Saturday Night Hockey Picks April 29
It’s the first Saturday of the second round and the action is already at full tilt. While one road team tries to steal a second game another home team attempts to take a stranglehold on their series. One of the greatest rivalries between two players continues and we get to watch the emergence of arguably the best defenseman in the NHL.
This is what playoff hockey is all about, and the fact that you can make some money on it makes it that much better. As always, we’ll break down both games for you in depth so you can get the most out of your wager and enjoy playoff hockey the way it was meant to be. Let’s get to it!
- New York (-125) at Ottawa (+105)
Ottawa snagged game 1 of this series on a crazy goal by Erik Karlsson with less than 5 minutes to go in the third period. They say the series hasn’t swung one way or the other until you lose your first game on home ice. So, no this is not a must-win for New York but going down 0-2 doesn’t lead to too many series wins either. Both teams have had trouble scoring in the postseason so you can expect another tight-checking game between these two.
The Rangers are built to win right now. They have tons of veteran depth on their team and have made moves the last few seasons to make a run at the Cup. Their last performance was not great. They were out-shot 43-35 including 21 in the first period alone. Henrik Lundqvist was certainly the reason New York had any shot at a win on Thursday. Head coach Alain Vigneault will want his team to come out of the gate with a lot more urgency Saturday.
The Senators took the game to the Rangers on Thursday. They peppered Lundqvist all night. This didn’t happen by accident either. Getting a lot of shots on net was a point of emphasis for head coach Guy Boucher in preparation for their series. Despite having 4-points less than the Rangers in the regular season Ottawa gets the home-ice advantage in the series. That’s a good thing as they were 11-games above .500 at the Canadian Tire Center in the regular season.
New York had the 4th best offense in the league during the regular season but has struggled to score in the playoffs. They did wrap up their first round series in 6 games but only managed to score 14 times. A lot of that has to do with their terrible power play. They were 0-for-14 with the man advantage until they finally potted one in game 6. Ryan McDonagh’s tally in game 1 of this series was also on the power play but they went 1-for-4 for the game. Their secondary scoring has been effective with the likes of Mats Zuccarello who has 3 goals but their big guns need to be more productive. None more than Chris Kreider. He led the team with 28 goals in the regular season but has just 1 assist through 7 playoff games.
The Senators also have struggled to score in bunches this postseason. They netted 15 in their first round matchup but that included 4 games that went to overtime. Their offense was far less prolific during the regular season then New York so not as much fire power is to be expected. One major surprise is Bobby Ryan. He has 4 goals and 7 points. Being the highest paid player on the team you may think no big deal but Ryan had a terrible regular season. His 12 goals and 25 points were career lows in a 60+ game season. If Ryan continues to stay hot add the likes of Mike Hoffman and Kyle Turris to the goal scoring mix and Ottawa may be ready for a deep run.
The Rangers have had a stifling defense in the postseason thus far. They allowed just 11 goals in their first round matchup. That’s the fewest by any Habs team in a 6-game series ever. Their defense was solid throughout the regular season ranked 12th in the NHL but the big difference has been the play of their goalie in the playoffs. Certainly giving up 43 shots is not a sign of great defensive scheming but Ottawa had a lot of chances to the outside in the 2nd and 3rd period so the shot totals were a bit inflated. They rely heavily on Ryan McDonagh the 6-year veteran led the team with over 28 minutes on the ice in game 1. Dan Girardi was next with just 20:31 of ice time. McDonagh is the most important player not named Lundqvist on the team as he is the backbone of the defense.
The Senators held Boston to just 12 goals in round 1. More importantly they held Brad Marchand in check. He scored 40 this season but managed just 1 goal and 4 points against Ottawa. The Rangers don’t have nearly as dynamic a player as Marchand. A top-10 defense in the regular season, Guy Boucher had his team thinking defense-first throughout the year. They too rely heavily on a single defenseman. Erik Karlsson saw 28:54 of ice-time. That’s 7 more minutes than anyone else he of course added the game winner. Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci too have played big roles as the Senators have had an issue with the injury bug in the playoffs.
What can you say about Henrik Lundqvist this postseason? He has a 1.75 GAA and outplayed Carey Price in round 1 someone who many consider to be the best goalie in the world. What’s more impressive is the volume of saves. He’s stopped an average of 33.7 shots a game. That’s a lot higher than you’d expect in the tight-checking playoffs. He almost stole game 1 for New York and when he’s hot, he’s really tough to beat.
Craig Anderson had a solid 1st round as well. He has a slightly higher GAA at 1.81 but has had to make an average of 10-less saves a night than Lundqvist. That’s no fault of his own though and Anderson has been solid when called upon. Considering the family issues Anderson has been dealing with he’s been playing quite inspiring hockey and is looking better than at any point in his career.
Chris Kreider against Mark Stone
Both of these players have struggled to pitch in with a lot of production in the postseason. Kreider has been really disappointing thus far and needs to get going if the Rangers are going to mover forward in the playoffs. Stone has just 2 points in the playoffs and the 22-goal scorer in the regular season is the type of secondary offense Ottawa needs to go with the red-hot Bobby Ryan.
Even with a loss, there would be no need to panic for New York. The problem is though they were the best road-team in the league this year at 27-12-2. They haven’t been nearly as good at home so they will want to pick one off in Ottawa before they head back to MSG. If it weren’t for an odd goal late by Karlsson this game may have ended differently. I think the Rangers get this one.
- Pittsburgh (+130) at Washington (-150)
This was the series every wanted to see. Caps v. Pens. Crosby v. Ovechkin. Game 1 went how a lot of playoff games between these two go. The Penguins come away with the win and Sidney Crosby was a huge difference maker. There’s a lot of hockey still to play but Washington can’t lose the first two games at home. They are a Stanley Cup or bust team and already had a scare via the Maple Leafs in round 1. That series went 6 but the Capitals needed overtime in 5 different games to eventually move onto the second round. Pittsburgh is no young, up and coming Leaf team. They are deep, talented and of course the defending champs.
Pittsburgh rolled through the first round. They took out the Blue Jackets in 5 and looked much the best in the series. They had a goaltending injury before the puck dropped for game 1 but Marc-Andre Fleury has been good enough when needed. When this team gets going on offense they are tough to stop so the Capitals will want to avoid giving up another 2-0 lead in game 2 to the Pens.
Washington is known for its inability to get the job done in the playoffs. Perhaps one of the most surprising facts in all of hockey is that Ovechkin has never made it past the 2nd round. The Capitals have won President’s Trophies before and it hasn’t turned into a Stanley Cup. They went all-in when they acquired Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline and have to take the next step in the postseason. They have many pieces set to leave to free agency this offseason so this may very well be their best shot at a Cup.
When it comes to offenses you couldn’t have a better matchup. The Caps were ranked 3rd in the NHL during the regular season. They have tons of prolific goal scorers. Names like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie to name a few. Those guys have shown up in the postseason as well. Ovechkin has 4 goals including one in game 1. Oshie has 3 goals and 8 points and Backstrom 2 goals and 6 points. They went 5-for-17 on the power play in round 1. They have the ability to win multiple ways. They can keep up with high-scoring teams or win a tight-checking 2-1 affair. If the big guns keep rolling then the Capitals should be able to keep pace with the Penguins.
Pittsburgh was the number 1 offense in the NHL during the regular and have brought that mindset into the playoffs. They are so deep on offense. The have players like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Malkin has 11 points tops in the league. Crosby has 9 and Kessel 8 and remember, they’ve only played 6 games. What’s more amazing, however, is their depth scoring. Every year someone steps-up for the Pens and this season it’s Jake Guentzel. He has taken full advantage of playing on a line with Sidney Crosby and leads the team with 5-goals. They were 5-for-15 in round 1 on the power play and Washington has to stay out of the penalty box.
Washington had the best defense in the league during the regular season. The Maple Leafs managed 16 goals in 6 games against the Caps in round 1. That in itself isn’t great but their final 2 wins against Toronto were 2-1 victories where they played tight-defense. They don’t have the workhorse defenseman playing 25+ minutes a game so they rely on a committee to get the job done. That was fine during the regular season but when you have the likes of the aforementioned Penguin players coming at you for 2-weeks straight it is very tough to keep them in check.
The Penguins are a defense-second minded team with a doubt. They are okay with giving up some quality chances in their own zone in order to allow for their offense to get going. They have allowed 13 goals in their last 4 games and have given up an average of 38 shots a night in the playoffs. They too lack a workhorse on defense. That job would have gone to Kris Letang but he is lost for the season. They do have a solid defensive core who were there last season when they won the Cup. Justin Schultz has stepped up in Letang’s absence. He leads the team with an average of 21:03 of ice time a game.
Marc-Andre Fleury was called upon at the last minute for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray went down before game 1 and Fleury has been adequate thus far. His 2.43 GAA is exactly sterling but he’s lost just one game. The Penguins keep him busy in net as seen in his .934 save percentage despite the high GAA. He wasn’t supposed to lead this team in the postseason but he has the net and he’s won a cup as the starter.
Brayden Holtby may be the best goalie in the NHL. Certainly, Carey Price may have something to say about that but there’s a decent chance Holtby will be a back-to-back Vezina winner. He hasn’t been Vezina-like so far in the playoffs with a 2.46 GAA and surrendering 19 goals. He did win 3 games in OT against the Leafs so he knows how to make the big saves late in games.
Sidney Crosby against Alex Ovechkin
In the end, the series may not be decided by these two but they are the most important. Crosby has gotten the better of Ovechkin in the playoffs over the years and did so again in game 1. His 2 goals in under a minute got Pittsburgh going and they never looked back. They both have 4 goals but Crosby makes the players around him better as seen with Guentzel. Ovechkin is a prolific scorer but can be shut down in the postseason.
There is no way the Capitals can go down 2-0 in this series. It is as much of a must-win game as you can get in a game 2. Washington needs to get the first goal and carry the momentum forward. If they get down again, this may be a short series.