Welcome back! It has certainly been an entertaining last few weeks not only for us hockey fans but for fans of sports in general as the Olympics were a big success and if you are Canadian like myself, the hockey tournament went just as planned. NHL teams are now regrouping for the final quarter of the season and are ready to make their respective pushes towards a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Nothing will be easy down the stretch, and that includes making predictions as there is likely to be a lot of “playoff” type atmospheres in plenty of games as teams are desperate for every single point they can get their hands on. We return with our daily NHL picks for tonight as there is finally a jam-packed night of NHL action ahead with 12 games on the schedule. Let’s get back into it here tonight with a couple winners!
Los Angeles Kings @ Calgary Flames
My Pick – KINGS (-130) 5 Dimes
The Los Angeles Kings, fresh off of a 6-4 comeback victory over the Avalanche, will travel to Calgary tonight to take on a Flames team that is already looking forward to next season as they have two players making their NHL debut this evening. Goaltender Joni Ortio and forward Marcus Grandlund will both play in their first NHL games tonight as they have spent the year in Abbotsford playing for the Flames AHL affiliate. With the Kings breaking out offensively in their first game back from the Olympic break, scoring 6 goals in a comeback victory last night, the rookie goaltender Ortio could be in trouble tonight for the Flames. Ortio does have an impressive 2.22 goals against average and .926 save percentage for the Heat this year in the AHL, however he will be playing behind the 26th ranked defence in the NHL tonight against a team who has the firepower to make it a tough night on the rookie. Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty are two names on L.A. who had huge Olympic tournaments, however the biggest problem for the Flames tonight could be getting pucks behind Jonathan Quick. Quick played marvellous for the Americans at the Olympics save for the Bronze medal game against Finland where no one showed up for team U.S.A.. The Kings are ranked first in the NHL surrendering just 2.13 goals per game and are also ranked first in road defence as they give up just 2.3 goals away from home. The Kings offense is ranked just 25th in the league this season, however they are up against the 28th ranked offense of the Calgary Flames, and as mentioned earlier, their 6-goal offensive outburst last night in Denver should get this offense back on track for the last quarter of the season. The Kings have won four of their last six games against the Flames and have won four of their last five games at the Saddledome in Calgary. Take the much better team tonight to make it two in a row coming out of the break.
Washington Capitals @ Florida Panthers
My Pick – CAPITALS (-110) 5 Dimes
These two former Southeast Division rivals will collide for the 3rd time this season as they have traded shootout wins over their first two meetings. The Capitals are likely to see the returns of Mike Green and Mikhail Grabovski to the lineup tonight as both have been out with injuries since late January. On the contrary, the Panthers will be without two key pieces tonight as Tomas Kopecky and Alexander Barkov both suffered significant injuries during the Olympic tournament and both are likely to be sidelined for some time. With the distraction of the Olympics behind him, Alexander Ovechkin will be looking to improve on his league leading 40 goals and keep the Capitals in the playoff hunt. Washington is currently sitting in 11th place in a congested Eastern Conference, however after winning 3 of their last four games prior to the break, Washington has showed signs they can still be a playoff team. They average a solid 2.8 goals per game on the road this season which is good for 8th in the league, and both their powerplay and penalty kill sit ranked 9th in the NHL. Washington’s ability to score regardless of venue is definitely a great asset to this team, and their success scoring goals against the Panthers cannot be ignored heading into this matchup. Over their last 10 games against the Panthers, the Capitals have averaged 3.9 goals for per game to just 2.1 for Florida, and the Capitals powerplay has produced at a very impressive rate of 36.7% compared to just 9.7% for Florida. On the season, Florida’s powerplay sits in a distant last place in the entire NHL, converting on just 9% of their powerplay opportunities, while their penalty kill is just 77.2% on the year. If this game turns into a special teams battle, the Panthers are in serious trouble. The Caps are 8-1 in their last nine games against Florida, while the Panthers have dropped five of their last six games overall. Lets roll with Washington tonight and see them make up some ground in the East.