While most eyes will be fixated on NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 on Saturday, there are plenty of other betting opportunities around the sports landscape.
For instance, the NHL has a robust 12-game slate that kicks off at 1 p.m. ET and won’t wrap up until after midnight on the East Coast.
That said, here are our three favorite bets for the loaded card.
Michael Leboff: Detroit Red Wings (+128) ML vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Puck Drop: 3 p.m. ET
Sometimes it feels like you’re betting on a team and sometimes it feels like you’re betting against a team. In this case, I am betting against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Before the season started, the consensus was that we’d see more of the same from the Blue Jackets. Under head coach John Tortorella, Columbus has become one of the league’s pesky overachievers, a club that really identified with the ethos of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The Jackets used that identity to sweep the record-breaking Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1 of the 2019 playoffs, and then defeated the highly-touted Toronto Maple Leafs in the qualifying round in The Bubble last summer.
Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.
Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.
xG numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.
Those performances made believers out of the hockey world, making fans and pundits alike think perhaps Columbus is better than we give them credit for in the big picture. This season has been a different story, though. Not only do the Blue Jackets trail the longshot Chicago Blackhawks for the final playoff spot in the Central Division, but their 5-on-5 numbers have cratered this season.
Columbus ranks 24th in goal share, plus it’s second to last in both expected goals rate (45.4%) and high-danger chance rate (44.1%) at 5-on-5 this season. The Blue Jackets weren’t ever really a dominant 5-on-5 team in the past, but they were able to use their sturdy defense to at least level the playing field.
That isn’t the case this campaign, as the Jackets are middle of the pack in expected-goals allowed, though they have improved defensively over their last 15 games. However, the defense isn’t really the point of contention with Columbus. What ails this club is its lack of offensive bite.
The Jackets are the seventh-worst scoring offense, but rank second to last in expected goals for and high-danger chances created at 5-on-5.
There’s not much to like about the Red Wings. They rank last in most offensive metrics, plus they have a middling defense and projected starter Thomas Greiss has been a mess in goal this season.
That said, I think they’re worth a bet at home against a team that struggles to create offense just as much as they do. I like Detroit at +130 or better in this matinee affair.
Pete Truszkowski: Edmonton Oilers ML (+130) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
Two of the league’s more exciting teams meet up in the North Division, as the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Edmonton Oilers. Both enter with the top seed in the division on their minds, as the Oilers sit just two points behind their hosts.
Edmonton has closed ground on Toronto quickly, winning seven of its last nine games. On the other hand, the Maple Leafs have won just once in regulation in their last nine outings.
Analytically, there’s not much separating these two teams. Both find themselves in the top 10 when it comes to expected-goal rate, High-Danger Chance percentage and expected-goals scored per hour at 5-on-5. Toronto has been a bit better defensively than the Oilers, but that doesn’t mean much when you take a look at the expected goaltending matchup.
Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen currently has the sixth-worst goals saved above expectation mark (GSAx) in the league, posting a -10.9 mark through 23 games. He is stopping less than 90 percent of the shots he’s faced.
Contrarily, Mike Smith has surprisingly been one of the better goalies in the league for the Oilers. He’s posted a GSAx mark of +3.97, stopping more than 92% of the shots he’s seen this season.
Both teams have plenty of game-changing talent. The Oilers have the best 1-2 duo in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Maple Leafs have three franchise players of their own in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares. Any of these players can make a single play that changes the game for either side.
The Oilers are currently playing very good hockey and the Maple Leafs have been plodding along for the last three weeks. Smith gives Edmonton a theoretical advantage between the pipes.
With McDavid and Draisaitl needing only one opportunity to wreck a game, I think the Oilers are a good play as a decent-sized underdog. I’d bet them at +125 or better.
Matt Russell: Dallas Stars ML (-110) vs. Florida Panthers
Puck Drop: 8 p.m. ET
With a pair of losses to Chicago this past week, the Panthers have lost four of their last five games.
However, that’s no reason to panic in Florida. This is just a matter of misfortune, as it regresses to the mean. I have the Panthers rated at three percent above average at even strength, which is actually slightly better of a rating than they were good for when they were winning three out of every four games in the first half of the season.
Florida hasn’t been playing badly in their recent games, averaging an eyelash shy of two expected goals for at even strength, while holding their opponents to just 1.67 expected goals. Bottom line, the Panthers should be winning more than they’re losing based on those numbers.
By comparison, during its previous stretch where it won seven out of eight games, Florida averaged 2.02 xGF and 1.69 xGA in those contests. That’s not exactly a massive change in its play.
As much as the Panthers’ performances have gotten better in recent weeks, even if it hasn’t translated to wins lately, the Stars have been living that life all season. With 247 High-Danger Chances 5-on-5 to its opponents’ 194, plus an average of 53.8% of the even-strength expected goals in its games, Dallas is 11.8% above-average at even strength in my model.
There might be a point in the season where the Stars just run out of gas, given their schedule has gotten even more compressed with a late start and hiatus due to the weather-induced power outages a few weeks ago.
However, until that happens there’s going to be some value backing a team that should be combining their capabilities as one of the best teams in the division with the requisite desperation that winning hockey requires.
I’ll look to the Stars to continue to tighten the Central standings.
Jeremy Pond: Nashville Predators (+162) To Win in Regulation vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Puck Drop: 8 p.m. ET
Things could get pretty interesting when the Chicago Blackhawks welcome the Nashville Predators to the United Center for a crucial Central Division tilt.
The Blackhawks enter this affair following a two-game sweep of the Florida Panthers, with their most recent win coming Thursday in a 3-0 shutout victory.
On the other side, Nashville is in the midst of a stellar run of play. The Predators have won five of their last six games, including three in a row. They just swept a pair of home games from lowly Detroit, which included a 7-1 rout in Thursday’s contest with the Red Wings.
Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape when it comes to this clubs, who are separated by just four points in the Central Division standings.
|Last 10 Games||6-3-1||4-6-0|
When it comes to the xGF/xGA comparison through 60 minutes, Nashville has the definition of flat numbers. The Predators sit on 2.09 xGF/60 and an even 2.09 xGA/60, generating a +0.00 differential. As for Chicago, it has a slightly better 2.15 xGF/60, but trails its foe with a 2.48 xGA/60 and -0.33 differential.
For me, this comes down to one thing and that’s form. And who’s playing a better brand of hockey at the moment? That would be the Predators. They’ve looked like a playoff-caliber team as of late, so I’m happy to jump on the train chugging its way into the “Windy City.”
That said, I am taking a swing on Nashville to pick up the road victory in regulation at ripe +162 odds via DraftKings. That number is simply too good to pass up when facing a Chicago outfit that’s been mediocre its last 10 games.
I do expect this to be a low-scoring affair, but love the fact the Predators have won six of their last eight meetings with the Blackhawks. That alone has me optimistic the visitors can triumph on road ice in this important showdown.