With a very light schedule of games this week we take a look at the Washington Capitals who are, once again, masters of the Metropolitan Division and a couple of surprises at the bottom of the Central. Covers dangles at the hash and goes bar down to give NHL bettors a breakdown of what to watch for this week on the ice.
The Only Game in Town
Hockey bettors might go a bit crazy this week, with just 13 total games on the schedule between Monday and Thursday. The week kicks off with a one-game ledger, as the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Columbus Blue Jackets on a night where most of the sports world will be fixated on the college football national championship game. But don't sleep on this one, with plenty of interesting trends to pursue. Most notably: The Maple Leafs have a significant home edge in this one; they've won five of their past six games at Air Canada Centre while the visiting Blue Jackets have dropped six of their previous seven away from Columbus.
The Washington Capitals are once again masters of the Metropolitan Division, as they put their four-game winning streak on the line Tuesday night against the visiting Vancouver Canucks. The Capitals have used their recent hot stretch, combined with the New Jersey Devils' five-game winless skid, to open up a three-game edge atop the division coming into the week - and oddsmakers believe they'll stay there, making them the prohibitive +220 favorite on Bet365 to finish atop the Metropolitan by season's end. Things are decidedly bleaker for the Canucks, who come into this one having dropped four in a row.
Unlikely Central Cellar Dwellers
The Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks were expected to contend for the Central Division title coming into the season - but as we reach the unofficial first half of the campaign, neither team looks like a division champion as they square off Wednesday night at United Center. Both teams are on the periphery of the Western Conference playoff picture and occupy the bottom two spots in the division; the Wild own a one-point edge over Chicago, but the Blackhawks have a game in hand. Minnesota is installed at +1,300 on Bet365 to claim the Central title, while the Blackhawks find themselves at +1,700 as of Monday.
* The New York Rangers will have to do without forward Chris Kreider for a while longer as he deals with a blood clot in his arm and a required rib resection. The Rangers are 11-4-1 SU in games in which Kreider has recorded at least one point.
* Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele is expected to be out another six weeks with an upper-body injury, but his team appears to be doing just fine without him. The Jets are 4-0-1 since Scheifele went down, scoring four or more goals four times in that span.
* The Colorado Avalanche are in a similar situation, having gone 5-1-0 since losing defensive star Tyson Barrie to a broken hand. Barrie, who is expected to be out another six weeks, is enjoying a sensational season with 27 points through 34 games.
* Looking for a model of consistency? Look no further than league scoring leader Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lighting, who has been held without a point just seven times in 42 games. The Lightning are 3-3-1 SU in those seven contests.
* Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan McKinnon has surged into second place in the league scoring race with 52 points; 12 of those have come in his last five games. the Avs are 18-7-2 SU in games in which McKinnon hits the scoresheet.
* It has been nearly a month since Marc-Andre Fleury returned to action, and the Vegas Golden Knights netminder has been simply outstanding in that span. Fleury is 6-1-1 in eight starts, recording two shutouts and allowing more than two goals just once.
Stanley Cup Futures
* There's the Tampa Bay Lightning - and then there's everyone else. Bet365 has the East-leading Lightning as the runaway favorites to win their second Stanley Cup championship, installing them at +575 heading into the week.
* The slumping Devils have seen their Stanley Cup prospects take a nosedive, leaving them with the fifth-best odds in the East entering Monday. Bet365 has New Jersey at +1,400, behind Tampa, Washington, Boston and Toronto.
* Don't look now, but the Colorado Avalanche are paying out a lot less to end their Stanley Cup drought than they were earlier in the season. Colorado is now listed at +2,500 to win its first NHL championship since 2001.
* As good a show as Vegas puts on at home (18-2-1 SU), the expansion Golden Knights have been plenty entertaining away from Sin City, as well. Vegas is 12-7-1 O/U through 20 road games, and 23-16-2 O/U so far this season.
* The Honda Center hasn't seen much red-light action this season, with the Anaheim Ducks having gone 6-14-1 O/U through their first 21 home contests. The Ducks rank 27th in home goals per game (2.62) and 14th in goals against (2.62).