The NHL continues their regular season with a six game slate on Thursday night. It was supposed to be seven games, but Covid impacts hockey too. The Hurricanes vs Panthers matchup has been postponed due to five players on the Hurricanes being put on the Covid list.
Nonetheless, we can’t be too upset as it’s a joy to watch hockey every night during these crazy times. I have three plays that I like when taking a look at this card.
The New York Islanders are a divisive team. Some people love them, and others hate them. Coach Barry Trotz has instilled a system that focuses on limiting high quality chances against the Islanders. His team has responded and he’s led them to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since taking over.
Some people consider the Isles a boring team, but who can blame a team for playing a system they believe gives them a best chance to win. Goalie Semyon Varlamov has made two starts for New York in the young season and he’s yet to give up a goal. Varlamov shut out the Rangers on opening night and followed it up by being perfect in a 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins.
In fact, in all three of the Isles games they’ve played this season, one of the teams has been shutout. The Isles shutout the Rangers on Thursday, the Rangers shutout the Isles on Saturday and the Isles shutout the Bruins on Monday.
New York has scored just one goal in their last two games. This is a team that has struggled to score for the past few years, and they didn’t do much to address those issues over the offseason.
The Islanders might also be without Josh Bailey for this game. The Islanders placed Bailey on the Covid list, but there’s been no report as to whether he tested positive or if it’s a precautionary measure due to a potential exposure. If Bailey can’t go, that limits the team’s second line. Bailey fills the role as playmaker and set-up man with Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier. The Islanders can’t afford to lose one of their most gifted offensive players.
On the other side of this matchup, the New Jersey Devils were expected to be bottom dwellers in the East Division but they’ve gotten five of a possible six points through three games.
Goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood leads the NHL in goals saved above expectation. In the first two games of the season, Blackwood and the Devils held the Boston Bruins to 0 goals at even strength. That’s an impressive feat against one of the better teams in the league.
The Devils are led offensively by Jack Hughes. Hughes has had a great start to his sophomore season, scoring 6 points in three games. Outside of Hughes though, there’s not much else on the Devils roster that scares you. Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt are both dealing with injuries and are expected to miss this game.
I think we see another typical New York Islanders game here. Neither team has much in the way of offensive firepower, and both goalies are performing really well to begin the season.
The Bet: Under 5.5 goals @ -125
We mentioned the Bruins in the above preview. Boston is about to play their fourth game and they’ve yet to score an even strength goal. In their last outing, Boston was shutout by the New York Islanders.
There were question marks about the Bruins coming into the season. The team looked a little off in the NHL Bubble last season after playing to the league’s best record in the regular season. In the offseason, Boston lost their best offensive defenseman in Torey Krug to free agency. In addition, captain Zdeno Chara left the organization.
While the two defensemen are noticeable losses, Boston doesn’t appear to have lost a step on the defensive side of the puck. Their 1.81 expected goals against per 60 minutes is a top-ten mark in the league. Goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have been their normal reliable selves to begin the season.
Offensively, the team has started the season without David Pastrnak. Pastrnak finished last season tied for the league lead in goals with Alex Ovechkin. Unfortunately, he’s dealing with a bit of an injury that’ll keep him out for a few games. Without Pastrnak, Boston is obviously missing one of the most feared offensive players in the game.
On the other side of this matchup, the Flyers are having no trouble scoring goals but there’s reason to believe that might change.
The Flyers have the sixth-worst expected goals rate (44.42%) and are overperforming their underlying metrics in almost every way. Philadelphia is scoring 3.06 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, but it is only creating 1.89 xG per 60.
The Flyers are also shooting over 12% at 5v5 so far in the regular season. The league average is between 7-8%. Expect this number to come crashing down as well.
The Flyers have been getting lucky and are over performing every metric. In addition to the expected regression, the team will be without star center Sean Couturier for the next week or two. He’ll be a noticeable loss as youngster Morgan Frost is not yet ready to fill his shoes.
Boston is struggling to score, but they aren’t struggling defensively. Philadelphia is due for some regression in terms of their shooting success. I think that starts in this game.
The Bet: Under 5.5 Goals @ -110
These teams just played an exciting 6-5 game on Wednesday night. Vancouver ended up taking home the two points after a shootout victory. I think Montreal will get their revenge on Thursday night.
Montreal is a trendy darkhorse pick by many NHL fans this season. The team is one of the better teams in the league when it comes to puck possession. The team is expecting big jumps from young players like Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
In addition to the young players making a jump, Montreal added Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson to the roster in the offseason. Both can contribute goals which is something this team lacked last season.
Carey Price got the start for Montreal on Wednesday which means we’ll probably see Jake Allen get the nod in goal on Thursday. Allen is another big acquisition for the Canadiens who haven’t had a good reliable backup goaltender in quite a few years. Allen was spectacular in his Canadiens debut and gives the team a goalie they can turn to without feeling like they’re sacrificing the game.
Vancouver is a good young exciting team, but they aren’t as polished as Montreal is. Their defensive zone play is a little looser, they aren’t as good at driving possession and their goaltending is weaker.
Vancouver might have better high end talent like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, but this isn’t basketball. Individual talent doesn’t win you hockey games.
In this game, I’m taking the Canadiens due to their system which leads to puck control and puck possession. In the second half of a back-to-back, playing with the puck instead of chasing it will be a big deal in order to avoid tired legs. I also like Montreal’s advantage in between the pipes with Jake Allen getting the call.
The Bet: Montreal @ -118
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Expert NHL Picks
Flyers at Bruins - Under 5.5 Goals @ -110
Devils at Islanders - Under 5.5 goals @ -125
Canadiens at Canucks - Montreal @ -118
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