Sabres at Rangers NHL Odds & Pick: Buy Low on the Underdogs at MSG (Tuesday, March 2)
John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Jack Eichel
- The Sabres have had a rough season and will likely be sellers at the deadline.
- It's been an underwhelming season for the Rangers, too, despite them coming into the season with playoff aspirations.
- Michael Leboff previews the matchup below and explains why there's value in Buffalo.
Buffalo Sabres vs. New York Rangers Odds
|Time||Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Monday and via DraftKings|
The 2021 NHL season was always going to be weird. The intra-divisional format, the jam-packed schedule and the one-off roster rules created a lot of unknowns for teams, fans, pundits and bettors. But we’re now approaching the halfway point of the season and there are only two months between now and the playoffs.
In other words, we have a pretty good idea of how good or bad teams are at this point. And the Buffalo Sabres are a beautiful mess.
With apologies to Sabres fans, this team could be the gift that keeps giving throughout the rest of the season. What I mean by that is Buffalo could end up being the center of the Hockey Universe as we approach the Trade Deadline on April 12.
Jack Eichel is rumored to want out, Taylor Hall is on an expiring deal and the Sabres have a couple of players on big contracts who they’d love to unload as part of any move. Hockey insiders are champing at the bit to sink their teeth into the Sabres and get the rumor mill buzzing.
As is usually the case with a team that has won just six of is first 19 games, there’s very little going right for Buffalo. The defense, which was doing a decent job for the first dozen games, has collapsed and is now inside the bottom-10 leaguewide in expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. The goaltending has been below average and now Linus Ullmark is out for a month. But there’s no doubt that the offense, an area where the Sabres invested heavily in over the years, has been the biggest disappointment.
Buffalo currently sits 29th overall with an average of 2.21 goals per game. That is already unimpressive but then when you add in the fact that the Sabres are posting that measly number despite the third-best power play in the NHL, it becomes comical. There’s clearly some systemic issues here because Buffalo has plenty of individual talent.
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.
Eichel, Hall, Skinner, Eric Staal and Victor Olofsson would play in the top-six for most teams, and Dylan Cozens looks like he’s on his way to becoming an impact forward. It’s really hard to believe that this group is only scoring 1.35 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 this season.
The New York Rangers haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in 2021, either. The Rangers were expected to contend for a playoff spot this season, but a slow start and some unforeseen personnel issues have put New York behind the 8-ball in the East Division. The Blueshirts come into this game eight points behind the Flyers for the final playoff spot in the East, so a win over the lowly Sabres is basically a must-have at this point. I don’t think it will come that easy, though.
Expected to be one of the league’s most watchable offensive teams, the Rangers have been strangely quiet thus far. New York ranks 26th in goals per game, 26th in 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes and 23rd in goal differential per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 this season.
Some of New York’s scoring woes can be chalked up to bad luck — the Rangers are scoring 2.03 goals per hour despite generating 2.44 xG — but that glosses over the fact that the Rangers lack depth on both ends of the ice. Their third and fourth lines are not good enough to chip in consistently and the defense is a mess with Jack Johnson, Libor Hajek, Anthony Bitetto and Brendan Smith all getting regular minutes.
Rangers vs. Sabres Best Bet
Betting on an unmitigated disaster like Buffalo isn’t exactly the best way to spend a Tuesday evening, but this is a winnable game against a pedestrian opponent that is struggling to score and is missing its best player.
Buffalo’s bad form should keep a lot of bettors away and there’s a chance that the Rangers get Filip Chytil back, so don’t be surprised if this number rises before puck drop. Even so, I think the current odds still overrate the Rangers a bit. There are holes up and down this lineup and their scoring issues could allow Buffalo to hang around.
At +135, the Sabres have an implied win probability of 42.6%. I think that number is a tad low and would play it, but I am hopeful that something bigger comes along.
The Pick: Buffalo Sabres +135 or better