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NHL Betting Picks: Our Favorite Bets for Thursday, Feb. 18, Including Senators-Leafs & Wild-Ducks

NHL Betting Picks: Our Favorite Bets for Thursday, Feb. 18, Including Senators-Leafs & Wild-Ducks article feature image

Claus Andersen/Getty Images.

The dust is beginning to settle a bit in the NHL. The league is hopeful that most of its COVID issues are now behind them and this weekend could be the first time we see all 31 teams active at the same time this season.

There are nine games for bettors to sink their teeth into on Thursday night. Here are our favorite bets on the slate:

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Michael Leboff: Ottawa Senators (+255) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

The first two games of Toronto’s three-game set with last-place Ottawa have been very different. While Monday night’s four-goal comeback by the Senators is an early candidate for Game of the Season, Wednesday’s 2-1 win by the Leafs was the polar opposite.

It’s anybody’s guess how Thursday night’s game shakes out, but I’m expecting some chaos because there’s reason to believe we see Toronto start Michael Hutchinson in goal. If that is the case, it provides some betting value on the Senators, even if they start Marcus Hogberg.

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.

Hogberg has been the worst goalie in the NHL in 2021, but at least he won’t be that overmatched in this game should the Leafs roll with Hutchinson.

Hutchinson may have ended the 2019/20 season on a high note with a courageous performance for Colorado in The Bubble, but that was likely a blip considering he posted a -6.91 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) in 15 regular season starts for the Leafs.

This game may be a mismatch in every other area of the ice, but the Senators are 3-4 in their last seven games and haven’t been blown out with the regularity that they were in their first 10 games. Expecting Ottawa to win this game is probably too much to ask, but at +255 you only need them to win about 29% of the time to start seeing betting value. Assuming Toronto goes with Michael Hutchinson, I think the Sens tick that box and are worth a punt at big odds. Prepare for pain.

Matt Russell: Blue Jackets (-125) vs. Predators

  • Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

We’re at the point of the NHL season where the numbers have piled up enough that there’s not going to be a ton of surprises on a nightly basis. There’s not going to be many situations where our numbers are drastically off what the sportsbooks have when making their moneylines.

So we have to be creative in our handicapping, and look beyond even the underlying numbers and analytics and break things down into something of a “what have you done for me lately?” That’s certainly the case here when the Predators visit the Blue Jackets in a game that would seem to match two evenly rated teams, that’s confirmed by a near pick’em price.

The line for this game makes sense. My numbers according to the “Let’s Do That Hockey” model from THE WINDOW: Sports Betting Podcast expected this line to be CBJ -114/NSH -106 based on both teams being similarly below average 5-on-5.

However, the Blue Jackets have more answers in net than they did last week, and the Predators have fewer. The Blue Jackets have a noticeable uptick in offense after new additions, while the Predators have a consistent lack of offence and no catalyst for change.

The expectation is that Elvis Merzlikins will get the start on Thursday against Nashville, a team that’s perfect if you’re looking to ease your way back in. The Predators haven’t recorded double-digit high-danger chances at even-strength since before their 2-6 stretch, and their 23rd-ranked power play isn’t striking fear in any hearts at the moment.

Offensively, the Blue Jackets have kicked things up a notch in the last few games, with a very un-Jackets-like number of high-danger chances. They’ve had three of their highest HDC totals in their last three games with nine, 13 and 16 in succession. They’ve converted eight of those 38 chances, so the conversion rate has been very good as well. Some of this could be attributed to a pair of new additions in Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, both of whom have recorded a point per game since arriving in Columbus.

I understand why the prices are what they are, but I think with this handicap we can create a case for value on the Blue Jackets at home as a modest favorite.

Pete Truszkowski: Ducks-Wild Under 5.5

  • Puck Drop: 10 p.m. ET

While Tuesday’s game against the Kings was ugly, Minnesota has actually played very well to begin the season. Plus, you can excuse that effort as the Wild were shaking off some rust after two weeks off due to COVID issues.

The Wild’s bread and butter is its defensive system. They allow plenty of shot attempts, but they do not surrender many high-danger chances. They rank in the top five in xG-against while ranking first in high danger chances against. Minnesota is giving up just 6.72 high danger chances per hour. Overall, the Wild lead the league in terms of high-danger chance rate and currently sit third in expected goal (xG) rate.

Despite this, the Wild are being outscored 2.67 to 2.22 every hour at 5-on-5. One of the main reasons is their shooting percentage, which ranks inside the bottom-10, leaguewide.

Minnesota’s shooting percentage is not surprising as the team simply doesn’t possess much high-end talent. Rookie Kirill Kaprizov has fared well in his first 12 games in the league, but outside of that, it’s been a struggle. Kevin Fiala was expected to lead the team offensively, but he has just three points on the season. Nick Bjugstad, Marcus Johansson and Nick Bonino were brought in to strengthen the Wild down the middle, but they have just three, three and two points on the season respectively.

On the other side, the Ducks rank last in the league, scoring just 1.94 goals per game on average. However, they’ve stayed afloat due to the fact that they’re conceding just 2.56 goals a night, the seventh-best mark in the league.

Unfortunately, Anaheim does not have the talent offensively to score at a high rate, either. Youngster Max Comtois has been impressive, scoring seven goals in 16 games to begin the season. However, he’s the only Ducks player to average more than a half-point per game to begin the season.

Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg appear to have their better days behind them at this point. Youngsters like Sam Steel, Troy Terry and Isac Lundestrom have potential, but they’re not yet producing at a high level. The Ducks are in the process of transitioning from the old guard to the new guard, and the talent level shows that.

Anaheim’s best player is its goaltender, John Gibson. Gibson has been inconsistent over the past few weeks, but he’s already posted three shutouts on the young season. He’s only given up more than three goals twice since opening night. His .921 save percentage is well over league average, which is .906.

Both of these teams lack the high-end talent to put up crooked numbers often. Minnesota is one of the better teams in the league defensively while Gibson is an elite goaltender. I think goals will be hard to come by in this one.

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