By Judd Hall
No matter what sport you’re talking about, there seems to be fervor for the clubs that are hovering in that area of making the playoffs. And since the NHL is fresh off of its All-Star weekend, its clubs are ripe for postseason scrutiny.
When you look at the league standings, you notice 21 of the 30 teams have a reasonable shot at playing into late April. Only 10 of those 21 squads appear to be mortal locks for the playoffs. That means we have 11 clubs vying for six berths…talk about your logjams.
So which franchises will be good enough to qualify? And more importantly, how can we profit the rest of the season?
The Coyotes have been working towards a season like this for a while now. They drafted for the future and had the patience to watch that talent mature. It stinks to see the problems they’re having financially at the moment. But Phoenix is in thick of the playoff chase right now, raising attendance and, in turn, filling its coffers.
Phoenix currently sits in fifth place in the Western Conference, but they’re just four points out of 10th at the same time. 22 of the Coyotes’ remaining 33 matches this season are against clubs that are at least playing .500 hockey. That might not be such a great thing as they’re just 18-22 against teams that are either breaking even or have winning records this season. Also, take notice of the ‘Yotes five back-to-back matches down the stretch…in particular the second game since they are 3-8 in that spot.
Edmonton finds itself in the playoff race at the moment in spite of the injuries that have plagued them during the season. Recent news of pivot Sam Gagner going on the IR for a bad ankle has soured some of the good feelings the Oilers have enjoyed. Yet the fans can look at the bright side as he’ll be back around the same time as winger Fernando Pisani returns to the lineup.
As far as the betting public is concerned, we may want to take a pass on the Oilers for the rest of the season. They have 25 games in the second half against clubs that possess winning records. Up until this point, Edmonton is 19-19 against those teams this year. You can even take a shot on them at home as they’re 11-12 this season at Rexall Place.
Roberto Luongo might be back between the pipes for the Canucks, but the free fall has started after dropping six straight games. But the thinking is that it will take a month for Luongo and Mats Sundin to return to form. Despite the problems, Vancouver is still in the Top 10 of the West.
A lot of what we can use in terms of betting will be found in Vancouver’s first three weeks after the All-Star Game. They’ll have five of those eight matches at General Motors Place, where the Canucks are 11-10-3 for the season. If Luongo has good outings in those spots, then we rest easier about backing them.
This team might have a lot of the parts of the Stanley Cup champs of a couple years back, but they don’t play like it. Anaheim hasn’t won more than five games in a row since the beginning of the season. Meanwhile, they have found ways to lose five times in a six-game stretch or four matches in five chances. Despite these problems with consistency, the Ducks are currently in sixth place.
I don’t anticipate that lasting for the Ducks though. They’ve got 29 games against clubs with winning records to close out the regular season. To make matters worse, Anaheim is 16-20 against clubs that are above .500 right now. Take a look at fading them in back-to-back games as well; the Ducks are just 5-6 on no days off and they’ve got seven of those on tap the rest of the year.
The Wild had a chance to pull itself into a more solid position this month, but a 6-5 record has put in the lower tier of the West playoffs chase. Focus on Minnesota on the road from Feb. 27 to March 29. They’ll play 14 of 17 away from home in that stretch. Why is that important for us? The Wild are just 10-11 on the road. And 11 of those tilts are against playoff caliber squads.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The good people of Columbus have never experienced playoff hockey since the team started play in 2000. That drought could be over this season as the Blue Jackets are in a four-way tie for the seventh and eighth seed in the West right now. Not bad for a club that has the worst power play (11.7%) in the NHL.
While expectations are high in Central Ohio, they still have a tough trek by playing 24 games versus clubs with winning records to close out the season. They’ve posted an 18-20 record up until this point against those squads. Yet the Jackets get 19 home games to close out the campaign, which might help as they’re 14-8 currently at Nationwide Arena.
The Stars have been a tough team to gauge for most of the year for me. When I thought they’d be back on track, they would fall flat on his face. Then whey you expect them to stay down, Dallas picks itself up. Right now, the Stars are on an uptick after winning three of their last four games.
Something tells me this team will make it interesting down the stretch as Dallas will have 20 of its final 36 tilts at the American Airlines Center. That should make bettors happy as they Stars are 12-6-4 at home.
2009 has favored the Sabres up until this point, as evidenced by their going 8-3 in the New Year. That run has helped them stay in seventh position in the Eastern Conference. You can’t glean too much from them either on the road (12-9-3) or at home (13-9-2). Instead, focus on the Sabres in back-to-back games: they have six matches on no rest in the remainder of the campaign. Buffalo is 3-8 in matches with no rest.
I wasn’t sure that Paul Maurice could right the ship for Carolina after taking over for Peter Laviolette in the early part of the campaign. The Hurricanes may not look like a playoff contender after dropping six of their 11 games in 2009, but they are just a point out of the party right now. It’s going to be tough for the ‘Canes to make the postseason when 23 of their final 33 matches are coming against teams with records of at least .500. Bettors should focus on their prowess in back-to-back fixtures since they’re 7-2 on no rest.
Playoff dreams could become a reality for Florida this season as they started the New Year 6-4. Bettors could also take the Panthers to win down the stretch as they only have two back-to-backs on the schedule for the rest of the regular season. Plus you have to think they’ll make their standard late season surge; they went 32-28 from February to April in the last two seasons. Not exactly great numbers, but they have helped the club stay within a few points of the playoffs.
Are the Penguins this year’s version of the Ottawa Senators?
Pittsburgh opened on a 14-6-3 run before December after a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Two seasons ago, the Sens went 32-16-4 and poised to make a second run at get to the NHL’s championship round. Ottawa, however, went 11-15-4 and was lucky to make the postseason.
The Pens certainly could be travelling down that same road after posting a 4-7 record during January. But you have to still like the idea of backing them at the betting shops. Why? Pittsburgh has just three back-to-back sets for the rest of the season. That should help with getting the Penguins’ top talent rested. Plus, the Pens have 17 games at home the rest of the way…they’ve gone 63-31-12 over the last three years at Mellon Arena.