The NHL's regular season concludes this Friday and I feel comfortable saying each conference is down to nine runners for their eight spots. On both sides of the East/West divide some big names are in the mix to miss out, such as LA and Boston. However I'd like to focus on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who face a crunch meeting with the Ottawa Senators later today.
The Penguins' situation seems inconceivable as since the 2006-07 season with both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their ranks they have been perennial contenders. Mike Johnston's men are desperately short on momentum though having won just four of their previous 14 games and here lies the danger with Ottawa on the rise. Just a month ago they seemed in little danger and even now are still third favourites to represent the East in the Finals at 6.75. After tonight they will be very well tested by the NY Islanders but then have what should be a simple two points against Buffalo on the final day.
Injuries have no doubt played a part, especially on defence with long absences for Olli Maatta and Christian Ehrhoff plus the latest concussion for Kris Letang. Up front Crosby and Malkin have seen all kind of combinations on their wings and this will not go down as a vintage individual year for either relative to their exceptionally high standards. Pittsburgh has been seen as the offensive juggernaut of the NHL over recent seasons but this time around they lie 19th in goals for per game. Over the last ten they've scored only 18 times and that is probably due to their being little to fear in their forward depth.
Letang's absence is significant as he will do much the same job as Erik Karlsson does for tonight's opponents in leading them through the transition up ice. Another reason why the Pens have dropped off offensively has been the slide in their powerplay production, which at the start of the year was utterly devastating. Odds of 3.55 on the road side failing to top the 1.5 goal line could be worth a go.
I spoke about Ottawa last week and after the long road back into contention this is their opportunity. Both of the Sens' last two fixtures are out on the road so expect Canadian Tire Centre to be rocking in the hope this is not the last chance to see their team until October. Goalie Andrew Hammond still looks sharp and Kyle Turris has been excellent throughout the last week
To me it makes sense to follow the form book and back them to pull off a huge victory at 2.40.