Maple Leafs vs. Jets NHL Odds & Pick: Will Winnipeg Pull Off the Upset at Home? (April 2)

Maple Leafs vs. Jets NHL Odds & Pick: Will Winnipeg Pull Off the Upset at Home? (April 2) article feature image
Credit:

Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: William Nylander and John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

  • After losing six of seven, Toronto has now won three of its last four games.
  • Winnipeg sits second in the West and has relied on Connor Hellebuyck to get things done between the pipe.
  • Matt Russell explains why he likes the Leafs to win their second game in a row over the Jets.

Maple Leafs vs. Jets Odds


Maple Leafs Odds -140
Jets Odds +120
Over/Under 6.0
Time | TV Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Odds as of Thursday and via PointsBet.

Opening Day in Major League Baseball is fun. It’s an event for a sport that gets almost immediately forgotten the very next day, until a variety of things happen over the course of the season that remind you, “Oh yeah, Baseball”.

The thing that MLB Opening Day signals for me, as a Canadian and lifelong hockey fan, is that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner. Maybe it’s time I take a closer look at the standings for the last week or two, or maybe I should start making plans for meeting friends at a local bar for the local teams’ games.

This year, Opening Day only reminds hockey fans that there’s that much more regular season left to play. Instead of looking at the most likely impending playoff matchups as teams jockey for position, like in a normal year, now you skim through the rest of schedule and see things like just how many more times the Leafs have to play the Jets this month.

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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

On Wednesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs played the first of six games with the Winnipeg Jets in their next 13 games. It went well for the Leafs as they accumulated 14 High-Danger Chances (HDC) at even-strength, and only allowed the Jets to create seven HDC themselves. Most impressively, the Leafs held the Jets to 1.14 Expected Goals (XGA) while 5-on-5. 

This has been fairly business as usual for the Leafs lately from a metric standpoint, which may come as a surprise to Maple Leafs fans. Toronto has been a fascinating team to follow this season because the way they play at even-strength rarely lines up with their results. The Leafs have only given up two or more XGA in one of their last 14 games — a stretch that has included points of panic in the fan base when Toronto lost six of seven. 

In the same way that the Leafs were never as good as their hot start, not only have they not been bad recently, they’ve actually been better during this last stretch, according to my “Let’s Do That Hockey” model as heard on THE WINDOW: Sports Betting Podcast.

When the Maple Leafs left Edmonton a few weeks back, having won all three games versus the Oilers, they were rated 5% above average at even-strength due to how often they were getting out-chanced while 5-on-5. They’d win games based on converting the fewer chances, and scoring at an outrageous rate on the power play. It seemed both hard to sustain, and if you believe in karma or luck, they were due for some negative variance. That’s what happened, as they lost six of their next seven games, but when we look closer, the metrics show something really interesting.

The Leafs have lost seven of their 12 games since that high point in Edmonton, but they’ve actually been outstanding at even-strength in those games. They’ve accumulated 131 even-strength High-Danger Chances while allowing only 84 in their own end. That’s the type of ratio that would have supported their early season success, not a sub-.500 portion of their schedule. It’s a ratio that combined with a 60% Expected Goal Share would make them 16% above average at even-strength for that stretch. 


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.


WINNIPEG JETS

The Jets’ metrics have been more consistent in that they’ll drive you crazy if you’re trying to come up with an expectation level for them. Consistently being outplayed at even-strength from a chance creation standpoint leaves the Jets at 8% below average using almost any subset of games.

The fact the Jets only had seven High-Danger Chances at even-strength and created only 1.14 Expected Goals is actually common for them in a game they win. They must have been surprised that their only goal against the Leafs on Wednesday came on a 5-on-3 powerplay. While the Leafs haven’t had lower than 1.39 XGF since the aforementioned series with the Oilers, it’s been nine games since the Jets cracked double-digits in High-Danger Chances. They’re 5-4 during that stretch. 

What allows the Jets to win these games with relatively low offensive creation is a combination of a high-conversion rate on their chances but also a good power play that scores in bunches (4th in the NHL at 26%). Given that both teams don’t take many penalties, this advantage can be muted.

The other thing that helps the Jets, is that their No. 1 goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, is outstanding and in the top 10 in Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA), a year after winning the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender. He stops an inordinately high amount of the opponent’s High-Danger Chances. However, when a team like the Leafs creates more than usual, that obviously increases the amount of goals even the best of goaltenders may allow. 


Betting Analysis & Pick

Given the uptick in the Leafs’ 5-on-5 metrics, even during a stretch where they appear to have struggled, strangely, a case can be made that their rating should be closer to where they are playing now, rather than over the course of the season. Using that 16% above average rating, my model makes the Leafs a -131 favorite even on the road in Winnipeg. The Leafs are 11-5 on the road this season, so it’s hard to argue they should be downgraded in an empty arena. 

There was one more x-factor to be determined for this game, and that’s whether Jack Campbell gets the start for Toronto. While he’s yet to play enough games to qualify for a ranking in GSAA, his Goals-Against Average of 1.00 and .965 save percentage are outstanding in the four games he’s started. He’s won all four of those games, and if he gets the call in the crease for Toronto, I’m comfortable in backing the Leafs at -140 or better. 

Pick: Maple Leafs (-140 or better)

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