Guess who's the favorite to win the NHL East division?
It's none other than the Pittsburgh Penguins - frankly, the team we've not been paying much mind to of late, what with the Washington Capitals, Islanders and Bruins occupying much of our consciousness.
But Pittsburgh shot to the top of the division with a run that saw them win eight out of ten games, until they got slowed down with a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. As of that game they are now one point behind Washington in the division.
2021 NHL East Division Futures Odds
But as we look at the futures betting odds (and it's not that far into the future), they are listed as the favorites to capture first place in the East:
Pittsburgh Penguins -105
Washington Capitals +115
Boston Bruins +600
New York Islanders +600
The Caps and Islanders have a game in hand on them. The Bruins have two, although they were five points behind Pittsburgh and six behind Washington through Wednesday's action.
So why are the Pens being valued so highly?
Perhaps it's because four of their remaining six games take place against non-playoff teams (Philadelphia and Buffalo).
But the other two games are against the Capitals, who have been on a pretty nice prolonged streak of their own and play the Rangers twice, the Flyers twice and the Bruins once in the regular season schedule that is left. Five of the last seven games they'll play are at home, by the way.
They just swept three games against the Islanders, two of which took place at the Nassau Coliseum, where the Isles have been deadly for much of the season.
Barry Trotz's team will have to close with a tremendous rush to make up a five-point deficit. The schedule doesn't work out too badly for them. They play two against the Rangers, two against the Sabres, two against the New Jersey Devils and one against the Bruins. Among those teams, only Boston is going to the playoffs (unless they collapse).
If you look at their combined record against those clubs, it is a sizzling 20-5, outscoring them by a margin of 76-47.
The other side of that coin is that they are not coming down the home stretch with a flourish, as they have lost six of their last nine games and have been held to one goal or less in seven of their last eleven contests.
That doesn't seem to bode well for them, does it?
And that is why they're +600.
You'd have to figure the Isles have to get to 75 points, even if the Caps and Penguins falter a little, and to do that they would have to go no worse than 6-1 in those seven remaining games.
The Bruins get an extra game, and they have been hot, winning seven of their last nine, but they'd have to stay that way, and even though the schedule doesn't seem completely insurmountable (two each with the Sabres, Rangers and Devils, one each with the Islanders and Caps), we imagine they'll need at least six wins to give themselves and chance, maybe seven.
We'd like to be able to sit here and say that Buffalo could be a thorn in the side of one of these teams in the final days,but after a period where the Sabres had offered some encouragement, they gone back into "fizzle out" mode. Could the Flyers be a spoiler? Things have admittedly been choppy for them, but they have still won more than half of their regulation time decisions.
They still have to play Pittsburgh twice and Washington twice. So they may have a lot to say about who wins this division race.
And guess what? They have beaten the Penguins in four of six meetings, while dropping five of six to the Caps, surrendering 29 goals in those games.
So that goes into our rationale. So does the fact that Washington is a point ahead with a game in hand AND the underdog in what really amounts to a two-horse race.
That's why we are squarely on board with the CAPS (and we put that in caps just for emphasis).