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The Sports Network
1/22/2007 3:37:01 PM


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There are just 11 weeks left in the NHL's regular season and the fight for playoff slots in both conferences are heating up. The Sabres were the dominant team the first couple months of the season, but they've slowed down of late, winning just four of their last 10 games. The hottest club in the Eastern Conference at the break is New Jersey. The Devils have won 10 of their last 13 and have picked up 22 of a possible 26 points over that span.

Two other clubs, who were written off around Christmas time, have battled back to move up in the standings. Ottawa has won 11 of its last 15, while Tampa Bay was victorious in seven of its last eight match-ups. The Senators head to the break as the fifth-seed and the Lightning are currently in the seventh position.

There are a host of teams fighting for the eighth and final playoff slot, including three teams with 50 points (Rangers, Penguins and Maple Leafs), while four other clubs are closing fast.

Over in the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators have taken over the top spot from an injury-plagued Anaheim squad. The Preds survived even with goaltender Tomas Vokoun out of the lineup with a left thumb injury that forced him to miss 20 games. Chris Mason stepped in and did his best Martin Brodeur impersonation starting the next 21 contests. After splitting his first eight, Mason reeled off 11 victories in his next 14 games.

The big story out west is in the Northwest Division where just six points separate the five teams. Its imperative to finish in third place as the final two clubs may find themselves on the outside looking in as far as the postseason is concerned.

With the All-Star break at hand, theres no better time than the present to look at the top teams current odds to win the Stanley Cup and see if there are any longshots to throw some dough on as well to win it all:

1) ANAHEIM (9-2): The Ducks are the current favorite, but questions regarding the health of this team remain. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov hasnt come anywhere close to his stellar play in the 2005-06 playoffs, and if Jean-Sebastian Gigueres groin doesnt come back 100% the second-half of the season, you can kiss Anaheim goodbye. On the other hand, Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin should both be back right after the break, so the defense will be where it was prior to the current rash of injuries. When healthy, the Ducks are the best team in the conference and they have the best chance of reaching the Finals, but are certainly a risky wager at 9-2.

2) BUFFALO (19-4): The Sabres are the only team in the top five representing the Eastern Conference. Buffalo has had its share of injuries, with the loss of Henrik Tallinder perhaps the biggest loss of all. When the defenseman has been healthy, the Sabres are 14-1-1. Buffalo knows all too well about injured defensemen since that was the main reason the team failed to defeat Carolina in last years Conference Finals. With three top-notch scoring lines, the only way the Sabres dont make it this year is more injuries. The best bet of all 30 teams.

3) SAN JOSE (8-1): It will be interesting to see how the Sharks do this postseason as coach Ron Wilson has alternated his goalies for most of the regular season. Vesa Toskala has won more games than Evgeni Nabokov, despite both netminders posting very similar statistics. Toskala will most likely be the choice in the playoffs unless Wilson continues his rotation, which is something thats rarely done. The offense has sizzled, especially on the power play since the coach changed his forward lines and put Ryan Clowe with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. That combo has been the second hottest line in the league behind Ottawas Dany Heatley-Daniel Alfredsson-Chris Kelly threesome. The one bugaboo that will keep this team on the periphery is its youth on defense, where only two starters have played over 155 career games. Pass.

4) NASHVILLE (17-2): The Predators went BIG this past off-season spending huge amounts of bucks to get Jason Arnott and Josef Vasicek. Arnott was supposed to center Paul Kariya, yet old standby David Legwand has made the most of his opportunity with Kariya and Martin Erat. The former second-overall pick in the 1998 draft has had a disappointing career until now with 21 points in his last 16 games. Nashville has a great chance of reaching the Finals if its goalie situation gets worked out. Tomas Vokoun will eventually regain his number-one spot, but his health is always a question mark. The more the Preds continue to win, the lower their odds will get so if you want to put a bet in on them, do it now.

5) DETROIT (12-1): The Red Wings have played it smart all season by not allowing Dominik Hasek to play the second game on back-to-back nights. So far so good as the Dominator has been nothing short of his usual superior self this year. Niklas Lidstrom leads all NHL skaters with a and Pavel Datsyuk has 20 points in his last 11 games. Penalty killing has literally killed the Wings this season, as 39% of goals against have come while a man or two down. Still, any team with a healthy Hasek has a great chance of going all the way. Detroits worth a few bucks at 12-1.

6) OTTAWA (12-1): Speaking of Hasek, he wasnt available for the Senators in last years playoffs, which could bode well for them this season. It gave Ray Emery a chance to see what the postseason is all about. Emery has allowed two goals or less in seven of his last 12 starts, including three shutouts. The crazy thing about the Sens current stretch is theyve done it all without Jason Spezza. Coach Bryan Murray has already stated he will not skate Spezza with Heatley when he returns after the break. Ottawa has as good a shot as any in the extremely diluted Eastern Conference and 12-1 is a gift.

7) CALGARY (17-1): Jarome Iginla will miss a few more weeks with his sprained MCL, but no worries as Calgary is 6-2 without him. However, there is one major concern regarding the Flames chances of going all the way: they are a horrible road team. Calgary is just 7-12-4 away from the Saddledome and no team has won the Cup with a losing road record in a full season since the 1991-92 Penguins.

8) MONTREAL (17-1): The Canadiens were rolling along with one regulation loss in 10 games until the entire team got hit with the flu bug and have not been the same since. Unless GM Bob Gainey goes out and gets some secondary scoring, there is no way this team will move past the second round of the playoffs.

9) DALLAS (19-1): Its been hard to judge the Stars with the lineup they have had to put on the ice the last month. If one team has been hampered by injuries the most, its been Dallas. It started when captain Mike Modano went down in early December and it has carried over with the loss of Brendan Morrow a few weeks later and Sergei Zubov has been on the shelf since January 11. The bottom line with the Stars is Marty Turco and his playoff performance, or lack thereof. Hes won just two of his last 10 postseason games. Next.

10) NEW JERSEY (20-1): If one can get his hands on the Devils at 20-1, go for it with both fists. New Jersey sports a 29-14-5 mark, but they are even more impressive against the rest of the East with a 27-8-3 record. New Jersey is only ahead of the Flyers in the conference in goals with 126, but the Devils have done it before with defense and could very well do so again. NJ is the top value play at 20-1.

11) ATLANTA (22-1): Don Waddell was almost right. Atlantas GM guaranteed the Thrashers would make the playoffs last season. Well, whats one year amongst friends. The Thrash went 3-4-2 while playing eight of nine games on the road from December 27 to January 13 and yet, still lead the Hurricanes by six points. Despite saying goodbye to Marc Savard, Atlanta has not had much to worry about with the likes of Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov scoring 71 of the teams 154 goals. The last two Stanley Cup champs have come from the Southeast Division. Is a third on the way?

12) CAROLINA (22-1): The reigning kings of the ice have had an up-and-down season, especially of late with injuries to key defensemen and will likely get Fratisek Kaberle back right after the break. Offense has not been a problem, but it is highly unlikely Cam Ward will duplicate his superb goaltending from a year ago. There are far better wagers out there than Carolina.

FULL STORY
 

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2) BUFFALO (19-4): The Sabres are the only team in the top five representing the Eastern Conference. Buffalo has had its share of injuries, with the loss of Henrik Tallinder perhaps the biggest loss of all. When the defenseman has been healthy, the Sabres are 14-1-1. Buffalo knows all too well about injured defensemen since that was the main reason the team failed to defeat Carolina in last years Conference Finals. With three top-notch scoring lines, the only way the Sabres dont make it this year is more injuries. The best bet of all 30 teams.
Exactly true, they need to stay away from the injury bug and play to there FULL potential.

Good Luck Sabres, and other teams
 
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