This Week’s Hottest Bets In The NHL: Crosby’s Penguins Marching Into COVID Break

Pittsburgh has won seven straight games without some of its top players
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Each week, we’ll take a look at some of the hottest and coldest bets around the NHL, identify the team with the softest schedule, and shed some light on some interesting betting trends.

NHL players will not be participating in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China, citing concerns over the rapid spread of COVID-19 and a growing number of postponed NHL games that need to be made up. What a major bummer for hockey fans and bettors, who haven’t been able to enjoy NHL participation in the Olympics since 2014.

But hockey bettors have even bigger concerns than the Olympics, as there may not be any NHL games to handicap if COVID continues to plague the league and its players. The NHL has suspended all team activities from Dec. 22-25 after nearly 15% of its players entered COVID protocol. The plan is to resume play on Dec. 27, but that may seem overly optimistic at this point.

Well, enough COVID talk. Let’s assume the league returns to action as planned next week and take a look back at some of the hottest and coldest bets in the NHL.

Hot team: Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby and Co. enter the Christmas COVID break riding a seven-game winning streak, and there’s even better news on the horizon for the club: Bryan Rust (lower-body), Evgeni Malkin (knee), and leading scorer Jake Guentzel (upper-body) all returned to practice in non-contact jerseys prior to the break.

The addition of Malkin, who is projected to make his season debut in early January after undergoing offseason knee surgery, will be another major boost for the surging Penguins. In 15 seasons with Pittsburgh, Malkin has 424 goals and 680 assists for 1,104 points. Crosby, who was expected to captain Canada’s men’s Olympic hockey team and is disappointed the NHL won’t be participating in the event, will now have the chance to purely focus on claiming a fourth Stanley Cup.

Next three games: @Boston (Dec. 27), @ Toronto (Dec. 29), @ Ottawa (Dec. 31)

Cold team: New Jersey Devils

The Devils (10-15-5) have lost six straight games and 15 of their past 18 contests (3-12-3). New Jersey currently has five players in COVID protocol and is missing starting goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood due to a neck injury. Veteran backup goalie Jonathan Bernier has also been out since Dec. 10 with a hip injury, leaving the team thin in goal.

The extra time off may help the reeling Devils, but they’ll need to revamp their power play if they intend to turn things around. New Jersey ranks 30th in the league with a dismal 12.9% conversion rate on power plays.

Next three games: @ St. Louis (Dec. 27), @ Buffalo (Dec. 29), vs. Edmonton (Dec. 31)

Best over team: Seattle Kraken

Seattle remains the best over play in the league, taking a 19-9-2 over/under record into the break. Defense and goaltending are both major issues for this team. The Kraken have allowed 3.57 goals per game, which ranks 30th in the league, and their goalies have posted a combined .884 save percentage, the worst mark in the NHL. With two dates against the red-hot Vancouver Canucks, who have won six straight games, looming on their schedule, there could be even more goals pouring into the Kraken net.

Next three games: @ Vancouver (Dec. 27), vs. Philadelphia (Dec. 29), vs. Vancouver (Jan. 1)

Best under team: New York Rangers

The New York Rangers have played under the total in five consecutive games to improve to 10-19-1 O/U this season. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who was just activated off injured reserve after suffering a groin injury, has posted an impressive 13-3-2 record with a 2.05 goals-against average and .937 save percentage, which is tied with Toronto’s Jack Campbell for the best mark in the league.

Backup netminder Alexandar Georgiev filled in admirably in Shesterkin’s absence this month, posting a 3-2-1 record with a .934 save percentage across seven games. The Los Angeles Kings have actually been the kindest to under bettors this year, posting a 9-20-1 O/U mark through 30 games, but New York’s current under streak can’t be ignored by bettors.

Next three games: vs. Detroit (Dec. 27), @ Florida (Dec. 29), @ Tampa Bay (Dec. 31)

Best puckline team: Anaheim Ducks

Quack! Quack! Quack! Puckline bettors riding the Anaheim Ducks all season have plenty of cash for Christmas gifts this year thanks to a 26-6 record ATS to date. The mood is light for the Ducks, who were supposed to be in a rebuilding phase this year, but have played to a 17-9-6 record to sit third in the Western Conference. Anaheim hasn’t played since Dec. 17 due to postponements, so its players have had plenty of time for jokes, as displayed in the prank video below.

Next three games: vs. San Jose (Dec. 27), vs. Vancouver (Dec. 29), @ Vegas (Dec. 31)

Best schedule spot: Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo (10-20 SU) has been sneaky good lately, collecting points in four straight games (2-0-2) while playing against some quality opponents in Washington, Winnipeg, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh. Even more impressive, the Sabres have covered the puckline in five straight games as underdogs. A favorable schedule awaits Buffalo once it returns from the holiday break, with matchups against the lowly New York Islanders (8-18 SU) and a home game with the Devils (10-20 SU) on the horizon.

Next three games: vs. New York Islanders (Dec. 27), vs. New Jersey (Dec. 29), @New York Islanders (Dec. 30)

Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

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