The focus of the sports world on Sunday might be on the NFL Conference Championship games, but the NHL stops for no one. The league has an 11 game slate on tap for us to finish the weekend off strong.
The Toronto Maple Leafs might be off and running with a 4-2-0 start, but the underlying metrics don’t paint such a pretty picture.
Toronto is not generating much offensively at even strength as their expected goals per 60 minutes at 5v5 is just 1.96 which is bottom third of the league. Their offensive woes are being covered up by their powerplay which is scoring on nearly 40% of their opportunities. Such an efficient powerplay is not sustainable and when the goals stop coming on the man advantage, things could get dicey for Toronto.
The Leafs are coming off a two game series with the Oilers where the Oilers had the expected goals advantage to the tune of 2.95-1.99. The Leafs managed to win one of the games, but the Oilers had nearly 65% of the scoring opportunities.
In fact, of Toronto’s four wins, two have come in overtime. The other two wins were on the second half of back-to-backs after the team had beaten them the night prior.
While the Maple Leafs are a very good team filled with talent, their start has not been as strong as it might appear on their record. In addition, star forward Auston Matthews’ status for the game is questionable. Matthews is one of the best goal scorers in the league, so his absence would be noticed.
On the flip side, we haven’t seen much of the Calgary Flames. They haven’t played a game since Monday. The Flames have five of a possible six points on the season, which is a very good start to their campaign.
Unlike Toronto, Calgary has looked good in their games. In their opener, they took a 3-1 lead against the Jets before taking their foot off the gas and falling in overtime. Since then, they dominated the Vancouver Canucks over a two-game mini-series. Calgary outscored the Canucks 8-2 over two games. In addition, they held Vancouver to under one expected goal in both contests.
The most promising start for the Flames has to be the one of their top line. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm all have four points each through the first three games. The trio led the Flames to a first place Western Conference finish in 2019. They had an off year in 2020. If they return to form, the Flames could be the most dangerous team in this division.
The Flames made a big move in the offseason by signing goaltender Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom has had a great start to the year, appearing in the top ten for goals saved above average. Markstrom has the potential to be one of the top goalies in the league and his impact can be seen in Vancouver. In his departure, the Canucks are giving up almost five goals a night.
I like the rested Flames at home here. I think these teams are fairly even, but Calgary is in better form. I think they have the better goaltender and they are playing better at even strength. If the Flames stay out of the penalty box, they should be able to get the job done here.
Bet: Calgary ML @ -115 (Click To Bet)
After being shut-out in their season opener, the Rangers offense has started to get things going by scoring 11 times in their last three games including three goals against Pittsburgh on Friday night.
Artemi Panarin was a contender for the Hart Trophy as league MVP last season and the Russian winger has gotten it going again early this season. Panarin already has five points in just four games as he continues to be one of the more feared offensive players in the league.
Outside of Panarin, a lot of the Rangers top options have gotten off to slow starts offensively. Mika Zibanejad had 75 points in 57 games last season, but he has just two points to kick off this campaign. Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome have just one combined point. The first overall pick of the 2020 draft, Alexis Lafreniere, is yet to record his first NHL point.
Despite this, the Rangers are still scoring at a good pace. It’ll only improve once some of their top players get settled into the season.
On the bright side, it looks like Kaapo Kakko has taken a step forward after his disappointing rookie season. The 2nd overall pick from the 2019 draft has scored twice in the last three games. Fellow youngsters Pavel Buchnevich and Filip Chytil are also having productive starts for New York.
The Rangers are extremely talented on offense, and they need that because their defense is not very good.
Last year, the Rangers had the second worst defense in terms of expected goals against per 60 minutes. They’ve slightly improved that this season, but they still find themselves in the bottom ten. A lot of their top defensemen such as Tony DeAngelo are more concerned with the offensive side.
In Pittsburgh, the story always begins and ends with Sidney Crosby. Crosby remains one of the better players in the league even as he gets up there in age. On offense, Crosby is joined by impact players such as Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker. This group of forwards still strikes fear in the hearts of opponents every night.
On the other side of things, the Penguins are struggling in their own zone.
The biggest issue for the Penguins to begin this season has been in between the pipes. The team traded two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie Matt Murray in the off-season and decided to roll with two young unproven netminds in Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith.
To begin the year, Jarry has the second worst goals saved above expectation (GSAx) in the league at -4.88. DeSmith hasn’t been much better, posting a -2.09 GSAx through two starts. Both have had stretches of success in this league in previous years, but now that the team has been handed over to them, the pressure is on.
The Penguins are giving up the 2nd most goals per game at 5v5 with 3.7. They are also a bottom-ten team in terms of high danger chances against.
With these teams playing on Friday night, we got a glimpse at what we could expect. We saw the teams combine for seven goals and I think they can do that again in the rematch.
The Bet: Over 6.5 @ -115 (Click To Bet)
Winnipeg played a late Saturday night game against the Ottawa Senators. They needed some late magic to pull out the win there, but now they have a short turnaround. Edmonton comes into town less than 21 hours after the Jets got off the ice against Ottawa.
Edmonton hasn’t played since Friday, so expect them to have more legs and energy in this game. Not only does Edmonton have the conditioning and rest advantage, but there are two factors that lead me to liking the Oilers in this one.
Winnipeg’s MVP is Connor Hellebuyck. Despite the Jets being the worst team in the league last year in terms of driving play and keeping teams out of their zone, Hellebuyck kept them in the postseason picture. He won the Vezina Trophy given to the league’s best goalie.
Due to the Jets game on Saturday, it’s fair to assume Hellebuyck will get the night off on Sunday. The Jets will have to turn to backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit. Brossoit struggled for most of last season, and even if he plays his best, is a big downgrade from Hellebuyck.
The team will also be without new acquisition Pierre-Luc Dubois for this game. The Jets traded talented goal scorer Patrik Laine for Dubois on Saturday morning, but Dubois needs to quarantine as mandated by the Canadian government. This leaves a hole in the Jets lineup for a few games moving forward.
Turning to the Oilers, you have to be impressed by their turnaround defensively since early in the season. The Oilers expected goals against in their two games to begin the season was 4.98. In the four games since then, their expected goals against is 4.72. The Oilers have gone from an expected goals against of nearly 2.5 per game to a mark that’s barely over 1.
The Oilers are also doing a much better job in terms of driving play lately, getting over 60% of the expected goals in their recent two game series with Toronto.
If Edmonton starts playing more structurally sound hockey, they will be a tough team to beat. They have arguably the two most talented forwards in the league on their team in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They are joined by solid supporting forwards such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yammamoto. The team is also activating James Neal off the IR before this game.
I think this is a good spot for an Edmonton team that’s improving as they play more games.
Bet: Edmonton ML @ -127 (Click To Bet)
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Expert NHL Picks
Maple Leafs at Flames - Calgary ML @ -115 (Click To Bet)
Rangers at Penguins - Over 6.5 @ -115 (Click To Bet)
Oilers at Jets - Edmonton ML @ -127 (Click To Bet)
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