Friday Picks: Central Division Race Heats Up With Stars versus Blues
It is Friday night and for the NHL that means big games! The Central Division race heats up as the Blues head to Dallas to take on the Stars. Just two points separate the two division rivals, so this should be a very physical hockey game.
The Atlantic Division will be in full effect as well with the Hurricanes taking on the Islanders and the Flyers taking on the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Central Division rivals Colorado and Winnipeg are also in action.
Stars vs. Blues
What A Difference A Year Makes
Last season the Stars finished with just 79 points. Fast forward 57 games into this season and Dallas already has 70 points. The Stars had an outstanding offseason and have put together a team that should put up a fight in the postseason.
One of the significant differences between this season is the reliable goaltending that Ben Bishop brings. In 43 appearances this season Bishop is 23-15-3 with a 2.5 goals against average, and .918 save percentage.
This is a huge leap forward from Kari Lehtonen’s numbers last season where he went 22-25-7 with a 2.85 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.
The addition of Ben Bishop has vaulted this team into one of the best defensive teams in the league. General manager Jim Nill deserves a lot of credit for what he has done in Dallas. Last season was a disappointment, but Nill made sure that it didn’t happen again.
Radulov’s Career Year
Radulov’s highest point total in a season was 58 back in the 2007-08 season. So far in the 2017-18 season, he has 53 points in 57 games and is the point leader for the Stars. Radulov was out of the league for four years between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 seasons so his rise to dominance this season is quite remarkable.
In his three games versus the Blues this season he has three points; including a two-goal performance on December 29th. Coming into this season, Radulov had five games in his entire career where two goals or more. This season he already has two, and there are probably more still to come.
The play of Radulov this season has elevated the Stars play to new level. He has earned every penny of his eight million dollar salary this season, and everything from this point on is just icing on the cake.
Brayden Schenn Leads The Charge
Brayden Schenn has played well above expectations for the Blues this season. The 26-year old forward leads St. Louis in points as well as takeaways defensively. Schenn is a phenomenal two-way player that has definitely helped boost the Blues into the position they are in today.
Schenn is a fast and physical player that knows when to finesse and also when to lay the hammer. His plus-minus rating of +16 is a career-best for Schenn, and it is a testament to how well he has played on both sides of the ice for St. Louis.
I think the Stars will take this one. The Stars play very well at the American Airlines Center, and it shows in their record. At home the Stars are 20-9-1; including their lone win against the Blues this season. Both teams are very defensively sound and play a physical brand of old-time hockey. This game should be incredibly fun to watch, but I expect the Stars to squeak it out and overtake the Blues in the Central Division.
Lock Pick: Hurricanes vs. Islanders
It is no secret that the Islanders lack defense. In their loss to Columbus a few days ago they allowed a remarkable 51 shots on goal, but the issues don’t stop there. The Islanders are the only team in the NHL that is averaging more than three goals per game while at the same time allowing more than three goals per game. Their 3.63 goals allowed per game is dead last in the NHL, and that number continues to trend in the wrong direction. In their previous ten games New York is an abysmal 3-5-2.
While New York continues to trend in the wrong direction, the Hurricanes look like a team that is making strides towards playoff contention. The Hurricanes have won three of their last four games and are 6-3-1 in their previous ten games. The only issue in Carolina is that they never know what kind of goaltending they are going to get, but even that has gotten steadier as the season rolls on.
Goaltender Scott Darling was brought in after Cam Ward had struggled for a few seasons, but now as we go past the midpoint of the season Ward has seemed to take back his starter spot. In 28 starts this season Ward is 17-7-3 with a .912 save percentage and is allowing 2.6 goals per game.
I like the Hurricanes to win this one against an Islanders team that seems to be caught in no man’s land. The Hurricanes are starting to put it all together, and they just might actually become a legit threat in the Eastern Conference.
Upset Pick: Blue Jackets vs. Flyers
Pick: Blue Jackets
It is not really an upset if the Blue Jackets win, but they are lower than the Flyers in the standings so by definition it counts; especially with the way, the Jackets’ offense has been. In Columbus’ last three games they have put 50-plus shots on goal in all three of them. They are the first team in NHL history to do this. They have brought an onslaught of shots on opposing goaltenders, and it has been fun to watch.
With the way hockey is played in the Metropolitan Division, I expect those same looks to be there for the Jackets. Their newfound philosophy of throw the puck on net and pray for a bounce has been working and although the Flyers defense is good, I could see the Jackets pouring it on. I think Columbus will take this one at home against Philly.
Featured image by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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