NHL Picks, Predictions & Odds: Buffalo Sabres vs. New York Islanders
The best way to get over the Monday blues is with a nice eight game slate of NHL hockey for Monday night. My three favorite plays for the slate are below:
On Saturday, these two teams played with the Tampa Bay Lightning opening as -115 favorites. I recommended a bet on the Lightning at that price, and by puck-drop, the Lightning were -150 favorites. Clearly, the sharp bettors were in agreement that the Lightning were a good bet.
However, the two teams played a relatively even game but then hockey happened. Somehow, Andrei Vasilevskiy, arguably the best goalie in hockey, was outdueled by Alex Nedeljkovic, a minor league goalie serving as Carolina’s third string. The most feared team in hockey couldn’t score one goal against a third-string goalie. In this weird sport, these things happen and we have to just ignore it and trust the process.
On Monday, the Lightning once again find themselves as small road favorites. The difference this time is that Carolina is not playing in the second half of a back-to-back. We also expect James Reimer back between the pipes for the Hurricanes.
Despite this, I still like the Lightning at this price. It’s a principal thing for me in this spot. One: good teams don’t go on extended losing streaks. Tampa Bay is an elite team and that’s because they don’t often lose three games in a row or go on streaks where they lose four of five games. In a shortened season, these things are even more important. I expect Tampa to be dialed in, and when on their game, I think they are the best team in the league.
Secondly, the Lightning are almost never this small of a favorite. It shows how good the Hurricanes are and the amount of respect they are getting from oddsmakers. Carolina is one of my favorite teams to watch and they play a fun, exciting brand of hockey but I do think they are a smidge below the tier of the elite teams like the Lightning.
Despite the loss on Saturday, Andrei Vasilevskiy still leads the league in goals saved above expectation while both Reimer and Nedeljkovic have been subpar at best in the absence of Petr Mrazek.
I expect the Lightning to stop their mini-slump here, and I like them to get revenge as short favorites.
Bet: TB Lightning @ -120
Man, was it tough to watch the Islanders play the Pittsburgh Penguins this past week. Both games, the Islanders were arguably the better team but they just couldn’t take advantage of their offensive opportunities.
That’s a similar refrain that many Islanders fans have heard over the past few years. This team is good, but they just struggle to score. When they’re on their game, they aren’t winning games 5-3, they are winning 2-1 games.
For that reason, they are not a team you can bet as large favorites like they are in this contest. However, there’s still an angle I like to attack in this game.
These teams played two games last week, with the Islanders beating the Sabres in both contests. The first game was a 3-1 victory for New York, while the Isles shutout Buffalo 3-0 in the second game. The Sabres did not score a goal at even strength in either game.
In fact, Buffalo currently finds themselves in last place in the league, scoring an average of just 1.43 goals per hour at 5-on-5. This is almost half a goal lower than the second worst team, the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite having a top five powerplay, the Sabres find themselves in the bottom five of the league, averaging just 2.36 goals per game.
If you can’t generate a lot offensively, the Islanders are not the team you want to play. New York ranks 6th in expected goals against per hour and 9th in actual goals against per hour. Their opponents are scoring just 2.35 goals a game, the fourth best mark in hockey.
Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech will be tasked with shutting down Jack Eichel’s line. The duo is one of the more underrated pairings in the league. Even if the Sabres crack the Islanders defense, Semyon Varlamov has been great to start the year, posting a .925 save percentage.
Buffalo’s goaltending isn’t great, but the Islanders aren’t a team you’d expect to exploit that weakness. New York averages just 2.41 goals a game, the 6th worst mark in the league.
Barry Trotz hockey. Low-scoring games. That’s when the Islanders are at their best. Fire up the under in this one.
Bet: Under 5.5 Goals @ -125
The Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche are two of the top teams in the league. In fact, as of Sunday night, Colorado is the favorite to win the Cup while Vegas is right behind them in third place.
This is the fourth straight game these teams are playing against each other, and the first three games have all been one goal games with Colorado coming out on top in two of them. There’s not much separating these teams.
Analytically, things look good with the Golden Knights. Vegas ranks 6th in expected goal rate, 3rd in high danger chances and 10th in shot attempt rate. This is a bit of a drop off from previous years where Vegas found themselves at the top of the list, but they are still a very solid group.
Both sides of the puck are equally solid for Vegas, as they rank 11th in expected goals per hour (2.26) and 12th in expected goals-against (2.02). It’s a well rounded team, with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty leading the team offensively, Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo headlining the defensive core and two very good goalies.
The biggest surprise of the season for the Golden Knights has to be Marc-Andre Fleury. He was the face of the franchise when the expansion team joined the league, but it appeared his days as a starter were done. After Fleury was subpar last season, the team traded for Robin Lehner who assumed the starting role in the postseason.
However, a combination of inconsistent play from Lehner and a recent injury has opened the door for Fleury to shine and he has. He currently ranks third in the league with a goals saved above expectation mark of +5.84.
Many see the Colorado Avalanche as an offensive juggernaut, but their defense deserves a lot of credit. This team is top ten in the league, allowing less than two expected goals per hour at 5-on-5. They have the best penalty killing unit in the league, killing off 89.6% of their opponents’ opportunities. Cale Makar is amazing. Devon Toews, Sam Girard, Bowen Byram and Ryan Graves round out a great defensive group.
With a team that has as much talent as Colorado in their skater group, it might be easy to overlook the goaltender. However, Philipp Grubauer might be the most important part of Colorado’s success to begin the year. The netminder has posted a +7.83 GSAx which is second best in the league behind Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Despite Colorado’s reputation as a dynamic offensive team, they’ve won a lot of games due to their defense and goaltending this year. They are middle of the pack offensively at this point. Vegas likely won’t be the team who changes that.
In fact, in the first three games these teams have played, they’ve combined for just 11 goals. All three games have gone under the total. If Fleury and Grubauer both start for their respective teams, we’ll see two of the three best goalies in the league according to the GSAx metric.
I expect another low-scoring affair here.
Bet: Under 5.5 Goals @ -120
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Expert NHL Picks
Lightning at Hurricanes - TB Lightning @ -120 (Click To Bet)
Sabres at Islanders - Under 5.5 Goals @ -125 (Click To Bet)
Golden Knights at Avalanche - Under 5.5 Goals @ -120 (Click To Bet)
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Our expert handicapper Pete Truszkowski is a die-hard Islanders fan but doesn't let it bias him. He was born and raised on Long Island and he's been betting on hockey for a decade. Don't miss out on his picks.