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.

US Olympic women’s hockey player Anne Schleper retires

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) Olympic defender Anne Schleper retired from the U.S. women’s national hockey team program Wednesday.

The 27-year-old Schleper earned a silver medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and helped the United States win world titles in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

“I will forever cherish the dreams I accomplished with my teammates and the amazing journey we took together. I am so very proud to have been a part of Team USA and representing something greater than ourselves at all times,” Schleper said in a statement. “I’d like to thank my family, friends, everyone at USA Hockey, and those who supported me during the past 11 years.”

From St. Cloud, Minnesota, the former University of Minnesota star had six goals and 18 assists in 68 games for Team USA.

Wild look to continue positive trends against rival Blackhawks on Wednesday

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 15: Devan Dubnyk #40 of the Minnesota Wild defends the net against Winnipeg Jets during the game on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Wild will try to repeat their feat of beating the Chicago Blackhawks while playing back-to-back when the Central Division rivals meet in St. Paul on Wednesday night.

The Western Conference-leading Wild are expected to be listed as home betting favorites by puck drop against the Blackhawks at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

While Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks wear the braid of having won the Stanley Cup three times in the last seven seasons, Minnesota is 8-0 straight-up in the teams’ last eight regular-season meetings, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. Chicago, which is in the midst of a six-game road stretch, is 6-2 in divisional road games this season. The Wild are an identical 6-2 in divisional home games.

Minnesota had a road game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. The Wild are 3-2 this season when they played the previous day, including a victory against the Blackhawks on January 15.

Chicago is 32-17-5 this season, but has wobbled of late with a 5-5 record in their past 10 games. While goaltender Corey Crawford was an all-star selection this season, he has been somewhat off his game recently, allowing at least three goals in four of his last six starts.

The Blackhawks have long had some of the best forward depth in the league, but they have struggled this season to get production out of the lines that don’t include Kane or Jonathan Toews.

Minnesota is 35-12-5, good for the top spot in the Western Conference, and is 7-3 in its last 10 games. The Wild proved they are for real with a 9-2-1 record in January and have a diverse attack with the likes of Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville.

All-star goaltender Devan Dubnyk, like his counterpart Crawford, has had some midseason regression, allowing three or more goals in five of his last eight starts. Dubnyk did have an excellent 38-save effort against Winnipeg on Tuesday, and got the win the only time this season that he started a game after also starting the previous day.

The total has gone under in only two of the Blackhawks’ last eight games as a road underdog. The total has gone over in seven of Chicago’s last 10 games, including four of their six most recent road games. The total has gone over in eight of Minnesota’s last 10 games, with one push.