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NHL Betting Odds, Picks & Predictions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators (Jan. 15)

NHL Betting Odds, Picks & Predictions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators (Jan. 15) article feature image

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images. Pictured: Mitch Marner

  • On paper, Friday's matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators is a significant mismatch.
  • The Maple Leafs are a talented team but are counting on an improved defense in 2021 and leave plenty of room for the occasional upset.
  • Michael Leboff breaks down why waiting for the right price is the best way to bet this game.

Maple Leafs vs. Senators Odds

Maple Leafs Odds -200 [BET NOW]
Senators Odds +170 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 6.5  [BET NOW]
Time 7 p.m. ET
TV NHL Center Ice
Odds as of Thursday and via DraftKings. Get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus at DraftKings today or see more offers and reviews for the best online sportsbooks.

Perhaps no sports market in the world can overreact to a one-game sample size quite like Toronto. In fact, if you watched the Maple Leafs’ season-opener against the Habs on Wednesday night — which was on national TV in Canada — you would have heard the broadcast booth refer to the Leafs’ Blue and White Scrimmage several times. I get that teams haven’t played in a while and there was no preseason to work off of, but it was quite something to hear — once again this was on a national broadcast — the booth talk seriously about a player’s performance in an intra-squad match.

Oftentimes teams like the Leafs, which is to say big-market teams that get talked about by the media as if their success is one of the keys to a Greater Society, are overvalued in the betting market. I expect that to be the case on Friday night as people lump the Buds into their nine-team-cross-sport-all-chalk parlays.

Oh and by the way, just the other day the biggest company in the world announced it was filming a behind-the-scenes documentary about Toronto’s 2021 season.

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.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto’s 5-4 overtime win over Montreal had all the hallmarks of a classic Modern Leafs’ Victory. There was the clinical finishing. The dazzling offensive combowork. The timely scoring. But there was also the porous defensive play. The shaky goaltending. And some less-than-stellar 5-on-5 play, especially from the bottom of the roster.

Like I said, it was just one game, but it is at least a little bit interesting that the Leafs looked very much like the Leafs on opening night.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about what we saw from Toronto is that the Habs were able to use their speed to put the Buds in precarious situations. For a team that likes to trade rush chances, lacking speed could be a real problem. Montreal finished the night with a 9-6 edge in high-danger chances and a 2.59 to 1.66 edge in the expected goals battle.

Those numbers aren’t exactly in line with what we saw from Toronto in 2019-20, when it was fourth in the NHL with  2.61 xG per 60 minutes and ninth with a +0.16 xG differential per hour.

Montreal is a really strong 5-on-5 team that ranked near the top of the NHL in expected goals rate in 2019-20, so I would be shocked if we see Toronto struggle to tilt the ice against the Senators. You can expect the Leafs to have plenty of scoring opportunities against Ottawa on Friday night, but you also wouldn’t be nuts to think that the Senators will get their looks, too.

The Leafs are talented enough to survive pedestrian efforts, but they are also counting on an improved defense in 2021 so that they don’t torpedo themselves on nights when the offense is dominating.

That can make the Leafs susceptible to the occasional upset.

Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators are not expected to be very good in 2021. That doesn’t mean they won’t be improved from last season, though.

Even though the Senators finished second-to-last, they quietly made some gains in ’19-20. Ottawa’s overall statistical profile was still underwhelming but the Sens finished 11th in xGF/60 and boasted a better xGA/60 than seven teams, including the Jets, Canucks and Rangers.

Those may seem like modest successes, but you can’t expect the world out of a team that is a triple-digit longshot.

Stat (5-on-5) 2018-19 2019-20
Goals per 60 2.5 2.23
Goals Against per 60 3.23 2.71
Goals Differential per 60 -0.73 -0.48
Expected Goals per 60 2.31 2.43
Expected Goals Against per 60 2.68 2.54
xG Differential per 60 -0.38 -0.11

Another step forward would put Ottawa closer to mediocre than to bad and, as uninspired as that sounds, it would make the Sens a valuable commodity in the betting market, especially if bettors and oddsmakers are expecting the Sens to be as bad they were last season.

The Senators are not going to light it up every night because they lack depth down the middle, but a top-six featuring Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle and Evgenii Dadonov could be a real thorn in the side against less-than-stellar defenses.

Those three, along with Drake Batherson, Colin White, Derek Stepan and Nick Paul will likely need to do some damage for Ottawa to hang in games because this defense does not look good on paper.

Outside of Thomas Chabot, it’s hard to pick out a player on the Senators that would feature in a top-four on a half-decent team. That will put a lot of pressure on an already-under-the-microscope Matt Murray in goal.

After back-stopping the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups, Murray has battled injuries and inconsistencies over the past couple of seasons. His game completely came undone last year, as he posted a -13.98 Goals Saved Above Expectation during the truncated regular season.

It’s not all that rare for goaltenders to go through peaks and valleys in their careers, but this defense could make it tough for Murray to re-discover his Cup-winning form.

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Maple Leafs-Senators Pick

This game is a mismatch on paper, but hockey is so random that you can’t just bet every big favorite and move on with your life. If only it was that easy.

The Maple Leafs are a very good team, but they also project be a high-variance unit that could be done in on any night thanks to a suspect defense and goaltending that hasn’t inspired confidence in quite some time. This high-wire act should at least create a small opening for Ottawa, so long as Murray can outplay whoever is in goal for the Leafs. That’s not a given, of course.

The current odds imply that the Senators win this game about 37% of the time. That is pretty close, though I wouldn’t be surprised if this number moves toward Toronto. The Leafs are coming off a win, they are one of the Cup favorites and the Senators are off back-to-back terrible seasons. I can’t see Ottawa getting all that much betting support.

I’m going to wait this one out and see how high the Senators get, but anything above +185 looks good to me.

The Bet: Senators +185

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