NHL picks: 4 best bets for Saturday
Andrew Berkshire provides his best NHL picks and predictions for Saturday's action.
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Things can change quickly in hockey. A little spark of hope, or pride, can change a team’s fortunes. Back in 2014-15 the Ottawa Senators experienced that with journeyman goaltender Andrew Hammond, who broke into the NHL at age 27 and went 20-1-2 to end the season, a miracle run that took the Senators from the basement to the playoffs.
Joining a new team in the Montreal Canadiens, Hammond has seen his new club go 4-0-0, after starting the season 8-33-7. Even if the Canadiens won every game remaining, they’d be unlikely to make the postseason, but coaching change and solidified goaltending has made them a different team.
Hammond won his first start with the Canadiens last week, and his second start will be against his old team, the team whose fans gave him the moniker of “The Hamburglar”. With the Canadiens suddenly playing respectable hockey, can he bring some of that magic back to the barn he gave so much to seven years ago?
The Senators aren’t playing bad hockey. They’ve been pushing good teams hard and winning a few lately, playing a lot of one goal games, but it’s tough to stop teams on a roll, and most of the teams they’ve beaten lately just haven’t been rolling.
The Canadiens have had a taste of what winning feels like recently, and seem keen to keep some of that feeling for a time.
The biggest changes to the Canadiens with new head coach Martin St. Louis are likely structural, but the person who has felt those changes most deeply is Caufield. Instead of being benched for mistakes, Caufield is now being told to try again. Given extra shifts, and extra responsibility, he has responded with six goals and 10 points in seven games for his new coach.
Playing over two minutes more per game and on an absolute heater where he’s scoring on 30 per cent of his shots over that stretch, Caufield has looked unstoppable. Riding the wave isn’t a bad idea.
The Maple Leafs aren’t exactly in crisis mode, and beating a high-end team like the Minnesota Wild last game puts a lot of the feat of an extended losing streak to bed. However, losing back-to-back games against the last two teams to eliminate them in the playoffs to start the week, neither of whom are good, really hurt the ol’ confidence.
Auston Matthews and his whole line have been carrying the team offensively for a long stretch now, as William Nylander and John Tavares have struggled. Nylander got off his goal scoring slump last time we talked about, exactly when we said he would, and now is the time for Tavares.
Tavares has been dealing with a stomach bug this week, and has just seven shots in his last six games, which is absurdly unusual for him. He’s still contributing, but he’s a goal scorer primarily, and as team captain that’s how he leads, by example. Against a low-level team, Tavares is going to do his part to right the ship on Saturday.
With Nathan MacKinnon sidelined by a lower body injury, now is the time that the depth of the Colorado Avalanche shows up in spades. Kadri has been beyond words brilliant this season, the best of his career by far, and he has elevated his play significantly while MacKinnon has missed time.
While MacKinnon is more of a playmaker than a pure scorer, Kadri has a bit more of a shoot-first mentality, so expect him to be extremely amped for a potential Western Conference Final preview against the Golden Knights, the team who eliminated the Avalanche last season.