We give praise to Martin Luther King for allowing us all some NHL hockey on a Monday afternoon. The NHL has a slate of 6 games today, all of which features teams fighting to make moves up the playoff boards in their respective conferences.
We are rapidly approaching the all-star break, which means that the home-stretch towards the playoffs is about to commence. This year has some of the tightest races ever and there is not really any team that is running away from the rest of the pack.
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NHL Picks for Monday:
Carolina Hurricanes @ Boston Bruins (Total: 5.5)
We lost out on the Lightning going into the RBC Centre on Saturday night and exiting with a victory. The Hurricanes were explosive and they hurt Tampa twice on the powerplay. In the end the Canes’ avenged their earlier season loss to the Lightning with a 6-4 win. Today the Hurricanes will square off against the Bruins in one of the early games on Martin Luther King Day. Goalie Cam Ward didn’t need his best performance for the Hurricanes to notch another victory Saturday night. Ward will likely become the franchise’s all-time leader in games played by a goalie Monday afternoon at Boston in the start of a home-and-home set on consecutive days. He’s tied with Arturs Irbe with 309 games. Still, Ward is about 260 minutes behind the number played by Irbe during his time with the Hurricanes. Ward hasn’t been dominant during the past week, but he has been timely. He seems up to the task late in games even when some earlier stretches go awry. The last two times Ward has been the winning goalie have come when he has allowed a total of nine goals.
If you tuned in late on this team, you might know the B’s haven’t been the best home team this season. But this week, they hammered Ottawa, won a wild one from the Flyers and then needed a win over the Penguins Saturday to make it three straight. Instead, they lost a tight game and now head into Monday’s holiday matinee with the Hurricanes, the opener of a home-and-home set, hoping to end the homestand on a positive note. Saturday’s loss left the Bruins with an 11-7-3 TD Garden record. If you count the extra-time losses as losses, the Bruins are just 11-10 on home ice.
The Boston Bruins will look to get there powerplay going again, they went 0 for 4 on Saturday night. Winger Milan Lucic, who has missed the last three games with an apparent shoulder injury, skated with the team for the first time since suffering the injury last Monday and could be available for today’s matinee against the Carolina Hurricanes, as could defenseman Mark Stuart, who has missed the last five weeks with a broken finger.
I look for the Bruins to get back on track this afternoon against an overachieving Canes’ club. Boston will be fighting for respectability against Carolina as they were drubbed 3-0 the last time these two teams met in November. Boston is 6-3 SU in its last 9 games when playing at home against Carolina.
We will consider the Bruins taking it to the Canes’ for all three periods and for the adventurous, take a look at the puck line.
San Jose Sharks @ Phoenix Coyotes (Total: 5.5)
The Sharks are in a funk right now as they are losers of four straight and they will be entering Jobing.com Arena three points out of 8th in the west. It has been a tough year for veteran C Joe Thornton, the stout centre man is having one of his least productive seasons thus far and is sporting a -14 +/- rating. On a good note, when the puck drops this afternoon against the Phoenix Coyotes, Patrick Marleau will play in his 1,000th career game. It’s no small feat. Only 256 NHL players have reached the milestone. And only 37 have done it while playing for a single team. Even more impressive for Marleau, at 31 he will be one of the youngest players in history to hit the mark.
The Phoenix Coyotes are having another stellar season and they find themselves in 4th in the western conference. Left wing Ray Whitney, also on the fast track to different milestone – 40 years old – collected two goals and an assist against the Ducks on Saturday night, bringing his career total to 902 points – and the key for him is that the enjoyment level remains high. The desert dogs are 6th in the leagues when it comes to goals scored at 2.89 and 10th in the league when it comes to keeping them out at 2.69.
These two teams are rivals in the west and much is on the line come Monday afternoon. The total has gone UNDER in 7 of San Jose’s last 9 games when playing Phoenix and other then Saturdays contest versus the Blues, the Sharks have not scored more then 3 goals in a game in close to three weeks.
Consider these two teams battling hard for 60 minutes and giving little room for either offense to get crafty.
Atlanta Thrashers @ Florida Panthers (Total: 5.5)
The Thrashers did very well for themselves by collecting many of the key assets from the Blackhawks cup run last year during the off-season. The Thrashers currently sit 8th in the east but the east being as it is, so condensed, a mini winning streak could see them in the midst of the east playoff race. The Thrashers currently are mired in a four game-losing streak and have won just three of their past 12 games. Yet not so long ago, the Thrashers won 10 times in a 12-game stretch. It is the same team — with one big performance issue. The Thrashers’ penalty kill has been woeful the past four weeks. The unit has slipped to 29th in the NHL in the special team, which at one point this season was near the top of the league. The truth is in the numbers. The Thrashers have allowed 16 power-play goals in 47 times while shorthanded over the past 12 games for a 66-percent success rate. From Nov. 19 to Dec. 13, they allowed just four power-play goals in 39 chances for an 89.7 success rate.
The Panthers are having, yet another, mediocre season. The loss of D Bryan McCabe didn’t help any as it has exposed a porous defense when he is out of the lineup. Stephen Weiss has been on a bit of a streak. His three assists Tuesday night helped the Panthers to their OT victory over the Washington Capitals, Southeast Division rivals. He’s scoring at just over a point a game clip for the last 17 games. The streak has him leading the Panthers in points (29) and tied with David Booth for the team lead with 13 goals. The Panthers have shown tangible improvement this year. Playing in what is a tougher and tougher Southeast Division, they still are hanging in at .500. The Panthers finished last year with a 32-37-13 record and 77 points, the third-worst record in the league.
With all of the good merit the Panthers posses and the potential they have not reached I like my chances with the Thrashers as road underdogs. Atlanta is 4-1 SU in its last 5 games when playing Florida and is 4-2 SU in its last 6 games when playing on the road against the Panthers. The line is a reflection of Atlanta’s current skid but I believe the Panthers are just what the doctor ordered for the Thrashers.
Take a look at Atlanta in Sunrise on Monday night.