NHL Picks, Predictions & Odds: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Chicago Blackhawks
With the NFL taking the week off, we’re feeling a bit of a void in our lives this weekend in terms of sports. Have no fear as the NHL presents us with a glorious 12 game slate on Saturday. The season is now over two weeks old and we have enough information to make bolder proclamations about these teams. To celebrate the occasion, I’ve got three plays and a bonus parlay.
The Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars have both had their seasons interrupted by Covid-19 already which means these teams have only played four games each. Considering they’ve both played the lowly Detroit Red Wings twice each, it’s even harder to get an accurate gauge on where these teams stand.
Both teams are dealing with an assortment of injuries. The Hurricanes currently have top-line forward Teuvo Teravainen and top pairing defenseman Jaccob Slavin on the Covid-list. While this would usually put them into the fade category, Dallas has injuries of their own. The Stars will be without both Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, arguably their top two forwards. Additionally, goaltender Ben Bishop is expected to miss most, if not all, of the season. On top of these major injuries, the Stars also list Blake Comeau and Roope Hintz as game-time decisions.
I often call the Hurricanes the best non-elite team in the league. They have the fourth best expected goal-rate and the second highest expected goals per 60 minutes at 5v5. The Hurricanes live in the offensive zone and with players like Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, they can make you pay.
A pleasant surprise has been the play of goaltender Petr Mrazek. Mrazek is widely considered an average goalie, but his play to begin this season has been anything but. He ranks second in the league in goals saved above expectation with +4.78.
On the other hand, Dallas is a solid team. They did make the Stanley Cup Final last season on the backs of their defense. That defensive form has carried over as the Stars lead the league in terms of expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5v5. Unfortunately, their offense is second worst in expected goals scored per 60 minutes. Somehow, they lead the league in goals per game but that’s grossly inflated by the 7 goal outburst in their opener.
Home teams and favorites have done exceptionally well to open the NHL season, and Carolina fits that bill here. This line is short, and I’m surprised as I think the Stars injuries will lessen their already subpar offense. I have Carolina rated as the better team and I’ll lay the small juice.
Bet: Carolina ML (-125)
These two teams played on Thursday night and Montreal won their 5th game of the season by the score of 4-2. The score was 4-0 until the final minute and 18 seconds of the game. For all intents and purposes, Montreal controlled the action.
The Habs have done that a lot this season as they are scoring 4.71 goals a game. They have an expected goal rate of 54.61% which is a top ten mark in the league. Montreal has always been one of the better puck possession and shot generation teams in the league, but this year they are taking advantage of their opportunities.
Newcomer Tyler Toffoli has 6 goals in 7 games. Trade acquisition Josh Anderson has found the net four times in the young season as well. The Canadiens have ten players with five points or more through the first seven games, portraying a balanced attack that is borderline impossible to contain fully.
Calgary is an interesting team this season and I have decently high hopes for them, but they lack the depth the Canadiens have. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm is a top-level first line, but outside of them and Matthew Tkachuk, the offensive depth leaves a lot to be desired.
I expect goaltender Jacob Markstrom to be back in between the pipes for Calgary, and while a very solid goalie, he has struggled against Montreal in his career. Against the Habs, Markstrom has a 1-5 career record, allowing over three goals per game on average.
This is a short price to lay on Montreal, so I’m comfortable doing it in a game I think they win more than half the time.
Bet: Montreal ML (-125)
Here we have a case of two teams with great records. Boston has won four straight games and they possess a record of 5-1-1. Washington has not lost a game in regulation yet this season, going 5-0-3 in their first eight contests.
After struggling to score in their first three contests, Boston’s offense has exploded for 18 goals in their last four games. The offense should improve even more as the team expects to get David Pastrnak back from injury for his season debut.
In 2019-20, Pastrnak tied Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals. He plays on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand which is widely considered the best line in hockey for their prowess at both ends of the ice. Expect the Bruins offense to improve with the addition of Pastrnak.
The record is not a mirage for Boston, as they’re currently a top-five team in both expected goals and shot attempt rate. They also have a top-ten share of high danger chances and scoring chances. The Bruins do a great job of possessing the puck and controlling the quality and quantity of chances. They’ve been one of the league’s best teams in that regard for nearly a decade.
Just like previous versions of the Bruins, this team is built on their defense. There was some concern around Boston as the team lost Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara to free agency and replaced them with internal options. Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril have been up to the task. The Bruins currently rank 2nd in the league in terms of expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5. Goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak continue to provide Boston with some of the steadiest goaltending in the league.
On the other side of this matchup are the Washington Capitals who continue to defy expectations. After falling behind 3-0 to the New York Islanders on Thursday night, the Capitals scored six unanswered to win the game 6-3.
It was the latest example of this Washington team defying all expectations. The Capitals have opened the season with a 5-0-3 record despite being without Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov for half of those games due to Covid-protocols.
Without the four Russians, the Capitals were underdogs in their last four games. Despite this, they went 3-0-1 during the stretch and made bettors a great return on their investment. However oddsmakers are not the only thing the Capitals are defying.
The Capitals have not lost yet this season in regulation despite the fact that they are below 50% in four key metrics: shot-attempt rate, expected goals, high danger chances and scoring chances. Their 1.75 expected goals per hour at 5-on-5 ranks third worst in the league. Despite this, they are scoring 3.75 goals a game, good for fourth best in the NHL.
While there’s a chance some of the players are activated off the Covid-list for Washington in this game, Washington is due for regression offensively. Against a top defensive team like Boston, I think it may come Saturday night.
Bet: Boston ML (-138)
BONUS NHL PARLAY!
Lightning/Avalanche/Panthers @ +320
These three teams should handle their weaker opponents, but remember hockey is a game of variance so an upset would not be shocking. Nevertheless, these are the three teams I see as most likely to win their games.
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Expert NHL Picks
Carolina ML @ -125 (Click to bet)
Montreal ML @ -125 (Click to bet)
Boston ML @ -138 (Click to bet)
BONUS NHL PARLAY: Lightning/Avalanche/Panthers @ +320 (Click to bet)
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