The NHL All-Star break has finally concluded, and now teams have a quick turnaround two days later for the start of the second half of the season. A few notes to take from the first half. The Toronto Maple Leafs still have some work to do before Mike Babcock is crowned the savior of the franchise. The Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers are for real. The Ducks are having one of their worst regular seasons and quite a while. And of course, the Washington Capitals have looked unstoppable at times. However, when it comes to the playoffs you might be able to throw all of the above out of the window, other than the Leafs comment, I should say.
The Caps have become one of the least trustworthy squads in the postseason, and the Ducks have blazed through the regular season with nothing to show for it in the playoffs, since 2007 anyway. Conversely, who knows what the Panthers are going to bring to the table late as we get into the spring. Further, how far can the Stars go with their inexperience in the playoffs? If you were to make an educated guess at the moment, it’s looking like to me that the Chicago Blackhawks are going to be the team to beat again.
What about the New York Rangers? I wouldn’t sleep on them. They have quietly accumulated a 27-17-3 record at the mid-way point. Not bad at all, but because of the way the Caps and Blackhawks have been playing, you haven’t heard much of the Rangers this season. They are almost an afterthought. Nevertheless, Vegas and odds makers are still holding them in high esteem. Vegas has them at 10-1 to win the Stanley Cup, 4th in the NHL tied with the Lightning. The Hawks lead the way with odds of 9-2. The Devils have been quiet as well through the first half of the 2015-16 season. However, they look to be a team that is on the mend and trending up. Get some offense in New Jersey and they would be a legitimate contender. As it is this season, the Devils could push for a low playoff seed. They currently have a record of 25-20-1. Goaltender Cory Schneider comes into tonight after a trip to the All-Star festivities in Nashville.
N.Y. Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils NHL Pick
It is a quick trip for the Rangers from New York over to New Jersey. I expect to see plenty of Rangers’ jerseys in the crowd tonight. Henrik Lundqvist will look to improve on his numbers from the first half. Perhaps one of the reasons the Rangers have been in the shade in a way is because Henrik has been beatable. Lundqvist posted a 2.41 GAA to open the season. Statistically that is his worse GAA since 2008-09 where he finished with a 2.43. But there is still a lot of time for him to get those numbers down.
Henrik takes on a Devils team who is a bit anemic on offense. The key to their offense is Mike Cammalleri who made his return to the lineup just before the All-Star break. He never had the opportunity to be the primary offensive centerpiece in Calgary or Montreal, but the Devils have quickly become his team. Adam Henrique will have to take over that role soon, or at least have a breakout campaign. Lundqvist has had a terrific history against the Devils, though, posting a 1.89 GAA against them over 54 appearances. Unfortunately for the Devils, the offense was beginning to come together before the All-Star break. Now there has been a week layoff and it may work against them here. I think Lundqvist and the Rangers get a nice opportunity tonight, coming out of the break, to play stifling defense against an inferior offense. I see the Rangers opening the second half of the year on a bit of a run. I like them here tonight against the Devils.
PICK: RANGERS TO WIN -127