It's a short week of hockey action this week as the NHL's All-Star Game is Sunday in Columbus and the league goes dark for regular-season action starting Thursday. Here's an updated look at some Eastern Conference betting trends and odds.
Sabres Glad for Break
The Buffalo Sabres' All-Star Break already has started and one could argue that in fact Buffalo has been on a break for several weeks. The Sabres enter the week on an 11-game losing streak. They led Detroit 3-0 on Sunday through one period only to fall 6-4. All 11 of Buffalo's defeats have almost impossibly been in regulation. The last time a team lost 11 in a row, all in regulation, was when Pittsburgh dropped 13 straight from Jan. 13-Feb. 12, 2004. Only two of those 11 Sabres losses have been in one-goal games. Buffalo has scored more than three goals in two of the games.
The Sabres are bad everywhere. They rank last in the NHL in scoring (1.8 goals per game), goals-against (3.5 per game) and power-play percentage (9.9). Just to give one bright spot, the Sabres will have captain Brian Gionta and defenseman Mike Weber back after the break. Gionta (four goals, seven assists) has been out since Dec. 23 with an upper-body injury and Weber (one goal, five assists) missed the past two games with a lower-body injury.
Also, the Sabres apparently have the most popular player in Latvia. That would be second-year center Zemgus Girgensons. He led all NHL players in fan votes for the six spots open to fan voting for the All-Star Game. Girgensons got more than 1.5 million votes, almost 80 percent of which were from Latvia.
If there was ever any season where it's smart to tank like Buffalo clearly is, it's this year. The 2015 draft has two potential franchise players in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Expect more teams to tank as we get further into the season in order to get a shot at one of those two young stars.
The Sabres have been a solid 'over' bet at sportsbooks at least as they are 23-18-6 'over/under.'
Coaching Change Hasn't Helped Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs fired Coach Randy Carlyle two weeks ago in hopes that a change behind the bench would spur the underachieving club. It hasn't as the Leafs have lost four straight and are 1-5 under interim coach Peter Horachek. Toronto has been outscored by at least two goals in each of those losses and by a combined 12-1 in the four-game slide entering Monday's home game with Carolina.
Star Phil Kessel hasn't been able to find the next with only two goals in the past 15 games, in which the Leafs have three wins. Ever since Horachek took over, a team that was averaging 3.25 goals per game has averaged only 1.17. The last eight games the bottom six forwards in the lineup have one goal and one point.
Three points from first in the East a month ago, the Leafs are now 21st in the NHL -- closer in points to those terrible Sabres than to overall No. 1 Anaheim. To have any hope of making the playoffs, the Leafs probably have to win something like 22 of their final 36 games and that's unlikely. Expect the team, which is 26-20 against the spread on NHL odds, to be a seller ahead of the early-March trade deadline.
Habs Avoid Disaster with Price
The Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings have recently lost their No. 1 and All-Star goalies for weeks due to injury, but it appears that the Montreal Canadiens have avoided a similar issue with netminder Carey Price. He was hurt in a collision with the Blue Jackets' Chris Calvert on Jan. 14, with Price's back being driven into the goalpost. Price sat out Saturday's 6-4 win over the Islanders with an upper-body injury but could be back Tuesday against the Predators. Price has been selected to play in the All-Star Game on Sunday. He ranks fourth in the NHL in save percentage (.927) and fifth in goals-against average (2.19 per game).
Montreal enters this week three points behind Tampa Bay for the Atlantic Division lead and the Habs aren't going anywhere if Price is hurt. Montreal is a +160 favorite at sportsbooks to win the division. The team might be without right wing P.A. Parenteau for a while as he's suffering from concussion-like symptoms. He missed three games earlier this season with the same problem. Parenteau has six goals and nine assists.