(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
With the trade deadline behind us, we have only one more hill to climb in the 2021-22 NHL season. Over the final month of the regular season, we'll have the pleasure of getting to see familiar faces in new places, and high octane, playoff caliber hockey as we head into the playoffs. Desperate teams on the fringe of a playoff spot are going to active their fight or flight response, and as the old saying goes, “a cornered animal is almost as dangerous as a wounded one.”
Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert, in fact, I'm the exact opposite. These are just my personal takes and my personal bets going into tonight's contests. Odds mentioned in this article are subject to change prior to puck drop.
Let's take a look at last week's record:
Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Buffalo Sabres
Just when you think the Pittsburgh Penguins are done, they end up right back at the top of the standings. At the beginning of every new season over the last few years, it seems as if everyone begs the question, "is this the year that the Penguins finally blow it up?" and every time, everyone says yes. This year was no different.
The expectations for the Penguins heading into the 2021-22 season were low, and just like they do every year, they proved everyone wrong. Pittsburgh is one of the top teams in the East, sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division with 87 points.
With the addition of Rickard Rakell prior to the 3 PM trade deadline on Monday, Pittsburgh has become that much scarier. Tonight is the second of a back-to-back for the Penguins, as they faced off against the Columbus Blue Jackets last night in a 5-1 victory. Starting goaltender, Tristan Jarry got the start last night, so look for backup goalie, Casey DeSmith, to get the start tonight. Also expect fatigue to play a factor in tonight's contest.
The Buffalo Sabres aren't a team to be taken lightly these days. Regardless of their place in the standings and the fact that they'll miss the playoffs for the 11th straight season, Buffalo is hot right now, and have a plethora of young and exciting talent on their roster. So far in the month of March, the Sabres are 6-3 in their nine games played, and have knocked off playoff opponents such as the Toronto Maple Leafs (twice) the Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, and the Vancouver Canucks who are right on the cusp of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The 24-year old forward, Tage Thompson, leads the Sabres in scoring this year and is on pace to have his first 30-goal season in his career. Thompson has been nothing short of spectacular this season, playing alongside Alex Tuch on the first line, who has made an immediate impact for Buffalo since coming over in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Although Pittsburgh is leaps and bounds ahead of Buffalo in the Eastern Conference standings, I do expect this game to be a close and exciting contest. Given how hot Buffalo has been, and the fact that Pittsburgh might be playing with some fatigue, I think this matchup will be a lot closer than some people think.
Alex Tuch O .5 points
Game 2: Chicago Blackhawks @ Anaheim Ducks
Both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks were big sellers at the trade deadline on Monday. Chicago sent their starting goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury to the Minnesota Wild, while the Anaheim Ducks sent Rickard Rakell to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and defenseman, Hampus Lindholm, to the Boston Bruins.
The Ducks season started out very promising. With young and exciting talent such as rookie Trevor Zegras, leading scorer Troy Terry, and solid veteran leadership in guys like Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler and John Gibson, Anaheim has fallen off, going from a top-three team in the Pacific Division, to sixth place and most likely missing the playoffs. Injuries to key guys like Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg obviously haven't helped the team, but at the end of the day, the Anaheim Ducks are a squad that wasn't expected to be as explosive as they were in the first half of the season.
Anaheim has an extremely bright future ahead of them with their young core. The front office knows what they're doing, and are building a team that is sure to be a perennial contender in the coming years, and that's something Ducks fans can be truly proud of.
The Chicago Blackhawks... not so much. With their dynasty years behind them, and their front office's inability to recognize that the time to begin their rebuild was years ago, the Blackhawks are only delaying the inevitable. Chicago made a great attempt to be competitive this season, as they traded for top defenseman, Seth Jones, and reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Marc-Andre Fleury, but it just didn't work out for them.
Very dark days are ahead for the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans if they don't open their eyes soon.
Additional game picks this evening:
COL Avalanche -1.5