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NHL handicapper Pete Truszkowski gives us his picks for both of Saturday's NHL games

After a week straight of the NHL providing us with five and six game slates running all day, they’ve kind of disappointed us on Saturday. Only two games appear on the schedule for the league. It might not be the quantity of hockey we are used to, but the quality is unmatched. These four teams are amongst the elite of the league and they are playing for very tangible benefits now that the tournament outline and structure is starting to take shape.

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche

Bet if Lehner Starts for Vegas: Knights Moneyline @ +107

Bet is Fleury Starts for Vegas: Avalanche Moneyline @ -118

At 3 p.m. ET, we kick the day off with the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche. Both of these teams have won their first two games, and Saturday afternoon’s game will determine who gets the one seed in the Western conference.

The reward? A series with the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago did just pull off the upset by eliminating the Edmonton Oilers, but neither of these teams will look anything like the Oilers did. Chicago’s defensive system and structure is comically bad, and it shows when you look at the scores of the games in that series. Only one game went under the total, and that was due to a heroic goaltending performance by Cory Schneider.

Chicago was a 12 seed for a reason, and both Colorado and Vegas should be able to handle a team like Chicago with ease. The Blackhawks make so many mistakes and give up so many opportunities.

The loser of this game will face the Arizona Coyotes. Arizona is a team known for it’s stinginess and defensive abilities. They play low scoring games and try to suffocate you and grind you to death. Would you rather play a team that gives you absolutely nothing and tries to keep the games low scoring therefore increasing variance, or would you rather play a team that gift wraps you goal scoring opportunities?

Now that we’ve established the motivation for these teams, let’s actually break down this game.

These are the top two teams in expected goals so far these playoffs. Colorado has a 60.04% expected goal share, while Vegas comes in just under that with 59.30%. Vegas has had near 64% of shot attempts, while Colorado has a respectable 57%. Colorado has produced high danger opportunities at a higher rate; 55% compared to 51%.

You’re probably thinking that there isn’t much separating these teams, and you’d be right. There’s a reason the lines are basically at a pick’em across the board. For me, the pick is simple and it comes down to one factor.

If Vegas starts Robin Lehner in net, they are the play. If Vegas starts Marc-Andre Fleury in net, we go with the Avalanche.

Robin Lehner reinvented his career after defeating alcoholism, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. The last two seasons he has been one of the best goaltenders in hockey after getting help for his issues. While Lehner is on an upwards trajectory, Marc-Andre Fleury is on the other side of the hill. Fleury is the lone reason why Vegas wasn’t the best team in the league. The Knights realized this, and therefore they acquired Lehner from the Blackhawks at the trade deadline in February.

It’s a bit of an awkward situation because Marc-Andre Fleury is the face of the Golden Knights franchise, but at this point, Lehner is a much better goalie.

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

BET: Flyers Moneyline @ +120

Another round-robin matchup that will decide the one seed that will get the opportunity to play the 12 seed. Just like the previous matchup, these two teams are yet to lose a game and have looked impressive in the process.

Montreal, the 12 seed, eliminated Pittsburgh on Friday night meaning they will face-off against the winner of this game in the first round of the playoffs. Montreal is not as enticing of a matchup as Chicago is in the Western conference, but there is a reason the Canadiens were the 24th best team in the league through ~70ish games.

The loser of this game will get the winner of game 5 between Columbus and Toronto which takes place on Sunday. Those teams are a different level of quality when compared to Montreal. Therefore, there should be motivation from these teams to get a result on Saturday night.

One thing I’ve read that has me questioning this is the possibility that Tampa Bay wants their backup goalie to get some minutes in this game. Curtis McElhinney is a below average goalie in this league, so if he takes any minutes from Andrei Vasilevskiy in the Lightning crease, its an advantage for the Flyers.

Carter Hart returns in net for the Flyers. Hart is the 4th best goalie in terms of goals saved above expectation of those goalies who have started over 40 games this season.

Tampa Bay is a slightly better team than Philadelphia when you look at the numbers. Tampa has the best offense in hockey, scoring at the highest goals per game in the league. Through two games thus far, Tampa is 5th in expected goals at 56.6%. Philadelphia is middle of the pack, 12th, at 52.08%

There is no team who was as hot as the Flyers when the season paused. They got a point in 17 of their final 21 games before the pandemic. Since their return, they’ve won both games. Despite this string of good results, they aren’t getting respect at the level of teams like Tampa Bay.

Philadelphia is 2-0 in this tournament, and they were an underdog in both games they’ve played thus far against Washington as well as against Boston. Here they are as an underdog again. We’ll take the value with the Flyers as long as they keep getting disrespected.


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