Select NHL Florida Panthers as nice holiday gift

Dec 17, 2013 3:03 AM

Can there be any holiday gift better than finding a -200 favorite in the NHL, then going against them for a nice pay day of +180 or better?

So here is a look at some of the NHL’s bottom-feeders, and discover reasons why they might become teams worthy of a wager – something unthinkable back in October – in order to fill those stockings with gifts.

Florida: Long before the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Panthers back on Oct. 25, we told you they were actually the dregs of the NHL and that Buffalo would win.

That was then, this is now.

Although both sides come out of the gate in pathetic fashion – Buffalo started 3-16 ATS, while Florida opened 3-15 – at least the Sabres showed they could play defense while attempting to determine line combinations.

More than a dozen of Florida’s losses were by one goal (or two with an empty net tally, meaning a young roster needed to learn how to win. So what did new head coach Peter Horachek do? The former Calder Cup champion coach taught them to win, along with assistant John Madden, who retired with three Stanley Cup rings (two with New Jersey, then Chicago in 2010).

Florida enters the week winners in three straight and 5 of 6, with the lone setback coming in Chicago. But the victories have opened some eyes, including Saturday’s 2-1 triumph in Montreal.

Scott Clemmensen stopped 17 of 18 shots, moving his record to 2-1 since returning from a minor injury. The former NCAA champion has grown tremendously with the aid of former Stanley Cup winning goalie Tim Thomas of Boston on the roster as a player and unofficial coach following a year in self-imposed retirement.

The Panthers cap a road trip this week with stops in Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg. They should be underdogs in each contest, yet our money can be found on Le Panther.

Columbus: Wasn’t the Blue Jackets switch to the Eastern Conference supposed to benefit this lightly-followed franchise?

Well, it will later this season when Columbus starts meeting fellow (weak) Metropolitan Division foes. Yet against the more powerful West, CBJ is only a game under .500 – that’s better than most of the East can claim.

So what changed, especially after the loss of No. 1 goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. The team rallied around reserve goalie Curtis McElhinney, who entered in the third period to complete a shutout of Tampa Bay, then came out and posting his own blanking to halt Minnesota.

Columbus has now won 4 of 6 (expected losses to Pittsburgh and St. Louis), with an important home-and-home series with struggling Philadelphia this week.

We thought this was a good spot with Bobrovsky – a former Flyer who managed to escape to shine last season – in goal, but now the Blue J’s look even better at more favorable odds.

Elsewhere: Nashville has won three straight (twice as dogs), including a big with over San Jose. Next for the Preds are winnable games at Tampa Bay and at home to suddenly slumping Montreal. Meanwhile, the Sharks suddenly look beached by dropping 5 of 6 heading into this week’s tough trips to St. Louis and Los Angeles.

Numbers: Los Angeles saw its NHL record of 18 straight games without allowing a first-period goal snapped Sunday at Chicago, which bounced back to win a night after getting embarrassed in Toronto.

Despite their great success in goal, the Kings have gone UNDER in only 3 of their last 10.On their recent roadie, L.A. moved into the top spot as the NHL’s top defensive team (statistically).

Patrick Kane is demonstrating Hart Memorial Trophy form for the Blackhawks as the leading candidate as league MVP. The Hawks have been held to one goal just once this season, posting OVERS in 15 of their last 20.

This Saturday, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada elected to (properly) skip the Calgary at Pittsburgh game. The Flames hold as much chance to win as there will be snow in Jerusalem or Egypt.

Contact Nick at [email protected].

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