This Week's Best NHL Bets

This Week's Best NHL Bets

This Week's Best NHL Bets
By Bill McBride
Covers.com

HOT TEAM: Pittsburgh Penguins

So much attention has been paid to Sidney Crosby, it was easy to let the Penguins’ march toward the No. 1 seed in the East slip by. And now that he’s back, he’ll get even more publicity. The Penguins were the hottest team in the league before No. 87 returned, and now that he’s back, well, look out, folks.

Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Devils in New Jersey -- in which Crosby had three assists -- was the Penguins’ 11th consecutive, and Crosby was only a part of two of them. Headed into Sunday’s matinee versus the Flyers in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh hadn’t lost since Feb. 19, a 6-2 decision at Buffalo.

What's amazing about this run is the defense that Pittsburgh has been displaying throughout. Everyone knows about the offense -- Evgeni Malkin scored his 40th of the season Saturday -- and the goaltending -- the win over the Devils was Marc-Andre Fleury's 39th of the year -- but the defense has been stifling. New Jersey only mustered 14 shots on net in Saturday’s loss. That pace keeps up, Pittsburgh might cruise to the Stanley Cup final.

COLD TEAM: New York Rangers

While the Penguins keep chipping away at the Rangers’ lead, New York keeps squeezing its collective stick a little too much. This is still, very much, a deep, driven, determined team, but the dog days of spring have hit, and perhaps the Rangers are doing a little too much scoreboard watching, and not enough analysis of their own game.

Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Colorado in New York was the Rangers’ fifth in the last seven games. The Rangers have been able to stop the bleeding somewhat at times in March by beating up on cupcakes -- 4-3 over the Islanders on March 11, 4-2 over Carolina on March 14 -- but the numbers overall are not pretty. They’ve lost six games in the month, and have been held to two goals or less four times.

Things should start improving for the Rangers now that Henrik Lundqvist is back in the nets after missing two games with the flu, and captain Ryan Callahan is back with the team after missing six games with a bruised foot.

OVER PLAY: Vancouver Canucks

You know the postseason isn’t far away when you look at the scores on a nightly basis, and the goals just aren’t there. Friday night was a perfect example: Five NHL games played, four unders. So, if you can spot an over team at this time of year, jump on them because they are few and far between.

The Canucks appear to be one. Vancouver outlasted Columbus, 4-3, on Saturday to record its fourth over in the last six games. The Canucks have both scored and allowed eight goals in the last two games, and while it’s unlikely that pace will keep up, it does bear watching. Especially because Monday's game at the Wild in Minnesota will begin a four-game road trip, that will also see stops in Chicago, Dallas and Colorado.

We all know that Vancouver -- with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider and net -- can stop the puck when it counts and coach Alain Vigneault can clamp down defensively when needed, and that will likely happen soon. But for now, there’s money to be won with Vancouver overs, so get them while they’re hot.

UNDER PLAY: Edmonton Oilers

On the opposite end of totals plays, there is plenty to choose from. The unders are coming in bunches for a lot of teams, but we'll call on Edmonton this week, as the Oilers continue to play out the string.
 
Headed into Sunday's game against Columbus in Edmonton, the Oilers were riding a four-game under streak, and had posted five unders in their last six games. They've been tight on the backline, and have compiled just enough offense to get by, defeating Calgary, 3-1 on Friday, and Columbus, 3-0, on Wednesday.

Along the way, the momentum of the defensive pace has built. In the win over Calgary, the Oilers did not dress forward Linus Omark and instead opted to go with seven defensemen. And under players will tell you, if you want a team who can get you to the window, the more defensemen, the better.
     
SURVEYING THE SCHEDULE:

The Devils seemingly have settled into that No. 6 seed in the East, but Ottawa is coming fast, and the rest of this month will truly test New Jersey if it wants to stay in that position. They have seven games left in March, and beware of a brutal back-to-back set, starting on Monday: They play at the Rangers and then 24 hours later, they play at the Senators.

San Jose is not supposed to be battling for the No. 8 seed in the West, yet there the Sharks are. Saturday's 3-2 overtime win over Detroit will help, but this stretch run will not be easy for San Jose, and it starts this week. On Monday and Tuesday, they have the double dip versus Anaheim and Los Angeles, respectively, and 48 hours later, on Wednesday, they'll meet Boston. Keep a close eye on this enigmatic bunch.

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