What's going on hockey fans? We're officially past the COVID-19 pause and the NHL is back in full swing, for the most part.
We're drawing closer to the league's All-Star break, which is only a few weeks away. Unfortunately, we're not going to get to see some of the NHL's biggest stars at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing after the league pulled out. The NHL has already seen so many games postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and those games are going to need to be made up at some point. Some of those games likely will be played during the three-week period that would've been an Olympic break.
While I understand why the NHL made the call to back out of the Olympics, it doesn't make it any less deflating. Some of the league's biggest stars like Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid have yet to participate on the global stage. It would've been a ton of fun seeing Matthews lead the United States throughout the Olympic tournament. Everybody remembers when T.J. Oshie captivated the nation during the 2014 Olympics. It would've been awesome to see Matthews in a leading role like that.
Anyway, enough of my sorrows. Friday offers only two games, but I have a play in each one, so let's get to the picks!
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
The Pick: Capitals (-105): This battle features two of the more impressive teams in the NHL this season, but also two teams that are going in two very different directions when it comes to being affected by COVID-19 outbreaks. Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko, along with defensemen Scott Perunovich and Jake Walman, were placed in COVID-19 protocols on Thursday. Tarasenko is being listed as day-to-day and probably won't be suiting up for this game. He currently leads the Blues with 34 points (14 goals and 20 assists) and is coming off a strong performance in the Winter Classic in which he scored a goal and registered five shots-on-goal. With Tarasenko in the lineup, the Blues' top line takes a big hit.
Meanwhile, the Capitals are likely going to get forwards Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie back in the lineup after they both missed time due to a non-COVID-19 illness. In addition, defenseman Dmitry Orlov is slated to return to the ice after recently dealing with an upper-body injury. It's certainly been no secret that Alex Ovechkin has been playing some of the best hockey of his career this season. However, he's been doing the majority of that without Backstrom playing on the top line. With the Blues being shorthanded on defense, I expect Ovechkin and company to take advantage in this spot.
Key Trend: The Capitals are 5-2 in their last seven games against the Central Division
💰 More NHL picks
The Pick: Under 6.0 goals (-120): Now the goaltending matchup has yet to be officially announced, but Frederik Andersen should be in net for the Hurricanes and Jakob Markstrom should start for the Flames. The Flames did face the Lightning on Thursday, but backup goaltender Dan Vladar drew the start in that game and surrendered four goals in a 4-1 loss. In addition, the Hurricanes had an off day on Thursday, which likely signals that Andersen will be between the pipes.
Andersen and Markstrom have been two of the top goaltenders across the league this season and are currently in the Vezina Trophy conversation. Andersen currently ranks third in the NHL with a 1.92 goals-against-average and has allowed two goals or fewer in five of his last six starts. On the other hand, Markstrom owns a 2.15 goals-against-average, which is good for fifth in the league. Now the Flames netminder is coming off his worst game of the season against the Panthers in which he surrendered a season-high six goals. The Panthers have scored the most goals (132) in the NHL this season, so it's understandable to have a bad outing in that spot. With the amount of talent in goal between Andersen and Markstrom, I'm comfortable taking the under here.
Key Trend: The under is 6-1-1 in the Hurricanes last eight games against Western Conference teams