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NHL Betting Picks: Our Favorite Bets for Thursday, January 28, Including Ducks-Coyotes & Canadiens-Flames

NHL Betting Picks: Our Favorite Bets for Thursday, January 28, Including Ducks-Coyotes & Canadiens-Flames article feature image

Ethan Miller/Getty Images. Pictured: John Gibson

Thursday night is going to be a busy one for hockey bettors. There are 13 games on the schedule, with the action getting under way with seven simultaneous contests at 7 p.m. ET.

As you may have heard, home teams and favorites are off to a terrific start so far this season. Will those trends continue? Or will we start to see underdogs begin to bark in the NHL?

Here are our favorite bets for what will certainly be a hectic night on the ice:

Jeremy Pond: Canadiens Team Total Over 3 Goals (-121) vs. Flames

  • Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

Things could get intense in this evening’s North Division affair between the Montreal Canadiens and visiting Calgary Flames.

The Canadiens, who are coming a 5-2 win against Vancouver last time out, have the highest-scoring offense in the league so far. Tony Toffoli leads Montreal (4-2) with a team-best five goals, with eight others having scored at least two goals in the balanced offensive attack.

On the other side, the Flames are in the midst of a two-game losing streak that saw them suffer a pair of one-goal defeats against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

When it comes to the advanced metrics, Montreal holds an overall edge over Calgary in the Fenwick statistics. However, the gap between the combatants isn’t that much.

The Canadiens sit on a stellar 47.54 FF/60 and impressive 33.11 FA/60, resulting in a stunning +14.43 differential. In contrast, the Flames hold their own in the numbers via their 41.5 FF/60 and 36.87 FA/60 for a respectable +4.63 differential.

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As for the xGF/xGA comparison through 60 minutes, this is where Montreal maintains a distinct advantage. The host side boasts averages of 2.71 xGF/60 compared to 1.67 xGA/60 for a +1.04 differential. In contrast, Calgary is behind its counterpart in both categories, sitting on 2.46 xGF/60 and 2.26 xGA/60 for a +0.20 differential.

Bottom line, everything points to this being another Montreal win. Yet, at some point the Canadiens are going to experience some regression and I don’t want to be on them when that happens. So, we’re taking another angle in this spot.

That said, I am backing Montreal’s team total to go over three goals at -121 odds as my top selection. The Canadiens’ offense has been the definition of lit, plus it gets an extremely favorable matchup against Jacob Markström.

The Calgary goaltender has been downright awful when facing Montreal, compiling a career 1-5 record and 3.04 goals against average lifetime against the host side.

Throw in the fact the Canadiens have scored at least three goals in all six of their games this season, with four of those efforts resulting in at least five goals, and you have to feel optimistic in this play.

Matt Russell: Blue Jackets (-120) over Panthers

  • Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

If you believe the Panthers are the better team, as early season advanced metrics would indicate, then a plus-money price for Florida is probably pretty attractive. The lighting for the Cats gets even better when we reflect some shine off the numbers from the Panthers’ 4-3 shootout win in Columbus.

The Panthers held the Blue Jackets to just two High-Danger Chances at 5-on-5. The Blue Jackets converted one of two, en route to a full one-goal deficit in Expected Goals (xGF).

In a defensive slog typical of a Blue Jackets game, the Panthers managed 1.76 xGF to Columbus’s 0.75. That doesn’t even take into account Florida’s goal with 2.5 seconds left to tie the game, which forced an eventual shootout, which the Panthers won.

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Blue Jackets backers would argue a bad beat, but the truth is the Blue Jackets should have never been in the game considering their inability to generate offense.

That doesn’t mean they can’t play a better game in the return match-up, but the Panthers early season effort has been pretty impressive on the defensive end.

Through no fault of their own, the Panthers have played just three games, and not against the high-octane portion of their schedule, so we’ll need to see more before we put too much stock in their rating this season. The numbers look great though.

They’ve only allowed 10 High-Danger Chances (HDC) in those three games, a comically low amount that helps them mask the usual slow start by Sergei Bobrovsky and his -1.47 GSAA. He almost cost them this game early, giving up three goals on 12 shots at one point.

So, what do we believe?

Is an even-money or better price the way to go with the Panthers? Or, do we believe in NHL teams’ ability to play better in a rematch game?

Looking at what the Blue Jackets have done makes me lean towards their ability to play better on the back end of these meetings. Columbus has increased their level of play at even-strength in all three second-game situations, even though they only have one win to show for it (a win over the defending Stanley Cup Champions, for what it’s worth).

They’ve improved at not just a marginal rate either. The loser of the first game improves their win probability by an average of 9% in the second. The Blue Jackets have done so at a rate of better than 30%.

With that in mind, I believe the Blue Jackets should be favored in this revenge spot, and I’m willing to bet them at a win probability of 55%, which translates to -120 on the moneyline.

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.

Pete Truszkowski: Ducks-Coyotes Under 5.5 Goals (-137)

  • Puck Drop: 9 p.m. ET

After a down season in 2019-20, John Gibson has vaulted himself right back into the mix to be considered one of the best goaltenders in hockey. Gibson’s Anaheim Ducks are 3-2-2 through seven games despite scoring just 1.71 goals per game, which ranks 31st of 31 NHL teams.

Gibson has played in six of Anaheim’s first seven games and he leads the NHL in both Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) and Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx). He also has the second-highest save percentage among goaltenders with at least four starts.

The Ducks have certainly needed Gibson to be spectacular. Anaheim ranks 24th in the NHL with an average of 1.98 expected goals per 60 minutes and the team’s leading point producer is Carter Rowney, a 31-year-old fringe NHL player, with four assists.

Things will not get easier for the Ducks, as they face the stingy Arizona Coyotes for the second time in three nights. While Arizona’s defensive metrics won’t blow anyone away, the Yotes have developed a reputation over the years as a defense-first team. They remain in the top half of the league in terms of goals against per game, and I expect that to improve as the season moves forward.

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.

If both teams roll with their starters, as they are expected to do, this will be a matchup between two of the league’s best goaltenders. Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper ranks sixth in the NHL with a +2.92 GSAx and he’s been among the best goalies in the league for a couple of seasons now. Even if Kuemper doesn’t go, Antti Raanta is arguably the best backup in the league.

Offensively, Arizona has under-performed compared to its metrics. Despite averaging the second-most expected goals per 60 minutes, the Coyotes are inside the bottom-10 in actual production. While it’s natural to expect this to improve for the Coyotes, the lack of true firepower up front caps their ceiling. Players like Phil Kessel, Conor Garland, Nick Schmaltz and Clayton Keller are solid, but not game-changing talents.

With the form both goalies are in and the lack of fire-power in front of them, I expect another low-scoring game in this series. These teams played on Tuesday, and Anaheim won 1-0. Six of Anaheim’s seven games have gone under the total. Expect that to continue on Thursday.

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