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New York Rangers at Washington Capitals NHL Odds and Pick: Bet the Rangers as Underdogs (Feb. 20)

New York Rangers at Washington Capitals NHL Odds and Pick: Bet the Rangers as Underdogs (Feb. 20) article feature image

Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Alex Ovechkin

  • The Rangers and Capitals start the NHL slate on Saturday with a matchup in the East Division.
  • New York has been struggling in front of goal, although a look at its attacking numbers indicates the Blueshirts are due for a breakout.
  • Michael Leboff explains why Saturday is a good time to bet on it happening.

Rangers vs. Capitals Odds

Rangers Odds +135
Capitals Odds -157
Over/Under 6 (-118 / -104)
Time Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET
TV NHL Network
Odds as of Saturday morning and via DraftKings.

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers are separated by six points in the East Division. Washington comes into play on Saturday with an 8-4-3 record and a +1 goal differential, while New York sports an underwhelming 5-7-3 record and a -5 goal differential. On the surface, there’s nothing surprising about this line. The Capitals are the better team, they’re at home and the Rangers have been one of the biggest disappointments in the NHL this season.

But if you take a step back and take a deeper look at this matchup you’ll see that there are signs pointing towards some value on the underdogs.

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New York Rangers

It is no secret what ails the Rangers. Coming into the season the Blueshirts were expected to be an offensive buzzsaw. They have more scoring talent in their top-six than most teams have on their entire roster. Artemi Panarin was a Hart Trophy nominee in 2019/20, Mika Zibanejad broke out as a top-notch No. 1 center and they were supported by dependable 20-goal scorers like Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. There was no reason to doubt that this team, which finished ninth in 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes last season, couldn’t at least replicate that effort in 2021, especially with No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere in the fold.

But hockey is weird and somehow the Rangers have gone ice cold on offense. Panarin and Buchnevich are the only two players with double-digit point totals. Zibanejad has one goal and two assists, Kreider has five points and Lafreniere and 2019 No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko have combined for four points.

At some point you’d expect these numbers to tick up, as the Rangers are currently scoring 1.88 goals per 60 minutes despite producing 2.34 expected goals per 60 at 5-on-5. A team with this much talent shouldn’t be shooting 6.14% at 5-on-5, but sometimes things like that happen.

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.

Part of the problem is that New York lacks the depth to tread water if its best players go cold. Outside of Lafreniere, the Rangers’ bottom-six consists of fringe NHLers who can’t really be counted on to pick up the slack.

It’s a similar situation on defense. Adam Fox is a terrific player, but he’s got little help, especially since K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba are battling injury issues and Tony DeAngelo has been jettisoned from the team due to some troubling personal behavior.

That leaves the Rangers with a patchwork blueline that features negative-impact players like Jack Johnson, Brendan Smith and Libor Hajek. There is a chance that Miller returns to the lineup on Saturday, which would be a big boost as he has been solid in his rookie season and would presumably bump a much worse rearguard from the lineup.

The fact that the Rangers have managed to keep their expected goals rate above 50% with this type of roster turmoil is pretty impressive, but there are a lot of problems on Broadway.

Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) is an advanced statistic that measures a goaltender’s performance against the quality of scoring chances he faced. It is a better catch-all metric compared to save percentage because every SV% counts every saved shot and goal the same, while GSAx weights shots by the quality of the scoring chance.

GSAx numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.

Washington Capitals

Unlike the Rangers, the Capitals have been able to score through their problems. That is nothing new to the Caps, though. With players like Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov in its forward ranks, the Capitals are a good bet to be able to beat their expected goals. That said, they are a bit fortunate to be scoring 3.04 goals per 60 minutes as their xGF/60 sits at just 2.06.

For most teams those numbers would scream regression, but Washington’s reputation makes it a little more complicated. Further complicating things is that the Capitals are giving up a lot of goals.

Washington ranks sixth in the NHL with an average of 3.47 goals per game, but their 3.4 goals allowed per game is the fifth-worst mark in the NHL. A lot of that can be chalked up to poor goaltending, however, as Washington is actually only surrendering 2.12 xGA/60 at 5-on-5. Vitek Vanecek, who came into the season as Washington’s No. 3 goaltender, has struggled to a -4.05 GSAx in 13 starts while starter Ilya Samsonov gets back into game shape after a stint on the COVID-19 protocol list.

Betting Analysis & Pick

The Capitals may come in with a better record and a deeper roster compared to the Rangers, but I think there will be value fading Washington for the foreseeable future. At some point the Caps will see their shooting percentage come down to earth, while the opposite is true of the Blueshirts.

I also give a decent edge to the Rangers in the goaltending department for this matchup. Igor Shesterkin has started to find his form with a +1.88 GSAx in 10 starts, while Vanecek has struggled and we haven’t seen Samsonov in an NHL game for a month.

I’ll take a shot on New York at +130 or better on Saturday afternoon.

Pick: New York Rangers +130 or better

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