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Thursday’s NHL Betting Picks: Our Favorite Bets, Including Panthers-Predators & Senators-Flames (March 4)

Thursday’s NHL Betting Picks: Our Favorite Bets, Including Panthers-Predators & Senators-Flames (March 4) article feature image

Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images.

  • With 10 games to choose from, there are no shortage of option for NHL bettors on Thursday.
  • The slate features everything, from huge underdogs to close pick'ems.
  • The Action Network's writers provide their best bets among the busy schedule.

NHL bettors are going to be quite busy the next few days. Starting Thursday there are 36 games on the schedule over the next four days.

There's something for everyone on Thursdays' NHL slate. There are some big underdogs, a couple of games lined close to a pick'em and everything in between.

These are our favorite bets for Thursday's 10-game slate:

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Michael Leboff: Florida Panthers (-126) vs. Nashville Predators

Puck Drop: 8 p.m. ET

The Nashville Predators have been a big disappointment in 2021. At 10-12-0 the Preds rank 25th overall in points percentage and their -18 goal differential (not including the goal awarded for shootout wins) is the fourth-worst mark in the league.

Nashville's underlying metrics are better than their actual results, but a 50.1% expected goals rate is nothing to shake your fists at the hockey gods over, especially when there's not much else going right. Nashville's offense is 28th in goals per game, 27th in 5-on-5 goals per hour and 27th in xG per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. The only thing that is saving Nashville from being a complete disaster is its defense, which is sixth in expected goals allowed and 11th in goals against at 5-on-5.

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.

The projected goaltending matchup of Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Juuse Saros is not ideal for the Panthers as Bobrovsky has struggled to a .899 save percentage and a -7.84 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). That blow should be softened by a stagnant Nashville offense that is scoring just 1.69 goals per hour at 5-on-5. Add in the fact that Pekka Rinne (-2.71 GSAx) has not played particularly well for Nashville, and all of a sudden the goaltending matchup becomes a lot less frightening.

Outside of the goaltending, Florida ticks basically every box in this matchup. The Panthers have been terrific at 5-on-5 with a 55.1% goal share and a 54.7% expected goals rate, the defense ranks first in high-danger chances allowed and third in xGA allowed. The offense is creating enough scoring opportunities to make those defensive metrics have an impact.

Even though Nashville is at home, this game is more of a mismatch than the line indicates, especially since Nashville will be missing top-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis. Despite the volatile goaltending matchup I'd play Florida up to -135.

David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Matt Murray.

Pete Truszkowski: Ottawa Senators (+170) vs. Calgary Flames

Puck Drop: 9 p.m. ET

The Calgary Flames have lost six of their last eight games, and two of those losses came against these Ottawa Senators. Despite this fact, the Flames are prohibitive favorites on Thursday night.

The Ottawa Senators are clearly a bad team currently going through a rebuilding process, but they’ve been been pretty competitive lately. In fact, the underlying metrics suggest that there isn’t much separating these teams over the past month.

Over the past 30 days, the Senators have an expected goal differential of -0.07 per hour at 5-on-5 while the Flames clock in at -0.05. The Flames expected goal rate is 49.4% while the Senators are right behind them at 49.2%. The Sens are actually generating more offense at 5-on-5 than the Flames during this time frame, and their defensive metrics aren't far off, either.

Calgary's recent losing stretch coincides with the absence of goaltender Jacob Markstrom, but it would be unfair to blame David Rittich for the losses. Markstrom might return for this game which would be a boost for Calgary, but there are deeper issues than goaltending plaguing the Flames right now.

Calgary ranks in the bottom five of the league in terms of goals per game, and the main reason is its lack of forward depth. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk have been fine, but outside of those four, there’s not much in the Flames lineup that scares you.

On the flipside, the Senators have a group of young players who are beginning to get settled in the league. Drake Batherson has eight goals in his last nine games, while rookie Tim Stuetzle has eight points during in that same span. Josh Norris has also had a solid rookie season to go along more proven commodities like Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk.

Matt Murray’s stats might be ugly, but the goaltender is trending in the right direction. He has a .909 save percentage over the past month which is a large improvement over his .888 mark on the season. If Murray gives Ottawa average goaltending, the Sens have the potential to play spoiler in the second half of this season.

This line implies that Calgary wins this game nearly 67% of the time which is a preposterous claim considering the Flames' current form. Ottawa has won two of the last three games against the Flames. At this line, they are definitely worthy of a bet to make it three of four.

Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Thatcher Demko.

Matt Russell: Vancouver Canucks (+135) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Puck Drop: 10 p.m. ET

The last time we saw the Maple Leafs face the Canucks, it was a trio of victories for the Leafs. However, the third game was much closer than the first two blowouts.

Now the scene shifts to the more scenic ocean-side rink in Vancouver, where the Leafs face a challenge they haven’t had to overcome yet — the dreaded schedule spot. Only three times this season has a team played a back-to-back with the second game coming on the road against a team that was off the night before. In the previous three occasions, the home team averaged 58% of the Expected Goals 5-on-5, and had 25 High-Danger Chances at even-strength to just 12 for the road team.

Since a rough start to their home schedule when Montreal had their way with them, the Canucks have actually played really well in the comfortable confines of Rogers Arena, even if their record doesn’t indicate that. Vancouver is 4-6 in its last 10 at home, but its Expected Goal Share has been a robust 56% with 24.41 XGF and 19.26 XGA.

The Canucks get the advantage of waiting for the tired Leafs to come to town , which should provide them opportunity to add to that discrepancy. If they can do that, there’s certainly value on the Canucks as home underdogs here.

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