Saturday nights are supposed to be for hockey. It’s been a long-standing tradition headlined by the infamous Hockey Night In Canada program north of the border. It should go without saying that I’m feeling a little jipped by the five game NHL slate on a night with no football. Come on NHL, get it together.
That being said, five games is still plenty of opportunity to find value and I’ve isolated two team totals that make plenty of sense to me.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
There’s no team with more drama surrounding them right now than the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Pierre-Luc Dubois signed an extension this past offseason and immediately made it known he wanted to be traded. Coach John Tortorella has now benched the Blue Jacket’s best offensive player in two straight games. Tortorella and Dubois both didn’t want to talk about the benching after Thursday’s game.
Now, trade rumors are picking up steam surrounding Dubois. The team has announced he will not play in Saturday’s game if he isn’t traded by then.
Columbus is already a team that struggles to score goals, and now it seems like they’ll be missing their number one center and best offensive weapon. Obviously, a center is responsible for making his whole line better so the Jackets top line wingers will also suffer in his absence.
Columbus is a bottom five team on the season in terms of expected goals scored per 60 minutes at 5v5. They were a bottom ten team in the same metric last season. This season the Blue Jackets are averaging only 7.26 high danger chances per 60 minutes, once again finding themselves in the bottom third of the league.
The Blue Jackets' saving grace is the fact that they do a good job of controlling possession and limiting the quality of chances of their opponent. While they might be able to play that way against the majority of teams in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning is one team that’ll get what they want.
The defending Stanley Cup Champions are obviously one of the best teams in the league when it comes to controlling the puck and generating scoring chances. Even if Columbus plays their best game defensively, there’s enough talent on the Lightning roster to hurt them.
With names like Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, people immediately think offense when they consider the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, that’s a great disrespect to their defense and goaltending.
What many people don’t realize about the Lightning is that they are one of the better teams in the league defensively. Last season, the Lightning were the 4th best team in the league when it came to expected goals against and high danger chances against.
Andrei Vasilevskiy plays almost every night for the Lightning, and he’s one of the best goalies in the league. He has been nominated for the Vezina trophy in three straight seasons, winning one of them.
Combine the absence of Dubois with the daunting opponent, and I think Columbus will struggle to score.
The Bet: Columbus Team Total Under 2.5 Goals (-112)
Montreal Canadiens vs Vancouver Canucks
The Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks are playing their third game in a row against each other. The first two games both went to the Montreal Canadiens.
In those two games, Montreal scored 6 goals and then followed that up with a 7 goal outburst. In five games on the season, Montreal has 25 goals. Quick math tells me the Canadiens are averaging five goals per game.
Montreal has always been a team that the analytic community took a liking too. Last year, despite finishing the season in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, Montreal was the 2nd best team in the league in terms of expected goals.
Montreal greatly underperformed their metrics last season, and a lot of the blame fell on the shoulders of their offensive talent, or lack thereof.
GM Marc Bergevin made two big moves in the offseason acquiring Tyler Toffoli via free agency and Josh Anderson through trade. Through the first five games of the season, the two have combined to score eight goals. Bergevin must be feeling like a genius right now.
In addition to the acquisitions, Montreal expected youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to take a step forward. They’ve done just that as Suzuki is averaging a point per game while Kotkaniemi has a respectable three points in five contests.
On the other side of this matchup, Vancouver will play their seventh game of the season on Saturday night and they’ll look to stop the bleeding in terms of goals against.
In each of the Canucks first six games, they’ve given up at least three goals. All together, they’ve given up 29 goals, meaning on average Vancouver is conceding almost five goals a game.
Vancouver is dead last so far in all five major categories defensively at even strength: goals against, shot attempts against, scoring chances against, high danger chances against, and expected goals against. This isn’t unexpected, as the Canucks were bottom five in most of these categories last season.
In the off-season, the team lost goaltender Jacob Markstrom to free agency. Markstrom did a great job of masking some of the Canucks defensive issues last season.
The team brought in Braden Holtby to compete with youngster Thatcher Demko. This was a risky move, and thus far it has not paid off. The two goalies have combined for an .878 save percentage on the young season. Demko has a -4.36 goals saved above expectation through three starts, which is the third worst mark in the league. Holtby has been a bit better, but his -1.22 mark is not good either.
I expect these trends to continue. Montreal does a great job generating chances while Vancouver does a great job of allowing high quality chances. The goaltending for Vancouver has not been strong while the finishing for the Canadiens has been dynamite.
The Bet: Montreal Team Total Over 3.5 (+100)