Detroit Red Wings at Boston Bruins
Of the 10 favourites to win the Stanley Cup only Boston would miss the playoffs if the season ended today and whilst the four point gap to eighth is hardly insurmountable they need to start showing signs of improvement as we approach the midway stage. Consecutive home wins before Christmas were dampened by a thrashing in Columbus at the weekend, this team has been a top 3 defence in five of the last six years but after another six goals shipped languish down in 16th. Part of that is the transition to a number of younger players as well as the fact goalie Tuukka Rask and stalwart blueliners Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg haven't hit their usual heights.
Fellow Original Six club Detroit could regain the Atlantic's top spot with a victory and got by Ottawa on Saturday thanks to a ridiculous overtime winner by Gustav Nyquist, excellent special teams kept the Wings going even through a tough scoring run. Doubts over leading scorer Patrice Bergeron could have a huge impact on this one as he'd no doubt be charged with containing Pavel Datsyuk, to give Claude Julien further headaches Milan Lucic is also a worry when their forward depth is already thin. Even with them in the lineup I'd be leaning towards Detroit to get the two points.
Washington Capitals at New York Islanders
Washington have had an excellent month taking 17 points from a possible 24 and could top it off by further hauling back the Islanders who sit above them in the Metro Division. Pittsburgh are the other and the Caps dominated them 3-0 two nights ago in a very impressive display, Eric Fehr's brace and making Sidney Crosby a -3 on the night were major positives. There's little doubt Barry Trotz's defensive adjustments have benefited him but goalie Braden Holtby has bought into it and is putting together the best year of his still young career as evidenced by that shutout.
A duel with Jaroslav Halak seems likely after the Slovak was activated from injured reserve, the Isles have suffered some major hits without him between the pipes and his individual stats are almost identical to Holtby's. New York's skaters must take some responsibility for the three goal third period collapse last time out though and they can ill afford to be so liberal when leading in these key encounters. With more road wins than any other Eastern Conference team I'm tipping Washington to make this one really count at 3.00.
Best Bet: Detroit Red Wings to win including overtime at 2.20.