NHL Picks, Predictions & Odds: Buffalo Sabres vs. New Jersey Devils
There is no team currently shutdown due to Covid. It’s freezing cold outside. It’s almost March. Every game is getting more important as the season is fully into the grind. Tuesday’s seven game slate provides us with an opportunity to enjoy some fun hockey. Here are my two favorite plays:
These two teams played on Saturday afternoon, with the Buffalo Sabres coming out on top. If you watched that game, you knew if the game was two minutes longer, the Devils were going to tie the game and erase a 3-0 deficit.
In fact, that game is the only time the Buffalo Sabres have won in their last six appearances.
The Sabres have tried everything to improve their offense. This is a team that has invested heavily in the forward position. After drafting Jack Eichel 2nd overall in 2015, they’ve tried many avenues to surround him with talent.
This past off-season, they signed the best free agent available in Taylor Hall. They also traded for Eric Staal, who many viewed as an elite second line center. Last season, they traded and extended Jeff Skinner. They’ve signed forwards like Kyle Okposo. They’ve invested top ten draft picks in Casey Mittelstadt and Dylan Cozens.
Despite the investments in offense, the Sabres currently rank 27th in the 31 team NHL in terms of goals per game. This mark is actually buoyed by their powerplay, which is third best in hockey. At 5-on-5, they are scoring just 1.45 goals per hour, by far the worst mark in the league. They are bottom six in both shot attempts and expected goals.
Outside of Victor Olofsson and Sam Reinhart, every forward on the Sabres has been a disappointment. Eichel has just two goals. Taylor Hall has not scored since the first period of opening night. Staal has just three goals and six points in 15 games. Skinner, the owner of a 72 million dollar contract, was a healthy scratch on Monday and has yet to score this season. Okposo is also yet to find the net. Youngsters like Mittelstadt, Cozens and Tage Thomposon are producing next to nothing.
The Sabres defense is decent, but their goaltending is underwhelming. Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton have combined for a -6.01 goals saved above expectation to begin the season.
On the other side, the Devils have surprised many. Most had them pegged to finish at the bottom of the standings, but they actually have a winning record through 13 games. They rank 6th in the division in terms of points percentage.
The Devils might not have the talent that most teams do, but they’re doing an incredible job of generating offense. They rank 5th in the league in terms of expected goals scored. Players like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri can do enough damage for New Jersey to stay competitive.
The biggest story for the Devils has been MacKenzie Blackwood. The goaltender has stopped nearly 94% of the shots he’s faced to begin the season while posting a goals saved above expectation of +4.4.
Buffalo played on Monday on Long Island, losing to the Isles by a score of 3-2. New Jersey did not play and will be the rested group. Combine this with New Jersey playing well, Buffalo’s offensive struggles and the Devils’ advantage in goal, I like them to win here and avenge Saturday’s loss.
Bet: NJ Devils @ -122
What happens when two offensively gifted, defensively challenged teams with mediocre goaltending face-off against each other?
Common sense they try to outscore their opponent.
When the Canucks meet the Oilers on Tuesday night, we’ll see a display of hockey that will make coaches toss and turn at night.
Both of these teams rank bottom ten in terms of goals against per game. Both teams rank top ten in terms of expected goals scored per hour at 5-on-5. Both teams rank top ten in high danger chances per hour. Both teams rank bottom ten in expected goals against per hour. Both teams rank bottom ten in high danger chances against per hour.
Do you get the picture? Great offensive teams. Bad defensive teams.
When these two teams met for a 2 game series earlier in the season, they combined for 47 high danger chances. That’s 23.5 per game for those mathematically challenged. In yesterday’s eight game NHL slate, the average high danger chances per game was 14.6.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that high danger chances lead to goals. They are called high danger because the danger is high that the puck ends up in the net. With the way these two teams play, they exchange quality chances back and forth which should lead to an increase in pucks in the back of the net.
When you combine the pace of play with the talent level on these teams, things can get dangerous. The Canucks are the less talented team, but they still possess household names like Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes. Everyone knows about Edmonton’s dynamic duo: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Combine those two with players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puuljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto and Tyson Barrie, and fireworks will follow.
Alright, so we’ll get a lot of dangerous chances by very talented teams. Maybe the goaltenders will back us up here?
Both teams have unimpressive options in net. Mike Smith has had a decent start to the year, posting a goals saved above expectation (GSAx) of +0.94. However, Smith is 38 years old and in the two years prior to this one has a GSAx of -14.6. Thatcher Demko’s GSAx is +0.14, but with Vancouver’s defensive issues, that’s not good enough.
If Brayden Holtby gets the start, the goals should be plentiful as the former Capitals’ goalie has posted a GSAx of -4.36. Mikko Koskinen of Edmonton has not been much better with a -3.53 mark.
I trust neither team’s goaltending and for that reason coupled with the expected pace of the game and the high-end talent on both teams, I think we see a high scoring affair.
Bet: Over 6.5 Goals @ +117
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Expert NHL Picks
Sabres at Devils - NJ Devils @ -122 (Click To Bet)
Oilers at Canucks - Over 6.5 Goals @ +117 (Click To Bet)
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