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: Buffalo Sabres

It's been one strange season in Buffalo. Goaltender Ryan Miller was run into during a game and missed time. Coach Lindy Ruff was run into during a practice and missed time. And all of the marquee free agents that new owner Terry Pegula brought in over the summer have been sketchy, over the long term, at best.

But the Sabres have it all turned around, and somehow, some way, they found themselves in the No. 8 spot of the Eastern Conference on Sunday morning. Buffalo's 3-1 win over Minnesota on Saturday was its fourth straight, and it doesn't matter who's facing them on a given night. They play a team headed nowhere like Montreal last Wednesday? A 3-0 win. They play the No. 1 seed in the East, the New York Rangers, on Friday? A 4-1 win.

It hasn't been all Miller, either. In fact, rookie Marcus Foligno has breathed new life into the offense. Though just 20 years old, he has six goals and 10 points in eight games since being promoted from the minors. Not bad.

Tuesday's date with Washington looms, though, as perhaps the biggest game of the season for the Sabres. The Capitals are still right behind them, and pound for pound, probably have more talent than them, too.

COLD TEAM: Detroit Red Wings

With a veteran team, a veteran coach, and let's face it, a veteran fan base that's been through it all before, good and bad, there's probably little to no panic going on in Hockeytown right now. The Red Wings have slumped through March, yes, and that's typical of aging teams that battled through the grind of winter.

But coach Mike Babcock has been able, of course, to carry on the Detroit tradition of postseason success, and things will likely turn around when the Red Wings start the playoffs, as a likely No. 4 seed.

That said, it has been disturbing of late. Saturday's 5-4 win over Carolina broke a six-game losing streak in which they netted just two points. Some of the losses were puzzling: 4-0 to Anaheim, and 5-3 to Washington. Not pretty.
 
But the key, moving forward, is injured goalie Jimmy Howard, and there appears to be good news on him for this week. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, in fact, told reporters during Saturday's win that Howard, hampered by a groin injury, might return Monday against Columbus.

OVER PLAY: Pittsburgh Penguins

You think having captain Sidney Crosby back in the mix is a good thing? Well, certainly for the league it is. We knew that. Certainly for Penguins fans and bettors, too, of course. We knew that. But don’t forget about over players. Those are the guys who are truly cashing in on Crosby’s fate.

The Penguins lost to Ottawa, 8-4, on Saturday in an up-and-down, high-wire game fit for “Hockey Night in Canada,” and it only furthered a trend for Pittsburgh. The over was the Penguins’ sixth in the last seven games, and third straight. The run began, incidentally, a game before Crosby returned from concussion-like symptoms.

Pittsburgh certainly would like to be playing better defense down the stretch, and surely coach Dan Bylsma will examine that defensive effort versus the Senators very closely. But you can’t hide from this number: Since Crosby has returned to action, and before their Sunday game versus New Jersey, Penguins games have featured an average of 9.8 goals. That’s quality, quality over territory, folks.

UNDER PLAY: Calgary Flames

The Flames, despite five consecutive losses, are still alive out West, and have a slim chance at snaring the No. 8 seed. They may not want it, though, considering they've netted just two points in that stretch, and have no answers offensively.

But, opportunity knocks for under bettors, as Calgary has paid off of late. Saturday's 4-1 loss to Dallas was a push, but extended an overless streak to seven games (0-3-4), and that's a decent stretch of defensive hockey this late in the year.

The offense -- or lack of -- has been the prime factor, though. In the last five games, headed into Monday's date with the Stars, Calgary hadn't scored more than two goals in any contest.

Jarome Iginla -- surprise, surprise -- has topped 30 goals again, as he sits with 31, but it looks like Curtis Glencross (25) is the only other Flame who has a shot to reach that rent district. And when that's the case, you're an under team.

SURVEYING THE SCHEDULE:

The Rangers stopped the bleeding a bit with a 4-3 shootout win at Toronto on Saturday, but as they continue to fend off Pittsburgh for the No. 1 seed in the East, this week will be big, as they embark on their last true road trip of the season. And though the competition will be light, there is a back-to-back set to be concerned with. The Rangers play at Minnesota on Tuesday, and at Winnipeg on Wednesday. That's a lot of miles in a short time frame this late in the year. Be wary.

The Blackhawks had a light week last week, and that's a good thing, because Sunday's game against Nashville opened a stretch of five contests over an eight-day stretch. The good news is that there are three home games in that run, and the furthest they'll travel is to New Jersey on Tuesday. But still, that's a lot of hockey, so monitor those Blackhawks for tired legs.

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