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Devils vs. Capitals Odds & Pick: Do the Underdogs Have Value on the Road? (Tuesday, March 9)

Devils vs. Capitals Odds & Pick: Do the Underdogs Have Value on the Road? (Tuesday, March 9) article feature image

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Mackenzie Blackwood

  • The struggling New Jersey Devils take on the Capitals in D.C. on Tuesday.
  • New Jersey has lost eight of its last 10 games, although Michael Leboff thinks the Devils may have value on Tuesday.
  • He explains why the betting market might be a little too high on Washington.

New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals Odds

Devils Odds +160
Capitals Odds -200
Over/Under 6
Time Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET
Odds as of Monday and via Unibet.

The New Jersey Devils were never expected to be contenders in the East Division. Saddled with the longest odds of any team in the division, it was thought that New Jersey’s ceiling for 2021 was to play spoiler and give the heavyweights everything they could handle.

A strong start from the Devils had people re-thinking that prognosis, but  Lindy Ruff’s Devils have come back down to Earth thanks to a 2-8 slide over their last 10 games. Now 11 points (with three games in hand) behind Pittsburgh for the last playoff spot in the East, the Devils are just about where people expected them to be at this part of the season.

Just because the Devils are scuffling doesn’t mean that you should fade them. In fact, the opposite is often true. We saw New Jersey pull an upset as a +265 underdog against Boston on Sunday and there’s reason to believe that the Devils have value in Washington on Tuesday night.

New Jersey Devils

While New Jersey’s 6-3-2 start was impressive, it always looked unsustainable. That doesn’t mean the Devils weren’t playing well, they were (especially relative to their expectations) but more that they were not playing as well as their record or goal differential suggested.

Through their first 10 games the Devils had a +1.05 goal differential per 60 minutes (GD/60) at 5-on-5. Their expected goal differential was considerably lower at +0.18 per 60 minutes (xGD/60). That is still a decent number, but it was clear that regression was looming.

Perhaps the biggest signal was the team’s .946 save percentage at 5-on-5. Mackenzie Blackwood, Aaron Dell and Scott Wedgewood give the Devils a strong goalie depot, but no team is ever going to keep that level of play up over a course of a season. The highest 5-on-5 save percentage over the past five seasons was .937 (Washington, 2016-17), so it was always fair to expect New Jersey to cool off a bit in the blue paint.

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.

Regression has certainly come for the Devils over the past three weeks. New Jersey has a -0.14 xGD/60, but its GD/60 sits at -1.15 over its last 11 contests. Part of that gulf can be chalked up to a below-average .910 save percentage at 5-on-5, but the real issue for the Devils is on defense.

New Jersey is allowing the seventh-most high-danger scoring chances and eighth-most expected goals at 5-on-5, meaning they are making life pretty difficult on the rest of their team. Not only does that mean the goalies are dealing with a pretty big workload, but also that the offense needs to score consistently to provide cover for the defense.

That leaves bettors with the conundrum of what to expect from the Devils. As is often the case with these sorts of things, the answer is probably somewhere in between what we saw in January and what we’ve seen over the last three weeks. When the Devils are cooking, they have the high-end talent to pull off some upsets against better teams as long as their goaltending cooperates. Unfortunately, they have plenty of holes and that means that if things aren’t clicking it can come undone pretty quickly.

One of those holes is on special teams. The Devils rank 31st in the NHL on the penalty kill and 28th on the power play. That is concerning against every opponent, but especially so against an opponent like the Washington Capitals.

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Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals have made a habit of driving modelers, pundits and bettors up a wall over the past handful of seasons. The Capitals aren’t a particularly special play-driving team, they don’t dominate the shot clock and yet, they still always seem to be in contention in whatever division they’re playing in at the moment.

Over the past five seasons (including 2021), Washington has posted expected goal rates of 51.5%, 47.5%, 47.5%, 50.4% and 51.2%. In those seasons they’ve won a Stanley Cup and five division titles. That isn’t to throw water on expected goals as a stat, but more to highlight that there are a number of ways to succeed in the NHL. Washington’s preferred path to success is hanging in games and allowing its star players and offensive weapons to provide a game-changing moment.

That is what we’re seeing again this season as the Capitals are not all that impressive at 5-on-5, but they still have managed to post the seventh-best points percentage in the NHL.

What has changed in Washington is that it is playing a low-event style of hockey and its defense has improved quite a bit under Peter Laviolette. Last season the Capitals were 19th in the NHL in expected goals against at 5-on-5. This season they rank sixth.

Betting Analysis & Pick

The Devils are likely going to be quite helter-skelter for the rest of the season. This team has enough talent (even without Nico Hischier) to give better teams a hard time. We saw it the other night against the Bruins and we’ll certainly see it a bunch more through the rest of the season.

At +160 the Devils have an implied win probability of 38.5%. I think that is a shade low. While the Capitals win this game more often than not, the Devils do have a path to success in this game if they get decent goaltending and stay out of the penalty box.

Washington is not going to dominate the puck at 5-on-5 and instead is relying on its defense to do the heavy lifting and keep it close so that players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom or T.J. Oshie can break the game open. It’s a proven method of success for the Caps, but it also leaves the door open for a team like New Jersey to drag them deep into a game and essentially turn the contest into a coin flip.

When you’re betting on a team at a price like this, that’s all you’re asking for.

Pick: New Jersey Devils +160 or better

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