Coming into the year, the Winnipeg Jets were once again a trendy sleeper pick. The Jets’ offense has a well-earned high-octane reputation and their defense is solid, and that may be underselling them. The only question with Winnipeg was whether or not they’d get the goaltending needed to contend. The expectation was that Steve Mason, who’s had some very good and very not so good seasons in his career, would be given the chance to find his game with the hope that he’d lead the Jets on a run. Well, the Jets are getting great goaltending so far, just not from Mason. Connor Hellebuyck, who faltered after being tabbed as the franchise’s goaltender of the future before last season, has been stellar in the blue paint for Paul Maurice’s squad. Hellebuyck comes into tonight’s game against Dallas with a .940 save percentage, which is fifth best in the league. In addition, the American netminder boasts a 1.98 GSAA (goals saved above average) at even strength, which is 11th best in the NHL.

Last night’s action: The lone play from this column last night came through, with Corey Crawford leading the Blackhawks in a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. We talked a lot about the Hawks’ reliance on their top six forwards in yesterday’s column, but we should note just how good Crawford has been over the years for Chicago. You could make the argument that Crawford, rather than Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews or Duncan Keith, has been their most important player over the past seven or eight seasons.

Tonight’s slate:
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all odds taken from BetOnline

It’s a busy night in the National Hockey League on Thursday, and our first look comes in the Islanders-Capitals game. Before we go on, it is my duty to acknowledge that the author of this column is a fan of the Islanders (although we’ve suggested bets against them here before). New York is off to a good start this year, but it’s hard to ignore their 104.09 PDO, which is the highest in the NHL at 5-on-5. Even with some luck, the Islanders are generating more chances than they are giving up and are doing a good job of driving play at even strength. Also, John Tavares is the hottest player in the league right now and is scoring seemingly at will. Washington is off to a sluggish start and doesn’t have the look of the juggernaut they’ve been over the past few seasons. The Capitals are giving up more scoring chances than they’re creating at 5-on-5 and aren’t driving possession, either. The Caps will also continue to be without Matt Niskanen and Andre Burakovsky for this one. Even though you’ll probably lose more often than you win, the Islanders are a value play here.

The most watchable game of the night takes place in Manitoba, where the Winnipeg Jets host the Dallas Stars. These two teams are evenly matched, and while there isn’t much in between them, the wrong team is favored with this game being played in Winnipeg. The implied odds here give Winnipeg a 50.74 percent chance of winning, which is short of my mark.

One thing that’s becoming more noticeable as this year starts is that more and more over/unders seem to be set at six goals rather than 5.5. Surprisingly, the o/u for the Carolina-Colorado game is set at 5.5. I rarely get involved in NHL totals, but that did surprise me a bit. Either way, the Hurricanes have been driving play like crazy again this year and Colorado, despite its decent start, is not generating a lot of volume, and the Avs are giving up more scoring chances than they are creating. The Hurricanes are in range here.

For more on this game, check out Stuckey’s daily breakdown here.

Picks: Islanders +127, Jets -103, Hurricanes -119

Season to date: 28-32, +0.33u

[Photo: Brad Penner, USA Today]

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