NHL Betting Odds and Picks: Penguins vs. Lightning, Devils vs. Flyers and More (Thursday, Feb. 6)

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Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Mikhail Sergachev

Feb 05, 2020, 04:37 PM EST

Thursday night brings with it a 12-game NHL slate headlined by a potential Eastern Conference Final preview between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Also, the Buffalo Sabres play the Detroit Red Wings.


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Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Penguins odds: +140
  • Lightning odds: -165
  • Over/Under: 5.5
  • Time: 7 p.m. ET

This is a heavyweight battle. Not only are both of these teams in the hunt to win their respective divisions, but the Lightning and Penguins haven’t lost much over the past two months.

The Lightning are 19-4-2 with a 57.4% expected goals rate over their last 25 games, while the Penguins are 19-5-1 with a 52.9% expected goals rate in that same span. The Penguins have a slightly better record (8-2-0) over their last 10 games, but the Lightning (7-2-1) have been the better team at driving play over that span. Tampa owns a 53.8% expected goals rate in its last 10 games while the Pens are actually below average at 49.3% over their last 10 games.

Considering the star-power that will be on display, you’d think that this game would be a seesaw battle between two prolific offenses. But a deeper look at how these teams play shows that we could actually be in for a grinding, defensive battle.

These are two of the top-five defenses in the NHL, according to expected goals. Pittsburgh ranks third in the NHL with a 2.04 expected goals against per 60 minutes and Tampa is close behind, in fifth with a 2.1 xGA/60. Both of these teams do a great job of protecting the house.

Heatmap via HockeyViz.com.

There really isn’t that much separating these two teams. They both have a ridiculous amount of talent, they both play fantastic defense and they both have goaltenders who have shown the ability to steal a game. So the question is, how much better is Tampa Bay than Pittsburgh?

The listed odds imply that Tampa Bay wins this game 59.9% of the time. When you adjust that for home-ice advantage (4.9% in the NHL), you’d get Tampa as a -133 (55%) favorite on neutral ice. I don’t disagree that Tampa should be the favorite in a vacuum, the Lightning are deeper than the Penguins, but I think that is just a tad high against the Penguins.

Around the League

Another day, another bet on the laughably bad Detroit Red Wings (+180). The good news is that the Red Wings play another terrible team, the Buffalo Sabres (-225), on Thursday. Buffalo isn’t nearly as bad as Detroit, but the Sabres shouldn’t scare anybody off this price.

Over their last 10 games the Sabres have a 42.7% expected goals rate and are averaging just 1.58 expected goals for per 60 minutes. Buffalo’s defensive metrics have been strong all season, but its lackluster offense is bad enough to give the Red Wings some value at this price.

I also backed another big dog, the New Jersey Devils (+185) against the Philadelphia Flyers (-225). This is more of a sell-high spot on the Flyers than anything else. Philadelphia is 7-2-1 over its last 10 games but its expected goals rate is just slightly above average at 50.3% in that span. That’s not too far off the Flyers’ xG% for the season, so I think we have a pretty good idea of where this team ranks at 5-on-5.

The Devils haven’t been very good all season and their recent form isn’t great, but I think they have better than 33.6% chance of winning this game.

I also played the Minnesota Wild (-120) as slight home favorites over the Vancouver Canucks (+100). The Canucks have much more talent than the Wild, but Minnesota’s got stronger 5-on-5 numbers and are one of the best teams in the league at suppressing scoring chances. Add in that this is Vancouver’s fourth game in six nights and I think there’s value on Minnesota at -120 or better.

[Bet now at FanDuel. NJ, PA, IN and WV only.]

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