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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.

Golden Knights underdogs at Winnipeg for Game 1 of Western Conference Final

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Sparse though the track record might be in an NHL playoff series between two franchises which had never won a playoff game before this year, the Winnipeg Jets are carrying some pronounced home-ice trends into Game 1 of the Western Conference final on Saturday.

The Jets are a -145 betting favorite on the NHL odds for Game 1, with the Vegas Golden Knights coming back at +125 and a six-goal total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The OddsShark NHL Database shows that the Jets are 10-2 in 12 home games against Pacific Division teams. Vegas is 5-6 this season in away games against Central Division foes. However, the Jets have had just one day of rest since their second-round series ended, compared to the Golden Knights’ five-day break.

The Golden Knights, who are the first NHL expansion team since 1968 to win two playoff series, are 8-5 in their last 13 games as an underdog with any moneyline. Vegas has estimable forward depth, with centers William Karlsson, Erik Haula and Cody Eakin leading lines that have the speed essential to being a threatening team.

That doesn’t mean their games are high-scoring, though, as three of the Golden Knights’ last four games have ended with a shutout by either side.

Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has a 1.53 goals-against average and .951 save percentage so far in the playoffs. Fleury and the Knights’ defense corps are stepping up from two playoff series against opponents who were the NHL’s 12th-ranked and 17th-ranked offenses from the regular season, to facing second-ranked Winnipeg.

The Jets, a -142 betting favorite on the NHL playoff series prices, are 16-4 in their last 20 home games at the Bell MTS Centre. In terms of their play against good teams, they are 8-3 in their last 11 home games as a moneyline favorite of -120 to -150. Like Vegas, Winnipeg has the requisite forward depth to be a Stanley Cup contender as the Mark Scheifele-Kyle Connor-Blake Wheeler trio is one of the NHL’s best lines, while Paul Stastny and Bryan Little lead solid second and third lines.

Goalie Connor Hellebuyck has a 2.25 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in the playoffs. Winnipeg’s first two playoff opponents were seventh and 11th in goal scoring in the regular season, while Vegas was fifth. Winnipeg is probably the deeper defensive team, thanks to defensemen such as Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba.

The total has gone under in six of Vegas’ last eight road games. The total has gone under in seven of Winnipeg’s last eight home games, as well as nine of the last 12.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Capitals, Predators Both Road Underdogs on Thursday NHL Odds

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The Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin have a good underdog trend that goes hand-in-hand with the belief that something is different in their latest playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins are the -160 betting favorite for Game 4 of their second-round series on Thursday night, with the Capitals coming back at +140 on the moneyline and a 6.0 total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Capitals will be without right wing Tom Wilson (three-game suspension for checking an opponent in the head), but the OddsShark NHL Database shows that they are a more than respectable 8-5 in their last 13 games as a moneyline underdog of +130 or more. Washington is also 5-0 in its last five road games.

The Capitals’ postseason history with the Penguins – all-time, they’ve lost nine out of 10 series against their Metropolitan Division rival – is so well-documented that it barely needs mentioning. However, Washington, which leads the series 2-1, comes in with the more reliable goalie.

Braden Holtby has a 2.08 goals-against average and .925 save percentage during eight playoff games. In contrast, Penguins goalie Matt Murray has a 2.48 goals-against average and .906 save percentage but has had four starts already in the playoffs where his save percentage was less than .900.

No team with Sidney Crosby should be written off and the parity-driven nature of the NHL might lead some bettors to believe Washington cannot win twice in a row in Pittsburgh. However, the Penguins are just 16-14 in their last 30 home games as a moneyline favorite of -150 or farther into minus money.

The total has gone over in five of the Penguins’ last eight home playoff games, with three pushes.

Elsewhere on Thursday night, the Winnipeg Jets (-145) are favored against the Nashville Predators (+125), also with a 6.0-goal total in Game 4 of their second-round series. Winnipeg leads the series 2-1.

The Jets, led by center Mark Scheifele, are 13-0 in their last 13 home games at MTS Centre, although the total has gone over in just six of those contests. Winnipeg is also 4-1 at home in its last five home games against Nashville. With the Jets having 15 goals in the series’ first three games, there has been little sign that Nashville can handle the Jets’ speed and tempo.

The Predators were the favorites on the Stanley Cup odds at the outset of the playoffs but have been consistently inconsistent as an away team, going 6-6 in their last 12 road games as the underdog. While Nashville has one of the NHL’s deepest defense corps with the likes of Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban, it is also just 4-8 in its last 12 playoff road games.

The total has gone over in eight of Nashville’s last 10 road games against fellow Central Division teams. The total has gone over in seven of Minnesota’s last 11 home games against Central Division teams.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.