For the first time all season the NHL doesn’t have a team that is out of action. It is a terrific development in a challenging season, but hopefully the league’s COVID issues are now behind it and we can just focus on the hockey.
Tuesday night’s slate brings forward seven games, but we’re focusing on two of them for our favorite bets of the night.
Michael Leboff: New Jersey Devils (-122) vs. Buffalo Sabres
- Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
The Buffalo Sabres had a bit of hype about them coming into 2021. After a glitzy offseason that saw them land Taylor Hall and Eric Staal, there were some folks around the Hockey World that believed Buffalo could make some noise in the gauntlet East Division. Then the season started and everything went to hell.
At 5-8-2 the Sabres have the third-worst record in the NHL and are sitting in last place in the East Division. The murmurs now are about whether or not Buffalo will blow it up, trade Jack Eichel and try again later in the decade.
The reason that the Sabres went out and got Hall and Staal was to bolster Buffalo’s colorless offense. The moves haven’t paid off, as Buffalo is last in the league in 5-on-5 scoring and fifth from the bottom with a 1.95 expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Buffalo’s defense has put up decent numbers, but even that’s a bit of a precarious situation since Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have struggled in goal once again this season.
The Devils’ season has played out very differently. Expected to finish in last place in the East, New Jersey is off to a nifty little start thanks to terrific goaltending and an offense that is creating the fifth-most expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. What’s more impressive is that New Jersey has been able to post these numbers without 2017 No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier. Hischier returned to the lineup over the weekend and for the first time all season the Devils are operating near 100%.
Even though New Jersey is a bit of a mess defensively, it’s been able to survive its 2.51 xGA/60 thanks to its league-leading .949 even-strength save percentage. That number will certainly regress, but there’s no argument that the Devils will have a big edge in the blue paint if the likely matchup of Mackenzie Blackwood vs. Carter Hutton comes to fruition.
Blackwood comes into play on Tuesday with a .938 save percentage and +4.4 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) in seven starts, while Hutton’s save percentage sits at .898 to go along with his -1.73 GSAx.
At some point the Devils will stumble, but this is a good price for a team in a decent spot. The Sabres are on a back-to-back, playing a bad goalie and aren’t the type of team that will test New Jersey’s leaky defense. I like the Devils at -128 or better.
Pete Truszkowski: Buffalo Sabres Team Total Under 2.5 Goals (-103)
- Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
The Buffalo Sabres have invested heavily in their offense over the past few years, beginning with drafting Jack Eichel with the second pick in the 2015 Draft. Since then, they have acquired Eric Staal, Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner and Kyle Okposo. They have also drafted other high-ceiling offensive players like Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt and Sam Reinhart. Despite all of the investment the franchise has made to try and score goals, the Sabres still sport the worst 5-on-5 offense in hockey. Buffalo has scored just 18 goals at even strength through its first 15 games.
Overall, the Sabres rank 27th in goals per game (2.33), but that’s buoyed by the third-best power play in the league. The underlying metrics don’t paint a much better picture, as Buffalo ranks inside the bottom six in both shot attempts and expected goals per hour.
Outside of Victor Olofsson and Sam Reinhart, almost every forward on the Sabres has been a disappointment. Eichel has just two goals on the season. Hall has not scored since the first period of opening night. Skinner, the owner of a $72 million contract, was a healthy scratch on Monday and has yet to score this season. Staal has just six points in 15 games. Youngsters like Cozens, Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson are producing next to nothing.
While the Devils struggle defensively, ranking inside bottom 10 in expected goals against, they currently lead the league with a 1.54 GA/60. That success can be chalked up to Blackwood, who has saved 94% of the shots he’s faced and has posted a +4.4 GSAx.
Buffalo has lost five of six games and has scored just 10 goals across that span. After scoring just two goals again on Monday on Long Island, I don’t think the back-to-back against a rested team does the Sabres any favors here. I think Blackwood and company will prolong Buffalo’s offensive struggles.
Matt Russell: Detroit Red Wings (+140) vs. Nashville Predators
- Puck Drop: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Predators are 5-10 in their last 15 games, so fading them has been a relatively bright idea. That said, Nashville put together their best game of the season on Saturday night, in a performance that was even more dominant than the scoreboard indicated. For just the second time all season, the Preds racked up a High-Danger Chance count in the double-digits with a season-high 13 of them. On top of that, they held the Columbus Blue Jackets to just three HDCs of their own in the 4-2 win.
Unfortunately, putting back-to-back quality performances together hasn’t been something the Predators have been able to do much this season. They’ve won two consecutive games just twice this season. Now the Predators are expected to transfer momentum from Columbus over to Detroit, and to do so as a -160 road favorite.
In their last eight games, the Wings have had more success getting into the win column, by getting a little more going offensively at even-strength with a 1.58 Expected Goals For (xGF). Detroit has generated 50 High-Danger Chances (HDC) at even strength and allowed 47 HDCs in winning three of the eight games, and thus becoming a more profitable outfit at the prices they’re being evaluated at.
This game, like many in the mid-tier of the Central, shapes up as a coin flip, with my true win probability for Nashville at 51%. Given an enticing +140 moneyline for the Red Wings, that’s just a bet that has to be made.