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NHL Best Bets: Our Top Picks for Saturday, Jan. 23, Including Senators vs. Jets & Flyers vs. Bruins

NHL Best Bets: Our Top Picks for Saturday, Jan. 23, Including Senators vs. Jets & Flyers vs. Bruins article feature image

Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

  • Saturday's five-game NHL slate starts at 2 p.m. ET with a showdown between the Blue Jackets and Lightning and wraps up at 10 p.m. ET with Senators-Jets.
  • Our betting experts share their favorite picks for Saturday's games below.

The betting world may be gearing up for Championship Sunday, but there’s plenty of action to be had before we get to the gridiron.

That includes a five-game NHL slate kicking off at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday and wrapping up with a 10 p.m. puck drop between the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets.

Here are our favorite bets for Saturday’s NHL action:

Pete Truszkowski: Columbus Blue Jackets Team Total Under 2.5 (-112)

  • Puck Drop: 2 p.m. ET

Pierre-Luc Dubois has been benched by head coach John Tortorella in back-to-back games. It’s been reported that the Blue Jackets’ top offensive player will be a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game if he isn’t traded before puck drop.

This news makes an already below-average offensive team even weaker. Columbus is a bottom-five team on the season in terms of expected goals scored per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. The Jackets were in the bottom-10 last season. The Blue Jackets are only averaging 7.26 high danger chances per 60 minutes through their first five games, once again finding themselves in the bottom third of the league.

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Columbus normally is a team that takes care of the puck and limits opponents’ scoring chances. The Jackets are usually above 50% when it comes to expected goals. That hasn’t been the case so far this season, as Columbus sports a 46.3% expected goals rate through its first five contests. That is not a recipe for success for a team that already lacks scoring talent.

A matinee against the Lightning won’t help matters. When people think about the Bolts, they think scoring. And with players like Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat at the top of Tampa’s lineup, it’s hard to blame them.

What many people don’t realize is that the Lightning are also one of the best defensive units in the league. Tampa allowed the fourth-fewest expected goals and high-danger scoring chances against in 2019-20. And if the Lightning do break down, they have one of the best goaltenders in the league behind them.

Tampa is much better than Columbus and I expect the Lightning to control the pace on Saturday. And even if they don’t, the Jackets still don’t have enough firepower to scare me off this bet.

Jeremy Pond: Montreal Canadiens (-150) vs. Vancovuer Canucks

  • Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

Teams all too familiar with each other hit the ice one more time Saturday when Vancouver hosts Montreal in the final game of their three-game series.

These sides split the first two meetings, with Montreal’s offense erupting in a 7-3 blowout win over Vancouver last time out. The Canadiens, who scored four unanswered second-period goals to break a 2-2 deadlock, moved into a tie with Toronto atop the North Division with the victory.

And while the visiting outfit continues to improve and gain serious momentum, things are quickly going in the opposite direction for Vancouver. The Canucks, who earned a 6-5 overtime shootout victory in the opener, were completely torn apart by a relentless Canadiens’ offensive onslaught.

Former Canuck Tyler Toffoli, who recorded a hat trick in first game, tacked on two more goals in Thursday’s win. Teammate Joel Armia was brilliant as well, racking up five points for the NHL’s highest-scoring outfit.

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When it comes to the numbers and statistics, Montreal continues to hold a huge advantage over Vancouver in the primary Fenwick advanced metrics.

The Canadiens sit on 46.85 FF/60 to 33.04 FA/60 for a +13.81 differential, which is far better than the Canucks (39.49 FF/60 to 46.9 FA/60 for a -7.41 differential) in both categories. The Canadiens also hold a 1.63 xGA/60 to 2.92 xGA/60 edge, making matters even worse.

Bottom line, comparing these sides’ advanced metrics is downright ugly.

That said, I am riding Montreal again in this spot and playing it to pick up the victory at -150 odds in this spot. Vancouver can’t fix its problems with a day off in between games, so expect another long night for the host at Rogers Arena.

I anticipate this number will grow in the lead-up to this contest, so I would jump on it as soon as possible to avoid losing any remaining value.

Sam Hitchcock: Philadelphia Flyers (+125) vs. Boston Bruins

  • Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

Philadelphia Flyers fans looking for a silver lining will cite James van Riemsdyk’s goal with the team trailing the Boston Bruins 4-3 late in the third period last night. It forced overtime, earning the Flyers a point in a game when they deserved none. Still, such optimism downplays the seedier elements of Thursday’s game.

The Flyers were badly outplayed for three periods, but somehow managed to carry a 2-0 lead heading into the third frame. After the Bruins roared back and tied the game 2-2, Philadelphia scored a fluky goal off a Jakub Voracek pass that hit a skate.

Victory was attainable, but the Flyers proceeded to forfeit their 3-2 lead when Scott Laughton committed an egregious offensive-zone penalty, leading to a Nick Ritchie power-play goal for Boston. In short, Philadelphia finished with one point while twice surrendering the chance to grab two.

On Thursday, even without David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase in their lineup, the Bruins managed to register a 2.56 expected goals, nearly doubling the Flyers in this metric. To underscore the significance: The Bruins hadn’t notched a 5-on-5 goal entering their game against Philadelphia, yet their struggling offense completely dominated play.

Logically, the Flyers currently sit second to last in expected goals percentage, and their shots against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is last in the NHL. Missing their 2020 Selke Trophy-winning center, Sean Couturier, certainly isn’t helping, as the hyper-responsible two-way forward helps inject a measure of accountability in a team that rivals the recklessness of Johnny Knoxville in the early aughts.

But wait: Here is where I’m going to tell you that betting on the Flyers when they face the Bruins again is a good idea. For Saturday’s game, the moneyline for Philadelphia is +125. Those are tasty odds considering the Flyers, despite everything said above, are the more talented, deeper team.

Carter Hart will be back in goal for Philadelphia on Saturday, and with Boston starting its backup goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, goaltending becomes a possible trump card for the Flyers. And while the Bruins finally found their scoring Thursday night, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have a few stats that are unsettling.

For example, the duo is posting a 49.35 expected goals percentage in this young season and have conceded more high-danger chances than they have generated. Bergeron and Marchand obviously miss Pastrnak, and the coffee pitchman still won’t be on the ice on Saturday.

Five games into the season, the Flyers are all over the place. The first time they played the hapless Buffalo Sabres, they were thumped 6-1. But they followed that up by shutting out Buffalo 3-0 the next day. The Bruins are the NHL’s best team currently at shots against at 5-on-5 per hour, but the Penguins rank second. The Flyers put up 11 combined goals on Pittsburgh in their two-game soirée.

The Flyers are at 3.8 goals per game right now, and that is despite Couturier missing three games. Philadelphia has enviable depth down the middle, with three lines centered by Claude Giroux, Nolan Patrick and Kevin Hayes. At wing, the Flyers are also replete with talent, including emerging star Travis Konecny, who is second in the NHL in goals as of this writing.

Better boxing out (cough, Nolan Patrick) and being more dutiful on breakouts and transition defense would go a long way. The Flyers submitted a putrid performance against the Bruins and nearly won. If they can sand some edges and stay out of the penalty box, bettors can make good on a bearish market for a skilled squad.

Michael Leboff: Ottawa Senators (+130) vs. Winnipeg Jets

Puck Drop: 10 p.m. ET

After dropping two games in a row to the Winnipeg Jets, the Ottawa Senators are +130 underdogs in Game 3 of their week-long series. The first two games with much tighter odds as the Senators were -108 in the opening contest and +105 in their 4-1 loss on Thursday. While those games took place in Ottawa and Saturday’s goes down in Winnipeg, I think the market is overreacting to the Jets’ back-to-back wins and the change in venue.

If you ignore what we just saw from these two teams and take a look at the numbers, you’d see that the Senators and Jets are closer than their place in the table suggests.

Despite finishing 18 points behind the Jets in 2019-20, the Senators had a much better expected goals rate. Ottawa finished the regular season at 48.93% while Winnipeg finished last in the NHL with a 43.9% xG rate. Through four games this season the Senators are over 51.13% xG rate, while the Jets are still treading water at 46.3%.

Expected goals isn’t the be-all and end-all, and I’m not here to see the Senators have more talent than the Jets, but Winnipeg’s poor 5-on-5 should give you pause.

Betting against Connor Hellebuyck, who looks like he has carried over his Vezina-winning form to the new campaign, is never fun, but I think the Senators are being offered at a good enough number to take the chance.

Ottawa’s +130 moneyline odds suggest it wins this game 43.5% of the time. I think this matchup is closer than that.

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