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We have reached the holiday break in the National Hockey League. Down the stretch in December, there have been some red-hot teams entering the rest period, and there have been some teams as cold as a Canadian Rockies lake. We'll take a look at some of those squads so you can avoid pitfalls once teams fire out of the chute to resume play.
The Chicago Blackhawks have been tough on the opposition, covering six of seven games from Dec. 8-21. During the early part of the stretch, it wasn't without a little heart failure that the Blackhawks were cashing, posting two wins in overtime and a victory in the shootout to start their solid run. Lately, Chicago has opened things up, with their last three victories coming by two or more goals. G Ray Emery has been a huge part of their success, getting the starting nod in eight of the past nine. However, whether he or G Corey Crawford are in net, it hasn't seemed to make a difference lately, as the Blackhawks offense has been on point. The 'Hawks have netted three or more goals in nine of their past 10 affairs. One would think that is great news for the 'over', but it has come through just six times during the stretch thanks to the solid play of the aforementioned Crawford and Emery.
The Calgary Flames have been a bettors' friend lately, especially Friday when they were +250 winner against the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place. The key to Calgary's success has been defense and goaltending during their current three-game winning streak, as they have yielded just four total goals. As such, the 'under' has cashed three straight times, and it has come through in four of their past five games.
The Ottawa Senators hit the break winning three of their past four games, although they dropped a 2-1 decision at Carolina Friday in overtime. While they have been just so-so against the number lately, they're usually a friend to the 'over'. The Senators rank a respectable eighth in goals this season with 111, but they are also second in penalty minutes, leading to ample power play chances for the opposition. As such, the Senators goaltenders and defensemen have been put in very unsavory spots. The Senators have allowed 3.3 goals per game this season, ranking 28th among the 30 NHL teams. The 'over' has come through in 21 of their 36 games.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have also had a difficult time keeping the biscuit out of their basket, particularly on the road. In 18 games away from Air Canada Centre, the 'over' has cashed 12 times, including four straight road games from Dec. 5-23. In addition, the Maple Leafs offense has posted two or more goals in nine straight contests dating back to Dec. 3.
Last, but certainly not least, the St. Louis Blues have put many gifts under bettors' Christmas trees lately, picking up victories in six of the past eight games. They have been totally transformed under new bench boss Ken Hitchcock, and have the feel of a legitimate playoff team after an ugly start. The Blues have won five consecutive home games, but have had a little trouble on the road recently. However, they snapped a three-game road losing streak with a victory in Phoenix just before the break, and that has to have the rest of the NHL concerned. In a bit of a quirky stat, the over/under is 1-1-3 in the past five games for the Blues. That's mainly due to the closing goal total being listed at 5, rather than 5.5, in their past six games. That's the result of their strong goaltending, after seeing a 5.5 target number in 21 of their first 28 games.
On the cold side, the Minnesota Wild has really put a dent in the pockets of bettors recently. After picking up their 20th victory of the season Dec. 10, making them the first NHL team to reach the milestone, the Wild have dropped six straight games. In addition, the Wild have scored a total of seven goals during the six-game slide. As such, the 'under' is 4-1-1 in the past six games. It has been tempting to take a 20-game winner as a road dog recently, but that has been the kiss of death, as Minnesota has just been bringing nothing to the table offensively. It has been putting a strain on their netminding, too, as they have yielded four or more goals in three of the past five games.
The Anaheim Ducks have been terrible all season, which is great news for bettors. Anaheim has dropped four straight games, all on the road, entering the break. Overall, they're just 2-10-5 away from the Pond. The funny thing is that the Ducks' offense is not too bad lately, but their goaltending and defense have been astoundingly bad. Since Oct. 21, the Ducks have given up three or more goals 23 times in 29 games, including each of the past four.
The Columbus Blue Jackets got off to a horrid start this season, saw a little bit of an improvement for a month from mid-November to mid-December, and then went back in the tank. Columbus has dropped four straight games, and six of the past seven, heading into the break. The problem has been their inability to find a steady goaltending and defense. The Blue Jackets have given up three or more goals in eight of their past 11 games. Oddly enough, the Jackets seem to band together a little better on the road than they do at home, so don't get tricked into eating heavy chalk on their home opposition. While winning three of their past nine road games is certainly not that impressive, they are 3-4-2 during the span, dropping two shootouts. In addition, they have managed three or more goals in five straight road contests, with the 'over' coming through in four of those games. Overall, the 'over' is 12-4 in 16 games away from Nationwide Arena. At home, the Blue Jackets have been inept, dropping five of their past six games.