After a two game slate on Wednesday night, the NHL hits us with a 14 game slate on Thursday. I don’t know who made this schedule, but I don’t like it. With that being said, 14 games offers us plenty of opportunity to find good spots to bet.
There were plenty of people who thought the New York Rangers would build off an impressive second-half performance in 2019/20 to contend for a playoff spot in the loaded East Division.
The early returns are not great. After splitting their opening two-game series with the New York Islanders, the Rangers have dropped four straight one-goal games.
Despite their poor record, there are some reasons to be optimistic about the Rangers. They aren’t playing bad hockey and sport a 50.5% expected goals rate at 5-on-5. That means they are generating more offense than they’re allowing. Additionally, the Rangers are above 50% in high-danger scoring chances.
The Rangers defense has also been much improved since last year. In 2019-20, the Rangers had the second worst expected goals against per 60 minutes. This year, they find themselves in the middle of the pack. While average isn’t anything to celebrate, it’s a lot better than being one of the worst.
Goaltender Igor Shesterkin has struggled to begin his sophomore year. After a 12 game cameo late last season where he posted a .932 save percentage, Shesterkin entered this season as the favorite to win the NHL’s rookie of the year. Thus far, he has an .886 save percentage and is yet to win a game.
I expect this to turn around for Shesterkin, as he has a proven track record in the KHL and showed us what he is capable of at the end of last year.
On the other side, Buffalo has a middling 3-3-1 record. Their underlying metrics actually suggest the Sabres are a very good team, but their goaltending has muddied their defensive success.
Buffalo ranks 4th best in terms of expected goals against per 60 minutes but they still find themselves in the bottom ten in terms of actual goals against. This is because Carter Hutton has a -2.5 goals saved above expectation through three starts and his partner Linus Ullmark is also struggling with a -2.01 mark over four starts.
Goaltending has plagued Buffalo since Ryan Miller left the organization. It seems like it’ll continue to be an issue this season.
In this spot, I like the Rangers because they’re more desperate. They need to win this game to avoid their season falling off the rails. I think they have more offensive talent and I trust their goaltending more.
Bet: Rangers @ -107 (Click To Bet)
These two teams are probably my two favorite teams in the North Division. Toronto might have more offensive firepower and bigger names, but Calgary and Montreal are balanced and can wear you down.
Montreal was a sexy pick by many to make a run this year, and for good reason. The Canadiens are one of the best puck-possession teams in the league the past few years, and now they have the talent to take advantage of it.
The team has seen growth from youngsters Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki. They’ve seen new acquisitions like Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson contribute offensively. These improvements along with a core including Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin gives the Habs a deep and dangerous offense.
Montreal currently leads the league in goals per game, averaging 4.89 per contest through their first 9 games. We’re nearly 20% into the season and Montreal is putting up near five goals a game. As the young players continue to improve and the chemistry grows, the Canadiens offense should continue to produce.
On the other side of the ice, the Calgary Flames won the Western Conference in 2019. They followed that up with a relatively disappointing 2020 season. However, there’s reason to believe things can get back to where they were for Calgary.
In 2019, Johnny Gaudreau had an MVP caliber season. His linemates Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm helped form one of the best units in hockey. In 2020, all three had off-years. However the early returns for 2021 are very promising. Gaudreau and Monahan both have seven points through five games and it appears the Flames top-line is back to their elite form. As a result, Calgary is scoring well over three goals a game on average.
Despite both teams having solid netminders, I think offense will run the show in this contest. Both teams can put the puck in the net and they are a pain to defend.
Bet: Over 6 Goals @ -105 (Click To Bet)
John Gibson. That’s been the story for the Anaheim Ducks this season.
The Ducks are averaging 1.71 goals per game to begin the year, ranking them 31st of 31 teams in that regard. They are a bottom five team in terms of expected goals, high danger chances, shot attempts and scoring chances.
Despite all of this, they have a 3-2-2 record.
Anaheim has a bottom five expected goals mark on the season. Despite this, they are top three in actual goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. How do you explain such a discrepancy? A brick wall in net.
Gibson has started six of the Ducks’ first seven games and he currently leads the NHL in both goals saved above expectation (GSAx) and goals saved above average (GSAA). He is also second in the NHL in save percentage amongst goalies that have made at least four starts. He has two shutouts already, including his 31-save blanking of the Coyotes on Tuesday.
Gibson has had to be this good because Anaheim’s offense is basically non-existent. They are last in goals per game and bottom ten in expected goals scored per 60 minutes. Their leading point producer is Carter Rowney. Rowney is an undrafted 31 year old who has never scored more than 20 points in an NHL season.
On the other side, Arizona has developed a reputation as a stingy defensive team. They finished last year with a top three mark in terms of goals against per game.
Arizona has some nice pieces up front in Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz, Conor Garland and Clayton Keller, but there’s just no superstar in this group. Kessel has lost a step since his Penguins days, but still has four goals in the early going of this season. The Coyotes will not blow anyone away with their offense and they are not built to outscore other teams.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper continues to be one of the better goalies in hockey. He currently ranks 6th in GSAx.
These teams played a 1-0 game on Tuesday. Six of Anaheim’s first seven games have gone under the total. I expect the trend to continue as long as Gibson gets the start.
Bet: Under 5.5 goals @ -135 (Click To Bet)
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Expert NHL Picks
Rangers at Sabres - Rangers @ -107 (Click To Bet)
Flames at Canadiens - Over 6 Goals @ -105 (Click To Bet)
Ducks at Coyotes - Under 5.5 goals @ -135 (Click To Bet)
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