New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers
Strange timing in New Jersey as the Devils chose Boxing Day to announce Pete DeBoer was the third coaching casualty of the season without a successor lined up. Whilst the timing was a surprise ultimately the decision wasn't, the team has failed to make the playoffs the last two years and with three wins in the last sixteen games have slowly been drifting out of contention once more. At the beginning of that sequence they sat dead level with the Rangers and now after a December surge by their big city rivals the gap is up to nine points. It's actually seven straight victories for the men in blue and even before then they were racking up an excellent 10-2-1 record against fellow Metropolitan Division sides so it's really not an ideal situation for the Devils assistants in short term charge.
Putting some confidence and flow into their attacking play is a priority when only Buffalo and Carolina score fewer goals, they don't have great speed or physicality so it often comes down to making individual plays to create something. To make matters worse one of their men capable of such feats is Patrik Elias and he's one of the latest players to be struck down by the mumps outbreak. Henrik Lundqvist has allowed just seven goals in his last five starts and will see this as a great chance to maintain that, back New York to get through comfortably over the handicap at 2.45.
San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings
Back on opening night San Jose spoiled the Kings' Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony by running out 4-0 winners and they return to Staples Center confident of doubling up. Whilst Anaheim ended the Sharks' winning run they can at least claim extending a point streak and one regulation loss going back a month is now very good going. From a Kings fan's perspective they've hopefully sorted out a defensive blip over the festive break, 27 goals conceded in the last seven games is an extension of being much less solid than usual throughout the season.
At least an offensive revival has run parallel to that with the likes of Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar more than doubling their season totals in a short space of time, coach Darryl Sutter is no doubt searching for the best balance. Although LA's consistent home form is a deterrent the Sharks are on a roll playing the more complete hockey and I like their chances at 2.20 including overtime.
Best Bet: San Jose Sharks to win at 2.20 including overtime and shootout.