Pens Need a Bounce-Back Performance

Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby

Crosby must be more of a threat than he was in game one.

For Los Angeles, it was nothing completely new as the Kings have won on the road only once in their last 12 games while for Pittsburgh, it was the first time they’ve been shutout in the post-season this year. For both the Kings and Penguins, they may only face 1-0 deficits but those are pretty steep hills when you really consider it.

In Chicago, the Kings faced the prospect of going home down 2-0 to the top seed in the Western Conference who proved they could go on the road and win in tough places as they did in Detroit. For the Pens, another loss means they would have to win four of the final five games and three of those would be in Boston. Neither team would but out of it by any stretch should they go down 2-0, but the odds of coming all the way back over the final five games would be significant.

While the Kings will know their fate by the time this goes to press this morning, the Penguins will not as they play tonight in the Steel City.

Boston at Pittsburgh (Bruins lead series 1-0) – I thought Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke, booted from game one for an illegal hit, made the most telling statement following the team’s loss. He said, “I think anytime you see Evgeni Malkin fighting he’s away from his game. Emotions are high.” No one could have been happier about such a statement than the Boston Bruins.

Tuukka Rask
Rask was brilliant in game one.

The Bean-towners knew they had Pittsburgh in trouble when goalie Tuukka Rask was stopping everything and was getting help from the post as well. Throw in the fact they had Malkin off his game and Sidney Crosby jawing with Zdeno Chara between periods and Boston had the Pens frustrated.

What Pittsburgh will do is chalk game one up to ‘just one of those games.’ They had several opportunities to get the puck past Rask but deflections, the posts and Rask himself were just too much for the most potent offense in the NHL. Offensively, the Penguins will need to get more traffic in front of Rask. When Cooke went out, one of their big forwards who can get in front of the net was gone too.

While I thought Malkin was pretty good Saturday night, I thought the Bruins did a masterful job on Crosby who was relatively absent for most of the game. That will have to change for Pittsburgh which means the Pens will need to pick up the fore-check which could get Crosby a little more freedom in the open ice.

For the Bruins, it is really quite simple. Continue to throw pucks at the net and make the Pens work on defense. I thought Tomas Vokoun was actually pretty good the other night, but he had little help in front of him on a couple of those goals in the 3-0 loss. If Richard Krecji keeps having the freedom that he had to roam the ice, then Pittsburgh is in big trouble.

Look for the Penguins to clamp down on him and limit the other Bruins’ offensive threats as well in an effort to limit the action in front of Vokoun.

The Penguins defeated the Bruins in all three games this year and I pointed that out in my preview that while there is something to be said about that, the Bruins are too good not to be taken seriously. Pittsburgh found that out the hard way. I look for the Penguins to bounce back in a big way tonight or else there could be serious consequences in Boston.

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One Month to go in the NHL Regular Season

Sidney Crosby

The National Hockey League’s abbreviated season ends in one month and then the playoffs get cranked up. Even if you’re aren’t a hockey fan, you’d have to concede that there is no better drama in any playoff game in then in a hockey game seven.

Things are already starting to come into focus in terms of who is in line for the playoffs and who isn’t. While there are certainly no guarantees in life or hockey for that matter, I feel pretty good telling you who will qualify for the 2013 NHL Playoffs.

The Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh has won 13 straight games following a 1-0 win over Montreal Tuesday night. They have pushed their lead as the top seed to seven points ahead of second place Boston and Montreal who are tied with 45 points.

Marc-Andre Fleury was caught in collision between two other players near the end of the second period and did not return. I don’t expect him to miss a lot of time if any, but only his or Sidney Crosby’s absence for any length of time would keep the Pens from securing the top seed.

The bottom of the playoff race is less clear as is typically the case in the NHL. Right now, the 8th seed is controlled by the New York Rangers who have a two-point lead over the New York Islanders. Still in play is Carolina (32), Washington (31) and Buffalo (30).

Ahead of the Rangers are the Devils (37) and Maple Leafs (40).

If the playoffs started today, you’d have some intriguing match-ups with Pittsburgh and the Rangers in the one-eight matchup and Boston vs New Jersey in the two-seven.

The Western Conference

After the amazing start by the Chicago Blackhawks, can you believe the Anaheim Ducks are just five points behind in the race for the top seed? While I think Chicago will hang on, because of the better offense, they cannot afford to look past the Ducks.

The bottom of the playoff race is much more muddled. San Jose currently has the eight seed with 34 points. On their heels are the Predators (34), Dallas (33), Columbus (33) and Edmonton (31). The Sharks have won just three times in their last ten games while the Blue Jackets are 6-1-3 over the same stretch. I can easily see this spot changing hands a few more times before the end of April.

Detroit has moved up nicely to the 5th spot and is just three points shy of current third seed Vancouver. The Canucks have won five straight while current 4th seed Minnesota has won six in a row.

If the playoffs started today in the West, Minnesota and Detroit in the four-five match-up would have the potential to be a great seven-game series. The three-six would be an outstanding duel between the Canucks and defending champion Los Angeles.

Games this week in the NHL

NY Islanders at Pittsburgh – The Penguins go for their 14th straight at home against an Islanders’ team that is attempting to catch the Rangers for the 8th seed. I expect Fleury to sit in this one but Tomas Vokoun has played very well of late and I see the streak going at least for one more game here.

NY Rangers at Montreal – In their effort to hang onto a playoff spot, the Rangers travel to Montreal where the Habs are 9-4-3. I like the Rangers to steal a win in Canada.

Chicago at Detroit – One of the great rivalries in hockey returns to Joe Louis Arena where the Wings will host the cooled off Blackhawks. I like Detroit behind solid goal-tending and the little run they appear to be on.

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Pittsburgh Tops NHL Futures Ahead of Season

With Evegini Malkin and Sidney Crosby returning to the fold, the Pittsburgh Penguins are favorites to lift the Stanley Cup ahead of the impending strike-shortened season.

With a red-hot Evegini Malkin and a fully-fit Sidney Crosby returning to the fold, the Pittsburgh Penguins are favorites to lift the Stanley Cup ahead of the impending lockout-shortened season.

With a hockey season finally on the horizon, the Pittsburgh Penguins have topped bookmakers’ lists as favorites to lift the Stanley Cup this summer.

The ranking comes as no surprise as the Penguins were topping such lists before and during the lockout, which came to an unofficial end this past Sunday with the announcement that the league front office and the Players’ Association has struck a deal, ending more than four months of uncertainty.

Reports currently indicate that the NHL is targeting Jan. 19 as the start date for a shortened season that will last 48 games. No concrete schedule can be put into place until the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and NHLPA is completely ratified.

Regardless, news that there will be a hockey season is an added bonus for bettors in a growing market. According to Bovada, betting on the NFL grew by 100 percent last season, a year that saw the Los Angeles Kings score a surprise Stanley Cup victory.

Here then is a breakdown of the Top 5 teams on the current NHL Futures list.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins (8/1)

Last Season: 51-25-6 (Lost 4-2 to Philadelphia in Conference Quarter-Finals)

With club captain Sidney Crosby healthy for the start of the season – and by all accounts hungry to play – the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team loaded with talent, will be favorites to take the Stanley Cup.

One of the biggest reasons for this is Evegini Malkin – last season’s Hart trophy winner – who will return to the U.S. having tallied 65 points (23G, 42A) for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia’s KHL. An in-form Malkin spells danger for the Atlantic Division and the rest of the league.

Of course, the Penguins – who last won the Stanley Cup in 2009 – have had issues staying healthy, a well-known fact that could see bettors stay away.

 

New York Rangers (17/2)

Last Season: 51-24-7 (Lost 4-2 to New Jersey in Conference Finals)

After falling to rivals New Jersey in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Rangers will look to go (at least) one better this year and head to the Stanley Cup Finals. They’ll have Rick Nash – the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft – onboard after a deal was struck back in July, adding to a lineup that has talent and experience.

 

Vancouver Canucks (9/1)

Last Season: 51-22-9 (Lost 4-1 to Los Angeles in Conference Quarter-Finals)

Beaten finalists in 2011 and unceremoniously dumped out in the first round last year by a Los Angeles Kings team on its way to the Stanley Cup, Vancouver will look to once again lead the league in points (as it did last season with 111) and attempt to win its first ever Stanley Cup.

 

Los Angeles Kings (12/1)

Last Season: 40-27-15 (Beat New Jersey 4-2 in Stanley Cup Finals)

Had the NHL season fallen through, the biggest casualty would have been the fans in Los Angeles. After a shocking playoff run that saw the Kings eliminate the No. 1, 2, and 3 seeds in the West, Los Angeles lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. That one run has the most people in Los Angeles watching hockey since a certain No. 99 arrived on a plain from Edmonton.

Fans will again get to cheer as the Kings attempt to defend their title. Another run like last year’s is highly unlikely. Every other team will offer their A-game against the L.A. side. That’s tough enough. But then history is against the Kings. You have to go back to the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings to find a team that successfully defended the Stanley Cup.

 

Philadelphia Flyers (12/1)

Last Season: 47-26-9 (Lost 4-1 to New Jersey in Conference Semi-Finals)

At 12/1, Philadelphia is the third Atlantic Division side in the top five of the NHL Futures, a clear indication of how tough the division is going to be. Not that that’s anything new. The Flyers scored an upset victory over the Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs last year, before being ousted by New Jersey.

Captain Chris Pronger’s return is in doubt after he sat out 69 games last season with post-concussion syndrome and is not anywhere near close to being cleared. Many believe his career is done. Still, Philadelphia has some firepower and will likely advance to the playoffs.

 

In Short…

At 18/1, Minnesota is the highest-ranked (10th) side that did not make last season’s playoffs. The Wild has not made the postseason since the 2007-08 season.

Despite a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, New Jersey is only considered 30/1 to lift the giant trophy this season, ranking the side joint 18th in the league.

Although the franchise was named the richest in hockey, Toronto is one of those sides level with New Jersey at 30/1. Come April, a city that loves hockey more than any other may be more interested in its fully-loaded baseball club.

Columbus has the unenviable label of biggest underdogs this season. The Jackets – who have only made the playoffs once in franchise history (2008-09) – are 100/1 to lift the Stanley Cup.

Florida, Ottawa, and Phoenix– all teams that made last year’s playoffs – are all considered 40/1 to win the Stanley Cup (joint 21st).

 

Odds to Win the 2013 Stanley Cup

Pittsburgh Penguins (8/1)

New York Rangers (17/2)

Vancouver Canucks (9/1)

Los Angeles Kings (12/1)

Philadelphia Flyers (12/1)

Chicago Blackhawks (14/1)

Boston Bruins (16/1)

Detroit Redwings (16/1)

St. Louis Blues (16/1)

Minnesota Wild (18/1)

San Jose Sharks (20/1)

Carolina Hurricanes (22/1)

Washington Capitals (22/1)

Buffalo Sabers (25/1)

Edmonton Oilers (25/1)

Nashville Predators (28/1)

Tampa Bay Lightning (28/1)

New Jersey Devils (30/1)

Toronto Maple Leafs (30/1)

Anaheim Ducks (40/1)

Colorado Avalanche (40/1)

Dallas Stars (40/1)

Florida Panthers (40/1)

Ottawa Senators (40/1)

Phoenix Coyotes (40/1)

Calgary Flames (50/1)

Winnipeg Jets (50/1)

New York Islanders (66/1)

Columbus Blue Jackets (100/1)

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