After a dismal showing from the Philadelphia Flyers last night in New Jersey, our record falls to 23-13 with our featured selections. We’ve tended to fare quite well in bounce-back situations here at The Sports Geek in 2013, and let’s hope a busy Thursday slate of games will get us back on track.
For tonight’s featured game, we’ll examine a rematch from this past Saturday night, as Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins travel to Toronto to take on a Leafs squad that has struggled in their past few outings. Tensions are running high in Toronto with thoughts of last season’s collapse once again entering the minds of the faithful fans in Leafs Nation. It should be an intriguing affair, so read on for our thoughts on the game below.
Pittsburgh Penguins (-135) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (+115)
The Pittsburgh Penguins proved Tuesday night they remain the premier team in the Eastern Conference. Down 2-0 against Boston late in the third period, the pesky Pens stormed back to score three straight goals, winning the game in regulation. Even though they’re without the second-best player in the world in Evgeni Malkin, this team cannot stop winning. Sidney Crosby is playing as well as he ever has, and the Leafs truly have no answer for the kid who wears #87.
Toronto enters this game a fragile bunch. Last season, the Leafs were firmly in a playoff position before everything fell apart. The team lost 9 of 10 contests at one point last season, and quickly dropped from playoff contention. This helps to explain the tension surrounding the team right now. Though the Buds have only dropped three straight contests, the way in which they’ve played, and their defensive deficiencies are reminiscent of last year’s squad. Toronto is playing far too loose defensively, and their mostly-AHL defensive group seems to be getting overwhelmed of late.
John-Michael Liles is expected to draw into the Leafs line-up for tonight’s game, his first start over the last 12 contests. That said, his inclusion shouldn’t make too much of a difference. The Pens simply have too much firepower for the Leafs, and the way Crosby is playing right now will be no match for Toronto. Head Coach Randy Carlyle seems to have miscast the team’s top centre in Mikhail Grabovski, and the rest of the team seems to have struggled as a result.
While Toronto appears to be having a solid season, in many of their games they’ve been outplayed and outshot. Goaltending has kept this team afloat, a stark contrast from last year. It seems as if the luck is about to run out, as both Reimer and Scrivens have struggled of late. It’ll be Ben Scrivens vs. Marc-Andre Fleury on Thursday night, and look for Pittsburgh to both win that match-up and capitalize on a fragile Leafs squad. Take the Pens as short favourites Thursday night.
PICK = Pittsburgh (-135)
While we’ve struggled of late providing bonus selections, tonight’s slate is intriguing for all the value it will provide. Read on below for my thoughts on three games that have caught my attention. We enter the evening 21-18 with the bonus picks.
Bonus Pick #1: N.Y. Rangers (-110) At just a pick’em price, consider a Rangers team that simply has to get going. They were dreaming of lifting the Cup in the Big Apple back when the season started, but their team just hasn’t lived up to the hype. Given their clear goaltending advantage, and overall talent disparity, the Rangers should roll over an over-achieving Jets squad that seems due for a letdown.
Bonus Pick #2: St. Louis (-135) The Blues have started to find their game recently, after being mired in a six-game mid-season slump earlier on. Alex Steen returns tonight for St. Louis, and he has been a key contributor in this franchise’s resurgence. Jake Allen has provided the Blues solid goaltending, and Ken Hitchock’s squad is always tough to knock off at home. The Coyotes have trouble scoring, and without Radim Vrbata and Matthew Lombardi, those struggles will persist. Consider the red-hot Blues Thursday night, as they continue their quest for home-ice in the playoffs.
Bonus Pick #3: Los Angeles (+100) After being caught up in a lengthy Stanley Cup hangover, the Kings have snapped out of it and have enjoyed a great stretch of late. This remains one of the most well-balanced teams in the NHL, and their physicality and offensive ability will make things tough for a Sharks team that struggles to score. Though San Jose thrives at home, the Kings have earned the reputation of road warriors, and expect a gritty effort to secure two points Thursday night. Getting L.A. at plus-money always seems like a solid wager.
Bonus Pick #4: Tampa Bay (-125) The Lightning pulled off a huge victory in their last outing against the Panthers, and seem poised for a second-half push. This team is too talented not to give Carolina a run for the Southeast Division crown, and they should roll over the Islanders. Tampa Bay thrives on home ice, and goaltender Anders Lindback’s play of late has really improved. New York will also be without key forward Michael Grabner. Expect the depth of the Lightning forward group to overwhelm a shaky Isles’ defense, and look for Tampa Bay to keep on accumulating key points for their post-season push.