Only two games on the Wednesday night NHL betting slate and with the Montreal/Ottawa game currently off the board we’ll focus on the Eastern Conference matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Remember a couple of years ago when the Capitals seemed to pull away from the rest of the league by late January and just coast home? They’re at risk of doing the same thing again. Washington opened the season 3-2-2 and pundits were starting to ask ‘what is wrong with the Caps’. Apparently nothing. Since a 6-3 loss to Colorado on October 14 they’ve lost just one game in regulation and enter this matchup on a 13-1-2 run. And like we said, they’re starting to get some separation between themselves and the rest of their division, conference and league. They’ve opened up a 5 point lead over the second place New York Islanders in the Metro Division despite the Isles going 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. They’re 5 points up on the Islanders and the Atlantic Division leading Boston Bruins atop the Eastern Conference and lead the best teams in the West–Edmonton and St. Louis–by an identical five points.
What might be most frightening about the Caps’ torrid run is that they haven’t reached their ‘ceiling’ yet. They lead the league in goals scored per game with 3.74 but are just #15 in scoring defense allowing 2.96 goals per contest. Special teams have been pretty solid–the Caps have the #7 power play and the #6 penalty kill. Starting goaltender Braden Holtby has only just now started to round into form and will enter this matchup with a record of 11-1-3 along with a 2.91 goals agaisnt average and a 0.906 save percentage. He’ll be opposed by Henrik Lundqvist who has looked very mediocre this year with a 4-4-1 record, a 3.54 GAA and a 0.905 save percentage.
The Rangers have done some things right as they retool and particularly on offense. They’ve got the #9 scoring offense with 3.33 goals scored per game. The biggest problem is that their defense has been extremely porous–New York is #30 in scoring defense and ‘lead’ cellar dwelling Detroit by fractions giving up 3.61 goals per game. Hard to see them being able to successfully outscore the Capitals and there’s not much to suggest that the Rangers can do anything to shut them down. Quite a few sportsbooks have the total on this game at 7 which doesn’t exactly suggest a tight defensive struggle.
Washington is not only in significantly better form than their opponent but they’ve also dominated the Rangers in head to head play. Caps have won 8 of the last 9 head to head going 8-1-0 and 3 of the last 4 at MSG. These teams played five times last season and Washington won ’em all. They should win this one as well in a high scoring affair.