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Thursday NHL Best Bets: Our Favorite Picks for Blackhawks-Hurricanes & Senators-Canadiens (Feb. 4)

Thursday NHL Best Bets: Our Favorite Picks for Blackhawks-Hurricanes & Senators-Canadiens (Feb. 4) article feature image

Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Nikolaj Ehlers, Sean Monahan

  • After a light two-game slate on Wednesday night, the NHL returns with an eight-game docket on Thursday.
  • The Ottawa Senators are back in action and feature prominently in our four favorite bets.
  • Check out our staff's full analysis for each pick below.

Editor’s note: Goaltender Malcolm Subban will get the start for the Chicago Blackhawks in Thursday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

After a light two-game slate on Wednesday night, the NHL returns with an eight-game docket this evening. And guess what? The Ottawa Senators are back in action.

The Sens feature prominently in our four favorite bets below:

Jeremy Pond: Canadiens -1.5 (-113) vs. Senators

  • Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

Powerful Montreal welcomes struggling Ottawa to the Bell Centre for a game featuring sides going in completely opposite directions.

The Canadiens have opened the campaign in style, jumping out to a 7-1 record that’s good for a one-point division lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Montreal, which is averaging 4.4 goals per outing, is coming off a 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks last time out.

On the other side, life has been utterly miserable for the Senators. Ottawa, which has lost nine consecutive games and is averaging two goals less than its counterpart, enters this affair following Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to Edmonton.

Needless to say, the Canadiens are a -295 favorite at DraftKings for obvious reasons and some other supporting pieces of information laid out below.

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When it comes to the advanced metrics, Montreal holds a wide edge over Ottawa in the Fenwick statistics.

The Canadiens sit on a league-leading 47.41 FF/60 and solid 35.45 FA/60, resulting in an impressive +12.86 differential. The last time I backed Montreal its differential was slightly higher at +14.43 (+1.57), so it’s marginally tailed off on the numbers.

In contrast, the Senators maintain a 41.07 FF/60 and 43.92 FA/60, resulting in a mediocre -2.0 differential. Yes, these figures are nothing to write home about, but they’re much better than you’d expect from a club with one victory.

As for the xGF/xGA comparison through 60 minutes, Montreal holds another sizable advantage. The host side boasts averages of 2.78 xGF/60 compared to 1.8 xGA/60, generating a +0.98 differential. In contrast, Ottawa is behind in both areas, sitting on 2.48 xGF/60 and 2.75 xGA/60 for a -0.27 differential.

Bottom line, the Canadiens are better on both paper and the ice. There’s a reason why they’ve won five of their last six games, specifically with a relentless offense and stingy defense in front of goaltender Carey Price.

That said, I am backing Montreal to not only win, but cover the 1.5-goal spread as my top play. Expect Tyler Toffoli and the Canadiens to wreak havoc in the Senators’ defensive zone all night, which should lead to countless chances.

Combine the fact Ottawa has just one win in its last eight visits to Montreal, plus the favorite has gone 6-1 in the last seven meetings, and you have to like your chances of hitting this wager.

Pete Truszkowski: Canadiens -1.5 (-113) vs. Senators

Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

The NHL’s best offensive team will face off against the league’s worst defensive team on Thursday night when the Montreal Canadiens host the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa allows the most goals per game in the league, conceding 48 goals in its first 10 games. Their expected-goals against per 60 minutes at 5v5 is the third worst in the league. Their 4.32 goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is almost a full goal worse than the San Jose Sharks, the second-worst team.

Goaltending has been a trainwreck for Ottawa. Both Matt Murray and Marcus Hogberg have goals against averages over 4.50 and save percentages under .850. Combined, they have a -15.8 goals saved above expectation through 10 games. Ottawa has given up at least four goals in eight straight games.

Montreal is currently a top-five team in all major metrics: expected goals, shot attempts, high-danger chances and scoring chances. While Montreal has been a very good possession team for a few seasons now, this year is different. The Canadiens are now taking advantage of their zone time and scoring chances.

The Habs currently lead the league in scoring, finding the net 4.40 times per game on average. While this rate is unsustainable, they are a top-10 team in terms of expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.

The Canadiens’ two big acquisitions in the offseason were Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson. They hoped these two could increase their offensive output, and they’ve done just that. The two have combined for 15 goals in the team’s first ten games.

Montreal also hoped that youngsters Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki could take a step forward. Those two have also delivered. Suzuki is performing at over a point-per game pace while Kotkaniemi has contributed seven points.

It’s a balanced attack for Montreal,as they have 10 players averaging better than half a point per game. Defenseman Jeff Petry leads all defensemen in goals with five. If you slow down one player or line, the Habs have others who can burn you.

Montreal is churning along right now, putting up crooked numbers against almost every team. With the way Ottawa is playing defensively and the goaltending they’re getting, there’s no reason to expect that to change on Thursday. With the moneyline being way too pricey, I think the Habs can win this game by at least two goals.

Michael Leboff: Blackhawks (+155) vs. Hurricanes

Puck Drop: 8 p.m. ET

The Chicago Blackhawks have been better than expected this season. That may sound like an over-embellishment since the Blackhawks only have one win against a team that isn’t Detroit this season, but they’ve also pulled four better teams, including the Hurricanes, into overtime through their first 10 games.

Coming into the season the Blackhawks looked like they would give the Red Wings a run for their money as the worst team in the Central Division. The thinking was that Chicago’s defense and goaltending would drag it down to the depths of the NHL. Based on expected goals, no team had a worse defense than Chicago over the past two seasons and it wasn’t like the Hawks did much to solve that issue over the offseason.

Additionally, Chicago lost two top-six forwards, Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach, to long-term injuries right before the season started.

Instead of capitulating right out of the gate, the Blackhawks have given a decent account of themselves through 10 games. A 3-3-4 record with a -6 goal differential and a 49% expected goals rate would be a disappointment for a lot of teams, but for Chicago it’s perhaps a step in the right direction, especially considering the improvements the Hawks have made on defense and in goal.

Rookie goaltender Kevin Lankinen has been the early-season MVP for the Blackhawks, rescuing them from what projected to be the worst goaltending situation in the NHL with Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia. Lankinen ranks fourth in the league with a +4.2 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) and has given the Hawks something they desperately needed, a goaltender who could keep them in games long enough to allow one of their offensive dynamos to produce a moment of magic to nick a win.

Lankinen has also been aided by an improved defense. Giving up 2.35 expected goals per 60 minutes puts Chicago in the bottom-third of the NHL, but that’s a marked improvement from what we saw from this unit over the last two seasons when it was allowing 2.77 and 2.78 xGA per 60 at 5-on-5.

The Hurricanes won the xG battle, 3.27 to 2.49, on Tuesday night and I wouldn’t expect that to change much. Carolina has ranked near the top of the NHL in xG% for a few seasons and there are few teams that tilt the ice better than the Canes. If Chicago’s defense is truly improved, it should stand a fighting chance against Carolina’s pressure-heavy attack. And the Hawks also have the luxury of a goaltender that can bail them out from time to time.

These odds imply the Blackhawks win this game 39.2% of the time. I think that’s a little low, especially since this game game closed at +135 on Tuesday night and there don’t look to be any major changes to the lineups (goaltenders are unconfirmed at the time of writing, however).

I’ll take a shot on Chicago at this number so long as Lankinen is starting in goal.

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Matt Russell: Flames (-120) vs. Jets

Through more than 100 minutes of 5-on-5 play the Flames have shown to be the better team in the 125 minutes of play between themselves and the Jets. Calgary’s overall rating in my “Let’s Do That Hockey” model on THE WINDOW: Sports Betting Podcast puts them at 9.85% better than average, while the Jets have dipped to almost 8% below average. So I’m not surprised that the Flames continue to be a small road favorite at -120. That’s right in line with the model’s projection.

From a situational standpoint, the Flames get the better of the goaltending matchup as the starters for both teams return to their respective crease, and not enough is being accounted for in the moneyline prices, in the same way they weren’t on Tuesday when the Jets should have been the favorite. Finally, this is the fourth instance of a back-to-back-to-back, and while that’s not nearly a serviceable sample size, it’s worth noting that the favorite has won the third game in the previous three instances and have been the better team at even strength.

In a game priced as nearly a coin flip, I’ll take the better team, with the better goalie, in a situational spot that might be to their advantage in this unprecedented season.

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