A couple of interesting notes before we get into the column. Last night, depending on your book, the Buffalo Sabres closed with an implied win probability of 29 percent, making them the biggest underdog of the year by a wide margin thus far. They lost 5-1 to the impressive Columbus Blue Jackets.

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they are first in the NHL in expected goals for (xGF) at 5-on-5, ahead of Pittsburgh, Toronto, Los Angeles and, surprisingly, the New York Rangers. Interestingly, two of those teams — Pittsburgh and the Rangers — have allowed more expected goals against.

Last night’s action: With nothing doing on a light Wednesday night, we go back to Tuesday for our recap. Things got off on the wrong foot as the Philadelphia Flyers were outplayed at home by the Anaheim Ducks. The Flyers never really got their teeth sunk into the game, and even their first goal felt against the run of play. Once again, the Arizona Coyotes snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, as they fell 5-3 to the Islanders. For most of the game, it seemed the ice was tilted toward the Islanders goal, but some less than spectacular goaltending and a few bad bounces killed the ‘Yotes. We were bailed out late in the night when the Vancouver Canucks scored a late winner, and the game’s only goal, to get by Minnesota.

Tonight’s slate:
NHLthurs1026
all odds provided by BetOnline

Despite being cleared to play, Tuukka Rask (concussion) will serve as the backup to Anton Khudobin as the Bruins welcome the Sharks. Even with their No. 2 goalie, the B’s are the better team here, they are underpriced playing at home. Start things off with a piece of the Bruins.

Believe it or not, the Coyotes seem to be priced fairly (anything above +155 would be a decent wager) against the New York Rangers, and we’re going to pass. Which means they will get their first win of the year.

It’s pretty rare to see an NHL over/under set at 6.5, but that’s what we’ve got as the Winnipeg Jets head to Steel City for a tangle with the two-time champs. The Penguins are still the best team in the NHL and win this contest more often than not, but this number implies the Jets take the two points under 40 percent of the time, and that’s off. So run with Winnipeg and hope things go off script.

In another game that could see a lot of goals, the Toronto Maple Leafs welcome the Carolina Hurricanes for a battle between two young, high-octane offenses. So far, the Hurricanes have done a great job, as usual, of generating shot attempts but have struggled on both the power play and penalty kill. The latter is pretty surprising, as they were one of the best short-handed teams last year and upgraded their woeful goaltending situation this offseason. Off to a rocky start, the ‘Canes are perhaps scaring early backers off a bit, and thus give us some value even in a tough road matchup.

It’s a bit of a cliche, but it is important to remind yourself to bet numbers, not teams. For instance, the Detroit Red Wings aren’t a very good hockey team, and tonight they play the Tampa Bay Lightning, which is a very good hockey team, on the road. The odds above give Detroit an implied win probability of 34 percent, which is low. Add another dog to the card here.

The odds are spot on in Ottawa vs. Philadelphia, so we move on.

One of these days Montreal is going to click. The Canadiens are a terrific possesion team at 5-on-5, they have a plus-xGF and they still have one of the best goaltenders in the league. Even though the Kings have been very impressive to start the year, this number screams of an overreaction in the market, and I like the Habs for a bet.

Anaheim continues their road trip with a trip to Sunrise, where they will take on the Florida Panthers. It’s a broken record at this point, but the Ducks are still without some vital players and, as such, are not that good at the moment. Sure that is baked into the cake by bookmakers, but it’s still hard to argue against the Panthers at this price.

Like Anaheim, Minnesota is also missing key players and is off to a less than ideal start to the year. The Wild welcome the Islanders to the Twin Cities on Thursday night, and this one has the feel of a coin flip. (As with every Islander game, it is important to remind you, the reader, that I, the writer, am an Islander fan.) Since this game is pretty close to 50/50, the numbers tell you where the value resides. Back the underdogs on the road.

Picks: Boston Bruins -114, Winnipeg Jets +153, Carolina Hurricanes +133, Detroit Red Wings +191, Montreal Canadiens -123, Florida Panthers -128, New York Islanders +113

(Season to date: 18-22, -0.9u)

[Photo: Winslow Townsen, USA Today]

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