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.

USA Hockey, women’s players to meet Monday in Philadelphia

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USA Hockey and representatives of the women’s national team will meet Monday to discuss a wage dispute that could lead to players boycotting the upcoming world championships.

John Langel, a lawyer for the players, tells The Associated Press that they’ll meet with USA Hockey officials in Philadelphia two days before the scheduled start of training camp. Players announced Wednesday they’d boycott camp and the tournament unless significant progress is made in negotiations on what they hope is a four-year contract.

The International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship begins March 31 in Plymouth, Michigan. The U.S. is the defending champion and has won six of the past eight world championships.

USA Hockey and players traded barbs Friday over demands but agreed to meet to further discussions.

Players are seeking a deal that pays them outside the six-month Olympic period. USA Hockey has said it is not in the business of employing players but is still hoping the players picked for the world championships are on the ice when it begins.

Standout forward Hilary Knight, who is expected to attend the meeting after playing in the National Women’s Hockey League final Sunday, said Friday that it was her hope that USA Hockey would “reach out to our lawyers and present something that’s worth sitting down to the table for.”

After players called numbers released by USA Hockey “patently false,” fellow star Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said, “I just think they need to come to the table and let’s talk about it.”

Players have said USA Hockey pays them nothing outside the Olympic period and $1,000 a month for the six months leading up to the Games.

Knight, Lamoureux-Davidson and twin sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando, captain Meghan Duggan, Kacey Bellamy and Kendal Coyne are scheduled to take part in the meeting on the players’ side. A USA Hockey spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for who will represent the organization at the meeting Monday.

 

Crosby, Penguins road betting favorites at Flyers for Wednesday night

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Despite multiple injuries on defense, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins will try to maintain their mastery of Metropolitan Division opponents when they take on the rival Philadelphia Flyers on the road on Wednesday night.

Although they are just coming back from a road trip through western Canada, the Penguins are a -150 betting favorite against the +120 underdog Flyers with a 5.5-goal total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Pittsburgh is 9-3 straight-up over its last 12 games against fellow Metropolitan clubs, according to the OddsShark NHL Database, as well as 9-4 as a road favorite in the month of March over the last five seasons.

The Penguins are 43-16-9 overall, including 7-3 across their last 10 games. Pittsburgh has managed to close the gap on the Washington Capitals for first overall in the NHL even though eight of their players – four defensemen and four forwards – are now injured. Defenseman Mark Streit (lower body) was hurt blocking a shot against the Calgary Flames on Monday, joining an injury list on the back end that includes Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley.

With Crosby and his wings Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary, and Evgeni Malkin helming a strong second scoring line, the Penguins are as gifted at puck possession as any NHL team. They will also try to take advantage of a vulnerable Flyers penalty kill that has been scored on in seven of their last 12 opportunities.

Starting goalie Matt Murray will likely get the call for the Penguins, who are 5-5 in their last 10 road games as a favorite with a -125 to -500 moneyline.

The Flyers are 31-29-8, including 4-6 in their last 10 games. The main question with the Flyers, who have lost three in a row, is how motivated a team of veterans, such as C Claude Giroux and LW Jakub Voracek, will be after those losses left them even farther adrift of the pack chasing an Eastern Conference wild card playoff berth. The power play has also been problematic, as Philadelphia has converted just two of its last 26 chances.

Michal Neuvirth might get the call in goal for the Flyers, who are 4-6 in their last 10 games as a home underdog. Steve Mason has been busy lately and was also lit up in his only appearance this season against the Penguins.

The total has gone under in seven of these teams’ last 10 meetings in Philadelphia, according to the betting trends for the matchup. The total has gone under in seven of the Penguins’ last 10 road games. The total has also gone under in eight of the Flyers’ last 10 home games, with one push.