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On Monday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs will visit the Washington Capitals for a showdown between two Eastern Conference playoff teams. Jason Yamaguchi makes his pick for the matchup.
ANALYSIS

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Washington Capitals Prediction: Back the Leafs

Monday night's NHL slate is subpar, with only three games taking place. Four of the six teams in action are currently holding playoff positions, including the two that I'm focusing on. The Eastern Conference's top eight is all but decided, but there is still playoff positioning—and therefore home-ice advantage—to play for. Let's take a look at a matchup between two of these likely playoff teams, the Maple Leafs and Capitals.

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Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Washington Capitals Prediction

The Maple Leafs (34-14-4) are coming off of an absolute barn-burner, a 10-7 victory over the Red Wings. Mitch Marner scored his first NHL hat trick and led the team with six points (four goals and two assists). Toronto will look to carry that momentum into this game against Washington. The Leafs haven't been in great form recently, losing three of their last five. Still, they dominated the game in one of those losses—a shootout loss to the Blue Jackets—and have won their last two.

The Capitals (28-17-9) have hit a skid since the start of January. They have lost 13 of their last 21, including their last two games (both of which came against divisional opponents). As a result, Washington has slipped to the final wildcard spot in the East. They'll look to make up ground, but this matchup presents a tough place to start.

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Goaltending is such a volatile position that I'm not sure which team holds the advantage in net. If this game was taking place a month ago, the answer would've been Toronto by a landslide. Jack Campbell was, at one point, top three in the NHL in terms of goals saved above expected. Now, he sits 17th amongst all starters with just 2.4 GSAx; allowing 3.53 more goals than expected against the Red Wings didn't exactly help. Ilya Samsonov will likely take the other net, and he hasn't had the best season (4.9 goals allowed over expected). I think that the Leafs still hold a small edge in this category, but that is all it is.

Toronto's major advantages lie elsewhere. To start, they have been one of the league's elite teams at even strength. Their expected goals share of 55.2% ranks fourth in the league; the Capitals trail in 11th with a share of 51.98%. If the Leafs start strong and control the neutral zone, the Capitals will likely lose the expected goals battle.

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Even larger than the Leafs' even strength edge is their advantage for both special teams matchups. They have the top power play in the league, one that has converted on 30% of its chances this season. It will be facing the 15th ranked penalty kill—the Capitals have killed off 79.6% of their penalties. At the other end, Toronto's fourth-ranked kill will look to stifle Washington's 28th ranked power play. If this game is played at even strength, Washington has a fighting chance. But, if penalties are called often, the game may get out of hand.

The Maple Leafs are simply the better team. They have vastly superior special teams units, are better at even strength, and are in better form. The only thing possibly leaning towards the Capitals is that the game is in Washington, but that may prove counterintuitive—the Capitals are just 12-10-5 at home this season. I like the Maple Leafs on the moneyline down to -150.

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Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington Capitals Pick

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Article Author

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Jason Yamaguchi is an avid New York sports fan. He has a proven record of providing +EV bets by combining traditional handicapping tactics with advanced statistics. You can follow him on Twitter @TopMoneyPicks to view all of his bets, including NFL, NHL, and MLB picks.

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