying the center ice position over 17 minutes a night.
There’s so much on the line for the Leafs and this is game they have to have. Frederik Andersen has been solid when called upon in net and they should get the two points in Raleigh.
- Flames (-105) at Jets (-115)
The Flames are red-hot at the right time winners of their last eight and are making a case for getting right out the wild card spot and into a secured berth via the top-3 in their division. While the Jets are unable to keep anything going. They win a pair, they lose a pair, they win three, they drop four. That type of play doesn’t get you into the post season.
Calgary does have that 8-game winning streak but they are also an impressive 13-2-1 in their last 16. Goaltending had been an issue earlier in the year but their big offseason acquisition Brian Elliott has finally lived up to his billing. Over that 16-game streak, he’s given up more than 3 goals just twice. It hasn’t hurt that Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have woken up. Since the All-Star break the duo has 16 and 14 points respectively in the 15 games.
Winnipeg’s issues have also been in net, but unfortunately for them, they haven’t figured it out. Neither Connor Hellebuyck, Michael Hutchison or Ondrej Pavelec have given head coach Paul Maurice much confidence and too often the Jets are pulling the pick out of their net. Their defense is 27th in the league and despite having a top-7 offense they are still 5 points out of the last playoff spot.
Calgary Dougie Hamilton v. Winnipeg Patrik Laine
What a season it’s been for rookie sensation Partrik Laine he leads all rookies in goals with 32 and points with 59. When he’s on the Jets offense is as prolific as it gets. Hamilton has been averaging almost 20 minutes a night on defense and is often out against the other team’s top guys. Saturday that should be Laine and he will need to shut down the winger if Calgary wants to keep its streak alive.
This all Canadian matchup should be a high scoring one. Calgary is probably the hottest team in the league and have been decent away from the Saddledome. The Jets haven’t been great at home 2 games below .500.
- Panthers (+130) at Lightning (-150)
This instate matchup has two teams looking to make a final push for a playoff spot. However, the two teams are going in different directions. Tampa’s season was all but finished just a month ago, but a nice run has them on the doorstep while a key injury in net has slowed down the Panthers.
The Lightning have gone 9-2-3 in their last 14 to put themselves back into the playoff picture. They now sit just 4 points behind the Islanders with 16 games to go. When Ben Bishop was dealt at the deadline to LA Andrei Vasilevskiy has been given the keys and he’s been solid. He has 1.44 GAA in his last 4 starts going 3-0-1. Tampa has vastly improved their defense over the last month and now are in the top half of the league in goals against. The power play as also been their forte clicking a 22.3% clip and 4th best in the NHL.
The Panthers are two points behind the Lightning and may have too many teams to climb to get to that final wild card spot. They are losers of 7 of their last 8 and just gave up a 7-spot to Minnesota Friday. James Reimer has been called upon in net as Roberto Luongo went down a week ago, and he hasn’t been able to live up to the task. Add that to their woeful offensive production and it doesn’t look good for the Panthers.
Florida Keith Yandle v. Tampa Bay Nikita Kucherov
Since Steven Stamkos went down for Tampa Kucherov has become the man for the Lightning. He has 66 points and a career high 30 goals. He’s been dynamite on the power play tallying 25 points 13 of those goals. He’ll be in tough against the league’s best penalty kill and Keith Yandle. The defensive stalwart will need to be at his best to stop the now potent Tampa offense.
Hard to go against a team like Tampa who look destined to get that final playoff especially knowing that superstar Steven Stamkos may only be a week or two away from returning. Florida does have a solid road record but I think it will too much on a back to back after giving up 7 to the Wild.
- Senators (-150) at Avalanche (+130)
Colorado is one of the few teams in the NHL who know and have known for a while what they will be doing in mid-April and it isn’t playing hockey. It’s been a tumultuous season for the Avalanche who are dead last in the league. Ottawa, on the other hand, is pressing the Canadiens for tops in the Atlantic as they have been red-hot for a better part of two months.
The Senators have had issue after issue this year but it hasn’t slowed them down. When Craig Anderson needed to step away to aid his wife Mike Condon came in and held them afloat. They’ve seen Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris all go down within days yet there they are 2nd in the Atlantic. Winners of 5 in a row Ottawa has been stellar on defense. Not just on that stretch but they have given up more than 3 goals once in their last 15 a great recipe for success.
As expected when you’re much the worst in the league, the Avalanche are last in goals for and goals against. No one has more than 15 goals and that includes a lineup with Nathan Mackinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene. They have won 2 in a row and if they get this W it will be their first 3 game win streak of the year. They are the only team officially eliminated from playoff contention and have just 10 wins all year at home.
Ottawa Craig Anderson v. Colorado Calvin Pickard
What a story it has been for Craig Anderson this season. He has been away from the team a couple of times to aid his wife in her battle with cancer and when he’s been between the pipes he’s been spectacular. His 2.24 GAA and .931 save percentage have led to 20-8-1 record and will be relied upon heavily down the stretch and into the postseason. As for Pickard, you can’t blame him for the Avs poor play but he hasn’t been great either with almost a 3.00 GAA, he has been in net however, for this two-game run.
When you’re bad you’re bad and the Avalanche are bad. The Senators however, are in a dog fight for a division title and some think can get out of the East this year. I have to think they get it done against the lowly Avs.
- Islanders (-105) at Blues (-115)
Two teams clinging to the final playoff spot in their respective conferences hook up in St. Louis. The Islanders were toast this season in last place a few months ago, but have been great since firing Jack Capuano and putting Doug Weight in charge. The Blues also fired their head coach and have responded well to their new bench boss.
The Islanders have gone 6-2-1 in their last nine all but one of those games started by Thomas Greiss. The netminder has been solid for New York of late and is a huge reason for their turnaround despite struggling at times Greiss has been of those goalies who makes the saves when they need it as oppose to making saves all the time. Another reason is their offense. Led by John Tavares and Anders Lee who have 25 goals apiece their offense ranks 8th in the league. They have been winning via filling the net lately but that’s a tough task to keep up especially when your power play is 26th in the league.
It’s been an odd season from the get-go for the Blues. They hired Mike Yeo to take over for Ken Hitchcock after the season and that of course happened much earlier than expected. Then they traded their top offensive defenseman in Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline despite still pushing for the playoffs. Well the moves seem to be working as the Blues are back into a playoff spot. Winners of three in a row but that was preceded by a 5-game losing streak which was preceded by a 6-game winning streak. Yes, the St. Louis season has been an enigma.
New York (I) John Tavares at St. Louis Alex Pietrangelo
The Islanders go as their captain does and Tavares has been better as of late. He has just 16 points in the 18 games since the All-Star break but in Islander wins he has 40 points and in losses he has 17. New York needs the face of their franchise to perform down the stretch. With Shattenkirk gone Pietrangelo has been tasked with more work. He now has more power play time as well as shutting down the top lines from opposing teams.
Such an important game and as often happens in games like these I see a possible 3-point night. St. Louis should have enough to win this one but don’t be surprise if you see a low-scoring, tight-checking game that’s settled after 60 minutes.
- Devils (-105) at Coyotes (-115)
Two teams who have not much left to play for square off in Arizona. The Devils and Coyotes have very similar seasons to look back on. They both will miss the playoffs for the 5th straight season and are both in for a lottery pick at second to last in their respective conferences.
New Jersey has always been a low-scoring team ever since their trap days of the 90’s. This year is no different at 29th the league scoring a poultry 2.2 goals a game what’s different is their defense. Surprisingly, they haven’t been able to keep the puck out of their net either giving up 2.8 goals a night good for 22nd in the NHL. Corey Schneider has struggled this season in net with 2.66 GAA couple that with their leading scorer at 43 points in Taylor Hall and it’s been a tough year in East Rutherford.
Arizona was hoping to take a step forward this year with youngsters like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Oliver Ekman-Larsson but it hasn’t worked out. They have given up way too many shots and Mike Smith as Mike Smith has been peppered in net night in and night out. That has led to a 29th ranking in goals against and not a lot to look forward in the desert.
New Jersey Taylor Hall v. Arizona Radim Vrbata
Hall has had a lackluster year one that will see career lows in production for a healthy season. Add that to the fact he’s watching his old team the Edmonton Oilers make a run with Connor McDavid at the helm. He’ll need to keep up with Vrbata who is having a nice season with 48 points and a lone bright spot for Arizona.
One of those games you may be better off avoiding as who knows what team shows up here but the Coyotes are a scrappy team. Being so young they are playing for jobs next year and would want to show the front office what they are capable of for 2017-18.
- Penguins (-175) at Canucks (+155)
On a Canadian west coast swing, the Penguins are coming off a great battle with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Pittsburgh got the better of that one Friday in a shootout. Vancouver has been middling all year and find themselves exactly where you don’t want to be, likely out of a playoff spot and nowhere near a high pick barring a draft lottery miracle.
The defending champs are primed for another run at Lord Stanley’s Cup. They have plotted their way long this season and will finish in a top-3 spot in their conference likely. Why are they so good? Well it’s their offense that keeps the wins piling up. They are so deep when it comes to scoring with nine different players with double digits in goals. Of course, that is led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with 34 and 31 goals respectively. Add that to a power play that sends out the likes of those two and Phil Kessel and Kris Letang and it’s a tough go to keep up every night.
As mentioned the Canucks are not completely out of it although they may want to be. They sit just 8 points out with 15 games to go so it’s not impossible but it’s unlikely. In this one their 28th ranked offense is in tough and their 20th ranked defense doesn’t help either. They have got points in 5 of their last 6 but are just 2-1-3 on that stretch not enough considering where they stand.
Pittsburgh Sidney Crosby v. Vancouver Ryan Miller
Connor McDavid added another goal to his point total last night so the Art Ross trophy is getting away from Sid the Kid. He does have 34 goals which leads the league and it just 59 games but the likes of Patrik Laine and even his team mate Malkin are knocking at the door for the Maurice Richard trophy. Ryan Miller will be busy Saturday and if the Canucks have a chance it will be because he stands on his head against the likes of Crosby.
It is a back to back for Pittsburgh but they have been so consistent I don’t see it as a problem. Plus they have a great duo in net in Matt Murray and Marc Andre-Fleury so no matter who is between the pipes they should have the advantage there too.