Canada the clear favorite on World Cup of Hockey odds, USA trails

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Team Canada is the chalk pick on the World Cup of Hockey futures board, but the field has been shuffled ahead of the tournament’s first games in Toronto on Saturday.

Canada, which produces roughly half of all NHL players, has won eight of the 12 Olympic and major international best-on-best tournaments that have been held since 1976. No other nation has won more than once. With stars such as Sidney Crosby and Drew Doughty, Canada is listed at -105 to win the World Cup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Among a Group A that also consists of Russia (+500), the United States (+600) and the Czech Republic (+2500), Canada should be able to get the top-two finish that ensures a semifinal berth; website PredictionMachine.com has Canada winning the tournament in just under 40 percent of its simulations.

Among the teams in Group A with Canada, Russia and the Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin is a mysterious second favorite. The nation’s focus in international hockey is usually on the world championship, which conflicts with the Stanley Cup playoffs. Russia has not medalled in the last three Olympic hockey tournaments.

Team USA is counting on two-way players such as Ryan Kesler to dominate possession and shut down opponents. Reigning NHL MVP and scoring champion Patrick Kane is on hand as the marquee player, but the Americans will need Stanley Cup-winning goalie Jonathan Quick to be great.

The Czech Republic always seems to come into international tournaments – be it the Olympics, worlds, or the Christmastime world junior championship – overshadowed. If goalie Michal Neuvirth is in peak form, they have a chance to surprise a few teams.

The movement on the board is in Group B. Team North America is listed at +1200, down from +2000 in July. The team of under-23 talents such as Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Aaron Ekblad and Nathan MacKinnon scored 13 goals in three pre-competition games, even though McDavid was not on the scoresheet.

Sweden, which typically contends thanks to having New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, is listed at +600. Finland’s prop has come down to +1100, from +1400 in July. Nashville Predators G Pekka Rinne has the potential to steal games. Finland was the bronze medallist in the last two Olympics. The group also includes Team Europe at +3300.

The top two teams in each group advance to the cross-over semifinals on September 24 and 25. The best-of-three final begins September 27.

Penguins heavy favorites against Senators for Thursday’s Game 7 matchup

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Betting against Sidney Crosby in a do-or-done game takes some guts, since the Pittsburgh Penguins’ history shows they find a way when their backs are against the wall.

With a spot in the Stanley Cup final at stake, the Penguins are a -200 moneyline favorite against the +170 underdog Ottawa Senators with a five-goal total for Thursday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The winner moves on to the Stanley Cup final against the Nashville Predators.

This season, Pittsburgh is 14-1 in 15 games when it was a favorite of -200 to -500 on the moneyline, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. They are also 14-3 in their last 17 home games against Ottawa, but one big reason this series has required Game 7 is that the Penguins are 1-7 on the puckline in their last eight games against the Senators.

It’s no secret that Ottawa, which is 27-21-2 on the road this season and 35-28-5 as the underdog, will rely on goalie Craig Anderson (45 saves in Game 6) and their execution of a 1-3-1 neutral zone trap. The Senators have a strong defense with Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci, who have helped Ottawa stay in most games..

Ottawa will try to be opportunistic and hope that the likes of RW Bobby Ryan or C Kyle Turris can produce timely goals. Ottawa has been a moneyline underdog of +150 or more nine times since the NHL all-star break. They are 4-5 in those matchups.

Pittsburgh is 37-7-6 at home this season, as well as 51-17-11 as a favorite. They are 2-0 in Game 7s under head coach Mike Sullivan (both on the road), and have outplayed Ottawa over each of the last three games.

The presence and talent of Crosby and C Evgeni Malkin might be the hole cards that give the Penguins the ability to offset several key injuries. Defenseman Justin Schultz (upper body), defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (upper body), RW Patrik Hornqvist (upper body) and RW Tom Kuhnhackl (lower body) could all miss the game on Thursday.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray has allowed only three even-strength goals in three games since taking over as the starter. The total has gone under in six of Ottawa’s last nine road games against Pittsburgh.

If Pittsburgh wins, it will be the first time the franchise has won Game 7 of a series at home after losing Game 6 on the road. Ottawa is also out to buck a historical trend as it is 0-5 all-time in Game 7s, home and away. The last was in 2012.

NHL Conference Final Odds: Penguins, Predators Series Betting Favorites

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In the wake of their latest humbling of the Washington Capitals, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are seen by oddsmakers as capable of repeating as the Stanley Cup champions.

The Penguins are listed at +175 on the latest odds to win the Stanley Cup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Anaheim Ducks (+250) and Nashville Predators (+300), the opponents in the Western Conference final, are second and third on the board, while the Ottawa Senators (+450) draw in as the darkhorse.

No team has repeated as champions since the NHL’s salary-cap era began in 2005. Pittsburgh is also allowing 35.3 shots per game in the playoffs, which seems a tad high for a championship team. A club with speed and an agile, mobile defense corps – such as Nashville with Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban – would match up well with the Penguins.

Nashville also hails from the Central Division, which has produced four of the NHL’s last nine champions.

Nashville (-125) is a slight favorite against Anaheim (+105) on the NHL series prices for the Western Conference final, which begins at Anaheim on Friday. Although the Predators are in their first conference final, they come in with one of the deepest lineups, with C Ryan Johansen and RW Viktor Arvidsson among the dangerous players on a team that does offense by committee.

Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Nashville G Pekka Rinne has also been much more consistent than Anaheim’s 24-year-old John Gibson.

Anaheim, as long as Ryan Getzlaf isn’t neutralized, is a strong veteran team. They did have a draining seven-game series in the second round against the Edmonton Oilers where the attrition included losing depth forwards Patrick Eaves and Logan Shaw.

The fact that the total has gone over in six of the Ducks’ last nine games isn’t encouraging. The total has gone over in seven of Nashville’s last 10 road games against Anaheim, with two pushes. The Ducks are listed as small -115 home favorites for Game 1 on Friday.

In the Eastern Conference series price, Pittsburgh (-300) is a massive favorite against Ottawa (+250). The combo of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin (who is the +500 favorite on the Conn Smythe Trophy odds) and Matt Cullen, man-for-man, surpasses Ottawa’s top centers, Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Pittsburgh, which is 9-1 at home against Ottawa over the last five seasons according to the OddsShark NHL Database, will need a strong offense to cover up for its suspect defense.

It might be tempting to take Ottawa and its dynamic defenseman Erik Karlsson in the series just because their price is so inviting. Ottawa has stymied two opponents by forcing teams to get through their 1-3-1 trap before testing steady goalie Craig Anderson, but frustrating a team with as much playoff experience as Pittsburgh is a tall task.