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NHL Betting Odds & Picks for Canucks vs. Jets: Winnipeg Defense Regressing in a Major Way (Feb. 21)

NHL Betting Odds & Picks for Canucks vs. Jets: Winnipeg Defense Regressing in a Major Way (Feb. 21) article feature image

Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Olli Juolevi #48 of the Vancouver Canucks takes a shot on Laurent Brossoit

Jets vs. Canucks Odds

Jets Odds -104
Canucks Odds -112
Over/Under 6.5
Time Sunday, 10 p.m. ET
TV NHL Network
Odds as of Saturday night and via DraftKings

People run marathons and climb formidable mountains to test their limits. Viewed through a certain lens, this game between the Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks has a similarly daunting challenge.

Under an unceasing barrage of quality scoring chances, which goalie will break first? I’ll steer bettors toward the Canucks, who are slight favorites at -112 on DraftKings.

Winnipeg Jets

Maybe Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic weren’t the only problems. Since those two forwards were traded from Winnipeg to Columbus, nearly a month ago, the Jets are 7-5-1. It’s a pace that might be just good enough to limp into the playoffs in the final divisional playoff spot.

In fairness, center Pierre-Luc Dubois, the jewel of the trade for the Jets, has only played two games since the acquisition, but the same problems linger for the Jets. Their defense is a mess. They commit far too many turnovers. And they are too reliant on their top-six forwards and goaltending.

In Friday’s affair against the Canucks, the Jets allowed a ghastly 3.07 expected goals at 5-on-5. Winnipeg struggled to exit its zone, and Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson line ate up the Josh Morrissey and Tucker Poolman defensive pairing, along with the Jets forwards triumvirate of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler.

Winnipeg managed to win 2-0, but the only non-empty-net goal of the contest started with consecutive turnovers by Poolman and Connor. Miraculously, when the puck cycled to the point, a bad bounce on Alexander Edler sprung Scheifele for a breakaway on Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko. A flailing zone exit produced a goal.

When examining this matchup, looking at each team’s season statistics is less insightful than reviewing their last five games, where the Canucks seem to have found harmony in the world. In contrast, the Jets seem to be at war with themselves.

In the last handful of games, Winnipeg has the second worst expected goals percentage in the NHL, only ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers. The spark-in-the-tinderbox for that metric is the expected goals against, where the Jets are surrendering a 3.15 per 60 minutes. To put that in perspective, the Chicago Blackhawks rank second worst with a 2.67. The Jets are worst by far.

The most egregious offenders in the Jets’ defensive slide have been Morrissey and Poolman, guilty of a 3.6 expected goals against when they are on the ice. And that defensive pairing is facing the Canucks’ top offensive weapons!

But really, the Canucks have been offensive vipers in their last five games, and they lead the league in expected goals per hour during that stretch. Plus, as it happens, the Jets are uniquely ill-equipped to handle them, since the Canucks strive to get in on the forecheck and the Jets are a puddle of goo in their own end.

As reckless as the Jets are in their custodianship of the puck, they are almost equally unimpressive in their disoriented defensive coverage. On Friday night, the Jets consistently let Canucks forwards get behind them, or lost track of them as they sidled up to the backdoor. Or the Jets defenseman got shoved into the crease while their opponent flashed to the middle slot for a shot.

The Jets are allowing just under 13 high-danger chances per 60 minutes on the season, but in their last five games they are conceding 13.29 per hour. The defense is getting worse.

The funny thing is there are ways Winnipeg could alleviate a brittle breakout. Direct passes are not working, nor is blindly swinging the puck to where the outlet should be. But the Jets defensemen could explore using flip passes over the top of the Canucks’ more lumbering defensemen, like Tyler Myers and Alexander Edler. By utilizing the area pass, Winnipeg can exit the zone and potentially create a rush chance for a speedy forward. Seems logical enough. We will see if it happens on Sunday.

The Jets do have two things going in their favor. First, they have terrific goaltending. Laurent Brossoit was excellent on Friday night, and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck has a 2.65 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). If Vancouver starts goaltender Braden Holtby, Winnipeg has the edge in goal.

Second, the Canucks are 0-11 when their opponent scores first. Meanwhile, the Jets are above .500 when their enemy scores first. The Jets are still alive when they go down 1-0, while the Canucks crumble.

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

Near the tail end of the Canucks’ six-game losing streak, which started at the beginning of February, a reckoning happened. Vancouver stopped hemorrhaging scoring chances. The gaps in the neutral zone weren’t canyon-like. A recasting of priorities occurred.

The Canucks need to be judicious with how they manage the puck. The Jets’ offense is predicated on counterattacks and rush chances because they can’t consistently dent the Canucks with their forecheck. Yet expecting mistake-free hockey from Vancouver is farfetched. A premium should be placed on the Canucks’ forwards aiding their teammates on the back end.

This means: covering over the top when Quinn Hughes and Nate Schmidt pinch, forwards picking up their man in transition defense, and providing support underneath so Vancouver’s defensemen can step up in the neutral zone and keep tighter gaps. The Canucks want to practice risk management in all three zones because their offensive assignment is straight forward: forecheck and cycle.

In the first 16 games of the season at 5-on-5, Brock Boeser had an individual expected goals of 0.36. In his last five games, he is at 1.2. Petterson has seen a jump from 0.66 to 0.86. In the last five games, Boeser is also generating four times as many high-danger chances per hour while Petterson has more than doubled his. For the Canucks to win they need production from the big-name forwards. It is finally happening.

The final piece to the Canucks’ success is goaltending. In the month of February, Braden Holtby has a -2.8 GSAx, so Demko has gotten four of the last five starts. Demko’s numbers are not peerless, but he has demonstrated that he can submit a spectacular effort. If Holtby is in goal, that is where the vulnerability lies, because Vancouver has the agency to dictate play and control this game.

Betting Analysis & Pick

The Jets are inconsistent, and they have split their three previous two-game series. The prospect of their winning consecutive games on the road seems unlikely.

The Canucks are playing better hockey, and at -112 on DraftKings, they are the play. Ultimately, I urge bettors to derive schadenfreude from the Jets’ defensive woes.

Pick: Canucks -112

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