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Blackhawks enter season as favorites on Stanley Cup odds

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Since the NHL is a salary-cap league which is structured to produce parity, it’s surprising that the Chicago Blackhawks have such a gap over the field on the odds to win the Stanley Cup in the season ahead.

The Blackhawks, who won the title in the two previous odd-numbered seasons (2013 and 2015) are listed at +750 to capture the Cup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins are listed at +1000, with their Eastern Conference rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, also listed at +1000.

Chicago GM Stan Bowman excels at finding the right parts to complement C Jonathan Toews, RW Patrick Kane and G Corey Crawford. The Blackhawks should be strong, but come playoff time they could have a gauntlet in the Central Division with the Dallas Stars (+1200), St. Louis Blues (+1400) and Nashville Predators (+1600).

Dallas was indomitable in the regular season in 2015/16. The Stars have an excellent chance to deal for a good goalie, since many teams will be looking to avoid losing one for nothing in next summer’s Las Vegas expansion draft. The Stars offer more value than Chicago. Nashville also offers value after adding superstar D P.K. Subban to a core group that includes dangerous RW Filip Forsberg.

Among the three Eastern heavyweights, Sidney Crosby’s Penguins and Alexander Ovechkin’s Capitals are far and away the class of the Metropolitan Division.

Pittsburgh returns most of its championship team, but will have to decide how it goes forward in goal after veteran Marc-Andre Fleury was replaced by 22-year-old Matt Murray for their Cup run. The Penguins’ biggest concern entering the season, however, is the health of captain Crosby, who suffered a concussion late last week and has no timetable to return to the ice. That news, released Monday afternoon, could cause a dip in Pittsburgh’s title odds.

Washington’s window to win is open, and perhaps they can repeat the 2016 San Jose Sharks’ journey as the playoff underachiever that has a breakthrough. Washington’s Braden Holtby is also a strong goalie.

Tampa Bay, led by D Victor Hedman and C Steven Stamkos, has 25 postseason wins over the last two seasons. The Lightning are deep up front and are projected to finish atop the Atlantic Divison standings according to website PredictionMachine.com.

The Florida Panthers (+1600) will be without LW Jonathan Huberdeau (leg) for 3-4 months. That will likely affect Florida’s chance to have home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

No Canadian team made the 2016 playoffs, but the Montreal Canadiens (+2500) offer the most bounce-back potential. Franchise goalie Carey Price is fully healed from a knee injury and cornerstone D Shea Weber came back in the Subban trade. A team from north of the border has not hoisted the Stanley Cup since Montreal did it in 1993.

Penguins betting favorites to repeat as Stanley Cup champions

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Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins will have to keep being opportunistic – against probably the best defense and goalie combo they have seen in the playoffs – in order to repeat as the Stanley Cup champion.

In series prices for the Stanley Cup final the Penguins are the -155 favorite against the +135 underdog Nashville Predators at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Penguins, who are 7-0 in playoff series since Mike Sullivan became their coach midway through last season, are attempting to become the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back Cups.

Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh at Monday. For Game 1, Pittsburgh is a -165 moneyline favorite against the +145 underdog Predators with a 5.5-goal total.

The Predators, who are 16-13-2 as an underdog, have been the stingiest team during the playoffs (1.81 goals per game). Goalie Pekka Rinne has raised his level of play while being supported by a defense with a top four of Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban, who help Nashville control possession and set the pace. Rinne is remarkably resilient; he has allowed exactly one goal in each of Nashville’s last four games after a defeat.

Nashville comes in trailing some significant injuries, with C Ryan Johansen (compartment syndrome) done for the year. However, C Mike Fisher (undisclosed) is expected back for Game 1 and young C Colton Sissons has done a fine job covering for Johansen. Winger Filip Forsberg comes into this series on a seven-game point streak.

The Penguins, who are 52-17-11 as a favorite this season, will be facing a major adjustment in going from the Ottawa Senators’ conservative defensive style in their previous round to Nashville’s high-paced game. However, with offensive linchpins such as Crosby and C Evgeni Malkin and their supporting cast that includes LW Conor Sheary, RW Jake Guentzel and RW Phil Kessel, the Penguins are very efficient offensively.

The Penguins have the highest team shooting percentage (9.6%) during the playoffs. Granted, they’re less likely to outshoot the Predators than the Senators. Crosby’s line will also have to outwork Subban and Ekholm, who have shut down a string of elite centers during the playoffs.

Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray has been solid since getting the No. 1 job back four games ago. The Penguins aren’t as deep defensively as the Predators, allowing 2.21 goals per game in the playoffs, but D Justin Schultz has provided a boost since getting healthy.

The total has gone over in just six of Nashville’s last 20 playoff games with seven pushes, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. The total has gone over in eight of Pittsburgh’s last 20 playoff games, with two pushes.

 

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.