Saturday Night Hockey Pick for May 13th
Well that was fun wasn’t it? The first game of the Western Conference Finals went to overtime last night with the Nashville Predators again pulling out all the stops to grab a huge Game 1 win. We told you to take the road team in that game and hopefully the risk paid off for you. Now it’s time for the Eastern Conference Finals to try and live up to the excitement of the West and with the way both of these teams have been playing it shouldn’t be too hard.
Not many people would have predicted this matchup but now that it’s here all we can do is try and make some money off it. There’s always an opportunity to place a solid bet and as always we’re here to help you try and find it. Let’s get to it!
- Ottawa at Pittsburgh
When the puck dropped on the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs not a lot of people would have had this matchup in the Eastern Conference Final. Sure, the Penguins are the defending champions and have been full marks in their defense. They had however, lost their number one defenseman and number one goalie before the start of the post season. The Senators too are no stranger to injuries with plenty of players missing time. They have been less flamboyant in their run to the Eastern Conference Final but have been in control of a lot of their wins.
Pittsburgh is looking to accomplish something that hasn’t been done since the 1997 and 1998 seasons. That is to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. The Pens have been through a lot thus far in the playoffs. They lost Matt Murray on day one. Their captain missed time due to a concussion in round 2. They blew two series close-out chances against the Capitals and both those games were ugly losses. However, the battle tested Penguins lineup is here and looking to take another step towards the Cup.
The Senators find themselves in the Conference final after two hard-fought 6 game series with the Bruins and Rangers. In both, they were considered by many to be the underdog even though they had home-ice advantage. It’s certainly been a team effort for Ottawa. Other than the superb play from Erik Karlsson no one jumps off the page as a Conn Smythe nominee. Head coach Guy Boucher has them playing very organized on both sides of the puck and Craig Anderson has been solid in net.
The Penguins offense is absolutely stacked. They brought their number 1 offense from the regular season and continued their torrid pace in the postseason. They averaged a whopping 4.3 goals a game through their first 7 playoff games. Their production has somewhat disappeared in their last 5. They have just 11 goals over that stretch going 2-3. The big names have been solid. Evgeni Malkin leads the playoffs with 18 points. Sidney Crosby has 14 and Phil Kessel 13. In all, 4 Penguins are in the top-8 in playoff scoring. The other is a surprise contributor, Jake Guentzel. Playing in his first postseason Guentzel has taken advantage of being alongside Sidney Crosby. He has a playoff leading 9 goals for Pittsburgh. When this group gets going, they are tough to keep up with.
The household names certainly aren’t present on the Senators. Erik Karlsson is a superstar but also a defenseman and yet he leads the club in scoring with 13 points. No one else on the roster has double digits in points. The trio of Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone led the way in the regular season with a combined 75 goals and 170 points. In these playoffs, they have just 11 goals and 19 points. That production doesn’t quite add up and they will have to be better against the Pens. Either way, you can’t expect too much from an Ottawa offense that was 22nd in the NHL this season.
The Penguins haven’t been all that solid on the defensive side of the puck in 2016-17. They owned the 17th ranked defense in the regular season and it’s been much of the same in the playoffs. Pittsburgh has been outshot in all but one of their playoff games. That usually is a recipe for disaster but when you can score like the Pens can it’s okay. They did see what happens when their offense falls asleep however, in games 5 and 6 of round two. They gave up 9 goals in those two games and weren’t able to get things going offensively. Luckily for Pittsburgh they were much better in game 7. They got their first shut out of the playoffs with a 2-0 win. They’ll continue to get the job done by a committee. None of their top-6 defenseman average more than 21 minutes a game. On the flip side, they all average at least 18 minutes.
Ottawa does have a workhorse defenseman they rely on heavily. That man is perennial Norris Trophy candidate Erik Karlsson. Despite playing with a fractured heel he is averaging an amazing 28:57 and is a solid +8. Having a dependable d-man out there for almost half of the game is a huge bonus. The rest of their core have been decent especially Dion Phaneuf. He has an even +- rating in 24+ minutes a night. Their top-10 defense from the regular season wasn’t great in round 2. They gave up 20 goals in the six games. They surrendered four or more in four of those outings.
Neither Fleury or Anderson have numbers that jump of the page in these playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury owns a mediocre 2.55 GAA but a solid .927 save percentage. As mentioned the Penguins keep him busy he faces over 35 shots a night. He was spectacular when they needed him most. He shut-out the Caps in game 7 stopping all 29 shots he faced.
Craig Anderson has a slightly better 2.49 GAA in the postseason. That’s well above his 2.28 GAA from the regular season. His save percentage is rather pedestrian as well at .914. In the end, the playoffs are about wins and Anderson is 8-4. He’s 5-1 in overtime and 7-2 in one goal games. Anderson has made the key saves late in games for his team to secure close victories.
Evgeni Malkin against Dion Phaneuf. Malkin has been the best player in the postseason at least from an offensive perspective. His 18 points are the most in the playoffs. Five of those are goals and seven of them are on the Penguins potent powerplay. With Karlsson likely guarding Crosby’s line Phaneuf will have Malkin’s line. It’s by far the toughest test he.will have seen in the 2017 playoffs. He needs to contain the Pens second unit if Ottawa is to advance.
Ottawa is trying to snap a 23-year streak of no Canadian teams winning a cup. They also have just one cup final appearance since their return to the NHL in the early 90s. All the experience in big games goes to Pittsburgh and I think they got their scare against Washington in games 5 and 6. They will be ready for this one and make a big statement early in the series. The Penguins just have too much firepower to make this a long series. Take Pittsburgh in Game 1 and to win this series in five games.