Hockey Night in Canada – NHL Preview Feb 7th

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We have been spoiled by seeing the NHL players in the games for the last several editions of the Olympics, and we have seen some of the best hockey ever played on the planet as a result. The NHL got greedy and ridiculous, though, so they stayed home this time. When the games were full of NHL players we knew who they were and how good they were, so we could handicap effectively. Now, though, we have less direct knowledge, and we must speculate far more. And speculate we will.

There are 12 teams in the tournament, but only six that are legitimate contenders. And all six are capable of winning if they get all the breaks. Canada has won the last two gold medals. Both times all 25 players on their roster played in the NHL, the best league in the world.

This time, the team formerly known as Russia features all 25 players from the KHL — the best league in the world that is eligible to play in this tournament. This is the only team exclusively made of KHL players, so by logical extension it is the most talented team.

There is more than that, too. This is a very talented team. The Russians have not won a medal at the Olympics since This is a tough team to root for, and their history makes them tough to trust on this stage, but they are legitimately favored here. But has it paid off? They are in their last 11, they fall behind before they find their footing in the game and then drag their feet til the game expires.

Changes are afoot, on Friday Carter Ashton and David Broll were traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in This is only the beginning of moves to come which means the Leafs should be tense and under pressure.

This motivation alone should have them to muster up some vitality or infuse their powerplay with life, to get the moral win over Edmonton. Not to mention break the miserable winless streak they have racked up — they have to win sometime, and it will most likely be at the ACC tonight.

But this swagger probably will not last long as they walk into the Forum and face not only one of the best teams in the NHL, but to play them in front of some of the toughest fans in the league. Only a few points behind the leaders, the Habs have hit a small speed bump when it comes to scoring as Eller and Sekac are struggling offensively.

If the Devils, playing the second game in a back-to-back are able to load up on fire-power this could be a tie game and they might avenge their Jan. With four more sets of back-to-back games, they only have two two-day break between games left. That could mean the Habs might release the pedal a bit off the gas and ready themselves for tougher challenges ahead.

So the Devils might have a small chance to usurp a real Stanley Cup contender tonight. They have been quite good the last two seasons, and they have a decent chance of being as solid again this year. But they have lost in the first round both years and haven't put up much of a fight in doing so - losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champs both times, incidentally. They are in a murky area where they are a solid enough team, but the path to being a really good team, or even a great one, is not at all clear.

It could be diagnosed as St. Louis Blues syndrome, and it's not a great illness to have. Carolina has not been good for a long time and now finds themselves in a bit of a rut. Sometimes when you are in a rut you have to do something to shake yourself out of it.

And the Hurricanes did just that. They have a new coach and could have as many as seven newly-acquired players on the opening-day roster.

Their ownership leaves something to be desired - more Jerry Jones than is ideal - but they aren't afraid to be aggressive, and they have quite probably made themselves significantly better. But what will it all add up to? I felt worse for the Florida Panthers than any team last year. They have been working to get things on track for so long and have a lot to like on the squad.

But when the dust settled last year their 96 points was a single point short of the postseason. It would have been enough in the West. Before this past season, the Rangers were a model of consistency. They had made the playoffs seven years in a row and in 11 of 12 years. And they had won at least one playoff series in five of the last six years, going all the way to the finals in But things did not go well last year, and they fell out of the hunt early, ultimately finishing last in the Metropolitan and 20 points behind the final slot.

Now we have to see if it is fatal or temporary - if the team has to fully rebuild or just regroup. Last year Philadelphia made the playoffs, but not by much. Their 98 points was good for the final spot in the Metropolitan Division behind Washington and Pittsburgh, but it was just one point ahead of the two wild-card teams, Columbus and New Jersey, and only two points ahead of the Panthers, who missed out on the postseason.

One win was all of the difference for the team in the end. This year Washington and Pittsburgh are both really good again, and the wild-card race will be, if anything, more competitive. Some of these previews are more depressing than others, and this may be one of the most depressing of all. For so many years the Red Wings were the perfect franchise. They were always competitive, always in the playoffs, and always a nightmare to play against. They were what you wanted your team to imitate.

But that era has ground to a serious halt, and now they are just a team that seems to be floundering and trying to figure out where they are going. The Sabres are saying they plan to be this year's Colorado, and they might even believe it. After finishing dead last in the NHL two years ago with just 48 points, the Avalanche jumped all the way into the playoffs last year. The difference, though, is that the Avs had won their conference three years before and were reasonably competitive the two years after that.

This is one of the easiest previews to write this year and every year.