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NHL Handicapping: Eastern Conference Regular Season Over/Under Points

NHL Handicapping: Eastern Conference Regular Season Over/Under Points

NHL Handicapping: Eastern Conference Regular Season Over/Under Points
By Ian Cameron

The puck is about to drop on the 2013-14 NHL season and in the Eastern Conference, there are plenty of teams that believe they can win the Stanley Cup. I’ve sorted through the crowded mess and picked out four rock solid Regular Season Over/Under points wagers for the upcoming season:

Carolina Hurricanes Over 84.5
This is the ultimate “buy low” scenario for me in the Eastern Conference. Carolina is getting very little attention following a disappointing 13th place finish in the East last season but the Hurricanes are poised to have a better than expected campaign. Most media observers think the Hurricanes will be rebuilding but GM Jim Rutherford has stated he expects his team to compete for a playoff spot. Carolina was 11-8-1 to start last season before starting goalie Cam Ward suffered a season ending MCL sprain. That is the foundation for my support of the Canes. Ward is 100% healthy and has a major chip on his shoulder to have a monster year in net after not being invited to the Canadian Olympic Hockey Team tryout camp. I also think Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, who both underperformed last season, will be much improved. The defense can’t be any worse than last season when they gave up way too many goals and I feel they upgraded the blue line with the additions of Ron Hainsey and Andrej Sekera along with the insertion of 2011 first round draft pick Ryan Murphy. Elias Lindholm was Carolina’s 5th overall pick in last year’s draft and the versatile forward who can play all three positions will start the season on the Canes roster. This will be head coach Kirk Muller’s second full season with the team and I still think he is the right man to lead this team behind the bench. With the infusion of young talent, the return of Cam Ward, and Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner poised for bounce back seasons, I expect Carolina to outperform market expectations. We don’t need Carolina to make the playoffs or even come real close to doing so in order to cash this wager. A competitive team that takes some by surprise should be all that is required for the Hurricanes to get to the mid 80’s or higher in points.

Montreal Canadiens Under 94.5

Montreal greatly overachieved last season. This is a team that doesn’t have a lot of size particularly up the middle. They don’t have a lot of depth scoring beyond their top six forwards either. I have major concerns about the durability of Montreal’s biggest free agent acquisition Danny Briere who when healthy remains a dangerous offensive threat but he has been dealing with numerous injuries in recent seasons which is a big reason why the Flyers decided to part ways. They are solid on the back end led by Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban and I like the inclusion of Jarred Tinordi who is very deserving of a spot on the Canadiens’ blue line but I’m worried about how this team will deal with the wear and tear of a full season. This is still a small group and even though they tried to add muscle by signing George Parros, the premier players on this team like Brian Gionta, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais are all below 6 feet tall. Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher had sensational rookie seasons and benefitted from a shortened season but now will have to deal with the rigors of a full 82 game slate. A lot will depend on starting goaltender Carey Price who had a solid season last year but had a very rough playoff series against Ottawa. This could still be a playoff team if they stay healthy (particularly Briere) and if Carey Price plays like one of the best goalies in the NHL. They won’t however be catching anybody by surprise and I don’t agree with them being lined at 94.5 points which is tied with Ottawa and 2 points ahead of Toronto – I envision both the Leafs and Senators to finish ahead of the Habs in the Atlantic Division. Play this team Under.

New York Rangers Under 98.5

This number has already been bet down a bit but maybe not enough. I expect the NY Rangers to take a step back and possibly a big step back. Missing the playoffs is not out of the questions for the Rangers. New York has a new head coach in Alain Vigneault which means a new system which is much different from what John Tortorella employed. They are also dealing with injuries to start the season to captain Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin up front. Callahan is the heart and soul of the Rangers and his energy and effort level in every game is infectious. He scores clutch goals and brings so many intangibles to the table with leadership, big hits, and blocks shots. He is a tremendous penalty kill specialist as well and his absence will certainly be felt early in the season. To make matters worse for the Broadway Blueshirts, they must open the season on a hellacious nine-game road trip facing the Coyotes, Kings, Sharks, Ducks, Blues, Capitals, Devils, Flyers and Red Wings – most of those teams are projected to be good this season. New York may be way behind the eight ball in the standings before we even get out of the month of October. The Rangers won’t play their first home game at Madison Square Garden until October 28th which is nearly a full month into the season. Once again, a lot will fall on the shoulders of “King” Henrik Lundqvist in goal and the blue line in front of him which has been forced to play lights out in their own end to make up for the lack of goal scoring. Derick Brassard who was a key piece in the Marian Gaborik trade last season will be a critical component to this team and he must have a good season to jump start a suspect Rangers offense. Asking this team to get to 99+ points may be asking a lot when it is all said and done.

Ottawa Senators Over 94.5

It is not going to be all doom and gloom for the Ottawa Senators just because their beloved former captain Daniel Alfredsson took his talents to the Motor City. The Sens have stability in all the key areas that you need for success in the NHL. They have great goaltending, a solid blue line, an improved forward group and a terrific head coach in Paul MacLean. How good is MacLean? He helped an injury riddled Ottawa team reach the postseason two years in a row when nobody thought it was possible. Last year the Sens lost a staggering 134 man games to injury, including lengthy amounts of time on the sideline for stars Jason Spezza (43 regular season and seven playoff games), Erik Karlsson (31 regular season games), Milan Michalek (25 regular season games) and Craig Anderson (18 regular season games). Still, they made the playoffs thanks to a team commitment to defense and stingy goaltending. While Ottawa routinely found it difficult to score, they only conceded three or more goals 14 times and limited the opposition to just a single goal or fewer 21 times. This year the Sens should be able to get some more offense to balance their strong defense and goaltending thanks to the trade for Bobby Ryan. That gives the Senators a potentially explosive top line of Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Ryan. There are some question marks about scoring depth beyond the top six forwards but the Senators showed an ability to get production from unexpected sources at times last season and they have similar potential here. The Ottawa blueline should be strong with a healthy Erik Karlsson back to spearhead a corps with the underrated Marc Methot, Chris Phillips, Jared Cowan, Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba. The Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner duo in net should also give the Senators a chance to win every night. This team has all the ingredients to be right in the mix with the other top teams in the Atlantic Division and battle with the likes of the Bruins, Red Wings and Leafs. Ottawa finished with 56 points after last year’s 48 game season. That means the Sens would have been on pace for 98 points last season had it been a full 82 game schedule. 94.5 points looks a little bit cheap to me with this team and I think Ottawa is worth an Over play here.

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