Let’s prepare for the weekend with a four game NHL slate on Friday night. My two favorite plays are below:
Kudos to the Detroit Red Wings. No, seriously.
They’ve made an impressive step this season, going from one of the worst teams of recent memory last season to a competitive scrappy team to begin this season. Despite the improvement in their play, the Red Wings have won just four of their first 18 games to begin the year.
The reason for their struggles has been an inability to put the puck in the net. Detroit ranks last in the league, scoring just 1.94 goals per game. Their expected goals-scored of 1.78 per hour at 5-on-5 is the worst mark in the league.
While Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha are exciting players, there’s not much behind them in Detroit. The team is relying on youngsters like Filip Zadina or veterans past their prime like Bobby Ryan to provide some punch, and it’s just not happening.
Nobody on the team has more than five goals, and nobody has cracked double digit points. The Red Wings as a team have scored 3 or more goals in just five of their first 18 games.
The Panthers have been impressive to begin the season. They currently lead the Central Division with a record of 10-2-2 through 14 games.
Florida’s offense gets a lot of the credit, with players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Alex Barkov cementing themselves as elite talents in the league. However, Florida isn’t bad defensively.
The team is giving up three goals a game, which isn’t great, but their underlying metrics point to a possible positive regression. The Panthers rank 7th best with an expected goals-against per hour of 1.91. They are third best in terms of limiting high danger chances.
It’s been a tale of two different goaltenders for the Panthers. Both Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger have started in seven games. Despite Bobrovsky’s pedigree and contract, he might be losing his starting job.
Driedger’s goals-against-average is almost a full goal lower than his creasemate. Driedger has stopped 92.4% of the shots he’s faced while Bobrovsky’s mark is an ugly 88.4%.
Thankfully, it’s been confirmed that Driedger will start in this game. Therefore, I expect the Red Wings offense to continue to sputter.
Bet: Detroit Team Toal Under 2.5 @ -120
The all-Canadian North division has been basically as advertised this season. Wide open, exciting, high-scoring hockey. Toronto at the top. Ottawa at the bottom. The other five teams are fighting for the remaining three playoff spots.
Both Edmonton and Calgary find themselves fighting in that middle tier and their records are both relatively pedestrian. Edmonton has a 10-8-0 mark through 18 games, while the Flames have a 8-7-1 mark through 16 contests.
The Oilers are one of those hard teams to handicap. You can kinda throw all the underlying metrics out the window with them. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are two of the top players in hockey and they play over half the game.
Sure, you’d like Edmonton to play with the puck in the offensive zone, but it’s not necessary when one streak down the ice on the counter-attack will end up on the stick of an elite player and then in the back of your net.
Despite their offensive prowess, there’s concern about the Oilers defensively and in net. Edmonton ranks 24th in goals against per game and 26th in expected goals against. Mikko Koskinen has lost his starting job to Mike Smith. Koskinen posted a -7.56 goals saved above expectation (GSAx) to begin the year. Smith has been good to begin the year, but his recent past is not inspiring. He has a -14.6 GSAx over the last two years and he’s 38 years old.
Calgary is a bit of a more well-rounded and organized team. They rank 6th in expected goal rate, and that’s driven by their offense. They rank 6th in expected goals scored and 5th in high danger chances created. Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm are producing at a point per-game pace while Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan are also contributing with double digit point totals.
While Calgary isn’t great defensively, where they differ from Edmonton is in net. Jacob Markstrom had a great season for the Vancouver Canucks in 2020 and he’s gotten off to a good start with the Flames. He has a +1.37 GSAx through 14 starts. Markstrom did not fare well in his last start, so expect him to bounce back.
In what many are expecting to be a high-scoring game, this game could come down to who gets that one big save. In that situation, I’m taking Markstrom over Smith and I’m willing to lay the small price with the Flames.
Bet: Calgary ML @ -125
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Expert NHL Picks
Panthers at Red Wings - Detroit Team Toal Under 2.5 @ -120 (Click To Bet)
Oilers at Flames - Calgary ML @ -125 (Click To Bet)
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