Capitals favored over Wild, Blackhawks on latest Stanley Cup odds

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When it comes to Stanley Cup futures, understanding the distinction between being skilled enough and strong enough is important.

At the two-thirds mark of the regular season, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are atop both the standings and the 2017 Stanley Cup futures board. The Capitals are the +550 favorite at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Goaltending likely isn’t going to be stumbling block for Washington, since goalie Braden Holtby is an all-star. However, teams built around a scoring winger such as Ovechkin often don’t get far.

Also of note, the team with the best regular-season record has won the Stanley Cup only four of 19 times in years when the NHL played an 82-game season. Only one of those instances has occurred during the salary cap era, which began in 2005-06.

The Minnesota Wild, the Western Conference leader, are listed at +700, and the time might be now to back them before their value drops. Minnesota might be better built for the playoffs than Washington with their top-two center-ice tandem of rejuvenated veteran Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu.

The Wild have one of the deepest forward groups in the league and could sail through the Central Division portion of the playoffs, given that the Chicago Blackhawks (+750) and St. Louis Blues (+3300) are underachieving.

No team has gone back-to-back during the cap era, but with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the middle, the Pittsburgh Penguins (+1000) will be heard from in the postseason. The Penguins also have a very good price at this point.

While there hasn’t been a repeat in nearly two decades, one deep playoff run does tend to begat another. Last season’s runner-up, the San Jose Sharks (+1400), could go deep again, especially with Brent Burns as their workhorse shutdown defenseman.

The Montreal Canadiens (+1400) are the highest Canadian team on the board. The Habs have regressed since they won 13 of their first 15 games this season. They rate a strong chance of advancing out of the Atlantic Division, where the second- and third-place teams consist of the overachieving, goalie-dependent Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have extraordinary young talent with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner but are probably too inexperienced to go deep this season.

Three of the last eight champions, including the 2016 Penguins, made a coaching change during the season. That means the way-off-the-board pick would be the Boston Bruins (+4000). Boston fired coach Claude Julien this week and replaced him with Bruce Cassidy. Their chances of making the playoffs were trending upward at the time of the coaching change and all-star goalie Tuukka Rask can be a difference-maker.

Predators take 2-1 lead into Game 4 vs. Ducks as clear betting favorites

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As great as their record at home in the playoffs is, the Nashville Predators also consistently take care of business when installed as a big favorite, be it home or away.

The Predators are -140 betting favorites against the +120 underdog Anaheim Ducks with a five-goal total in their Game 4 matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Nashville is 10-0 straight-up in its last 10 home playoff games and the OddsShark NHL Database also reveals that the team is 12-3 in their last 15 games as favorite of -135 to -500 on the moneyline. Eight of the last nine games within that sample have gone under. Nashville is also 5-2 SU in its last seven home games against Anaheim, including a win on Tuesday that gave it a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Final.

Anaheim, who is 13-7 overall in its last 20 games, faces a virtual must-win situation. The Ducks will need to do a better job screening and obscuring the sight lines of Predators goalie Pekka Rinne than they did during Game 3. The trend in the series has been that Anaheim, whose forward corps is led by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg, has been getting fewer shots on goal and fewer shot attempts than Nashville. Perry scored in Game 3, but had only two total shots.

John Gibson will start in goal for Anaheim, which will be missing Kevin Bieksa, Patrick Eaves and Logan Shaw due to injuries.

Nashville, which is 12-8 overall in its last 20 games, might well be the smart-money choice to win the Stanley Cup even though they had the fewest points in the regular season of any playoff team.

The Predators have a deep cadre of offensively astute defensemen in Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban. During Game 3 on Tuesday, the Predators’ defensemen took more shots on goal (21) than the entire Ducks team. Filip Forsberg has scored in all three games of the series and has a total of 13 shots on goal.

While the Predators seem to have all the momentum, Anaheim has lost back-to-back games only twice within its last 30 games overall.

The total has gone over in five of Anaheim’s last seven games on the road heading into the Game 4 matchup on Thursday. The total has gone under in nine of Nashville’s last 12 home games, with two pushes. Overall, the team scoring the first goal is 48-25 during the playoffs this year.

Pittsburgh Penguins Game 3 betting favorites facing the Senators in Ottawa

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Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins keep losing players without being any worse for wear, but a general assumption of that continuing could boost prices on the underdog Ottawa Senators.

The Penguins are a -130 moneyline favorite against the +110 underdog Senators with a 5-goal total in their Game 3 matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Over the last five seasons the Penguins are 7-4 straight-up in 11 games as a road favorite during the month of May, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. While some offensively gifted teams can get frustrated by the suffocating defensive tactics deployed in playoff hockey, the Penguins have had seven of their last nine games in May go UNDER and have managed to go 5-4 in those contests.

The Eastern Conference final is tied 1-1 heading into the Game 3 matchup, with the two teams having combined for a paltry four goals. Pittsburgh has also come away with injuries to D Justin Schultz (shoulder) and RW Bryan Rust (upper body). Ottawa could have LW Viktor Stalberg (lower body) back as it looks to generate more offense.

The Penguins, 13-7 in their last 20 games overall, did not score during the first two periods of either of the series’ first two games as they struggled to solve Ottawa’s 1-3-1 defensive alignment. It was not for lack of trying, as Crosby and Malkin’s respective lines generated a lot of shots and effectively played keepaway.

If Schultz is unable to play, Pittsburgh will be ever more reliant on D Olli Maatta to help create offensive rushes that negate Ottawa’s trapping techniques.

The Senators, 10-10 in their last 20 games overall, had just 29 even-strength shot attempts in Game 2, when they were shut out and barely tested Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. However, they are 6-3 in their last nine home games as an underdog of +110 or more on the moneyline.

The change of venue to the Canadian Tire Centre means Ottawa’s most reliable offensive players such as RW Bobby Ryan, C Kyle Turris and C Jean-Gabriel Pageau will have more favorable line matchups. And, of course, Ottawa has an X-factor with playmaking defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Ottawa is 9-1 over its last 10 home games against Metropolitan Division teams, but trends such as that are hard to sustain in the parity-driven NHL. The total has gone UNDER in these teams’ last four meetings.