Date/Time: March 6, 10:00 p.m. ET
TV: FS-Pittsburgh, PRIME, Sportsnet Ontario
Moneyline: Anaheim -128
Could Friday night’s NHL matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Anaheim Ducks be a Stanley Cup Finals preview? That could certainly be the case as the Penguins continue their road trip and kick off the standard three games in four nights against the California teams. The Ducks already knocked off one Eastern Conference heavyweight this week with Wednesday’s win over the Montreal Canadiens to extend their winning streak to four games. The Ducks are a home favorite in this one.
Every time it seems like the Penguins have turned it around, they suffer another setback. After starting the season 22-6-4 through 32 games, the Pens are 14-12-5 over their last 31 games. They were riding high on a four-game winning streak that included wins at St. Louis and at Pittsburgh before the Colorado Avalanche slowed progress on Wednesday night. It will be interesting to see how Mike Johnston handles the goaltending situation this weekend. The last time Pittsburgh played a back-to-back, Thomas Greiss started against St. Louis and the team responded with a 4-2 win. Marc-Andre Fleury played the next night against Florida and the Penguins won 5-1. Whoever starts will lead to a movement in the line, so keep an eye on that.
There will be a lot of star power in this game. Evgeni Malkin has taken over the team lead in points for the Penguins with 65 points in 58 games. He also leads the team with 27 goals. Sidney Crosby is a point behind with 44 assists to lead the club. Kris Letang is third with 39 assists, 21 on Pittsburgh’s top-10 power play. Patric Hornqvist will join the 40-point club with his next trip to the score sheet. Marc-Andre Fleury is 29-14-6 with a 2.21 GAA and a .923 SV%. If the Penguins decide to roll with Thomas Greiss, he has a 7-3-3 record with a 2.82 GAA and a .906 SV%. Fleury leads the league with eight shutouts.
The Ducks had hit a bit of a rut a couple weeks ago, but they have won seven of their last eight games so that seems to be over with. Over their last four games, the Ducks have allowed just five goals and have won all of them by at least two. John Gibson has made the most of his playing time of late, but Frederik Andersen has returned from injury, so it will be interesting to see how Bruce Boudreau plays his goaltending rotation going forward. The Ducks have a comfortable 16-point lead in the Pacific Division and they took advantage of Nashville’s four-game losing streak to move back on top in the Western Conference.
This is unquestionably Ryan Getzlaf’s team. Getzlaf has 20 goals and 41 assists in 63 games to lead the team this season. Corey Perry dealt with mumps and a knee injury in the first half, but he has been very productive when healthy with 45 points in 51 games. His 27 goals lead the team. Ryan Kesler is now over 40 points for the season with 17 goals and 24 assists. Sami Vatanen has been the leader on the power play with seven goals and 10 assists. John Gibson is 9-5 with a 2.41 GAA and a .924 SV% for the season, but he is 7-3 with a 2.46 GAA since the All-Star Break. Frederik Andersen has been terrific with a 30-8-5 record, a 2.34 GAA, and a .917 SV%.
Free NHL Picks: Anaheim Ducks
The lack of consistency from the Penguins makes them a hard team to back right now. The Penguins are just 16-8-6 away from home this season and a big reason why is because teams can get the matchups that they want against Malkin and Crosby. The Ducks may start to put it in cruise control on some nights because they have the league’s best road record, but that won’t apply against teams like Pittsburgh.
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Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.