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NHL Odds & Pick for Maple Leafs vs. Canucks: Schedule Boosts Value of Underdog Vancouver (Thursday, March 4)

NHL Odds & Pick for Maple Leafs vs. Canucks: Schedule Boosts Value of Underdog Vancouver (Thursday, March 4) article feature image

Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: J.T. Miller celebrates with the Vancouver bench.

  • The Maple Leafs have seemed unbeatable lately, but aren't in a great spot Thursday in Vancouver.
  • Toronto is on the second half of a back-to-back going on the road against the rested Canucks.
  • Matt Russell explains why there's value on Vancouver thanks to the schedule below.

Maple Leafs vs. Canucks Odds

Maple Leafs Odds-160
Canucks Odds+135
Time | TVThursday, 10 p.m. ET
Odds as of Wednesday night and via DraftKings

Depending on who you ask in the hockey handicapping community, you might get many different interpretations as to the importance of a goaltender in a one-game situation. In a sport where it’s possible to play well enough that your goaltending is rarely facing quality scoring chances, is the drop-off from an elite starter to a league-average backup for one game going to make that much of a difference?

In reality, it depends on the team around that goaltender. The Canucks, for example, have a young goaltender of the future in Thatcher Demko, and a veteran goaltender of the past in Braden Holtby. It matters who gets the call for the Canucks. As for the Toronto Maple Leafs, a recent three-game set in Edmonton goes to show that whoever puts the pillows on is next to meaningless. 

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Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs played virtually identical games in Edmonton. The first featured a shutout from Jack Campbell in a game where the Oilers couldn’t take advantage of early opportunities. The second featured a shutout from Michael Hutchinson in a game where the Oilers couldn’t capitalize on their high-danger chances. In the third and final game, Leafs starter Frederik Andersen made it back from injury in time to backstop the Leafs to a convincing win. 

The last time we saw the Maple Leafs face the Canucks, it was a trio of victories for the Leafs. Now, the scene shifts to the more scenic ocean-side rink in Vancouver, where the Leafs face a challenge they haven’t had to overcome yet: The dreaded schedule spot.

So far this season, only three times has a team had to play a back-to-back with the second game coming on the road against a team that didn’t play the night before. In the previous three occasions, the home team averaged 58% of the expected goals 5-on-5, and had 25 high-danger chances at even-strength to just 12 for the road team. 

Offensively for the Leafs, Auston Matthews missed the first two games with the Oilers and his supporting cast more than made up for his absence. Will they be able to keep up that support in Van City?

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.

Vancouver Canucks

Since a rough start to their home schedule, the Canucks have actually played really well in the comfortable confines of Rogers Arena, even if their record doesn’t indicate that. They’re 4-6 in their last 10 at home, but their expected goal share has been a robust 56%, with 24.41 xGF and 19.26 xGA. The Canucks get the advantage of waiting for the Leafs to come to town on a back-to-back, which should provide them opportunity to add to that discrepancy. If they can do that, there’s certainly value to the Canucks as home underdogs.

We were able to sniff out a spot where the Canucks were excessively undervalued against the Jets on Monday. After winning that game as +125 underdogs, true to form, the Canucks lost the rematch after the market. This is a team that is never a comfortable bet even with their solid home metrics.

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Betting Analysis & Pick

The value on the underdog is just too good to pass up. My model has the Leafs as a 5% above-average team at even-strength, while the Canucks rate at 9% below-average at 5-on-5. This translates with a Leafs win probability of 54% before factoring in the scheduling spot for Toronto.

The projected prices as of this writing are TOR -160/VAN +135, which I would expect to hold if not improve for those of us willing to back the Canucks. However, that’s about as low as I’ll be looking to go when betting Vancouver as a value proposition. 

Pick: Canucks (+135 or better)

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