NHL Betting Takeaways: Oilers, Rangers & Flyers Highlight Regression Candidates
Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Edmonton Oilers standout Connor McDavid.
Most teams in the National Hockey League will play their 10th game this week, giving bettors a good opportunity to take a gander around the league and see if there are any early trends and performances to act on.
Are Oilers For Real This Season?
The Edmonton Oilers came into the campaign at +2000 odds and second-favorite behind Vegas to win the Pacific Division. After a 7-1-0 start, the Oilers are down to +1300 to win the Stanley Cup and are +115 favorites to win the Pacific. At +800, Edmonton is the third favorite behind Florida and Colorado to win the Presidents’ Trophy.
It’s no surprise that Edmonton’s offense is driving the bus.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl lead the league with 17 points apiece; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins paces the circuit with 11 assists; and, big-ticket free agent signing Zach Hyman has six goals in his first eight games playing with his new pals.
Add it all together and you have an offense tied for first with an average of 4.1 goals per game.
At some point, the Oilers offense should slow down, even if it’s just by a bit. The team is currently clipping at 46.2% on the power play and even though it led the NHL in PP% last season, Edmonton did so with a 27.6% success rate. In other words, the Oilers will likely have one of the NHL’s best power plays, but it will come back down to earth as the season trudges on. Edmonton’s 90.1% success rate on the penalty kill should also come down a bit as well.
We knew the Oilers would be able to score and they do indeed look deeper than they’ve ever been in the McDavid era, but their season would likely be determined by the defense and goaltending.
Over the past two campaigns, Edmonton allowed 2.31 expected goals and 10.43 high-danger chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, ranking 20th in each metric. Through their first seven games, the Oilers are conceding 2.29 xG and 11.02 high-danger scoring chances per hour. In other words, the defense hasn’t really changed much.
The Oilers were able to put together a solid record during the 2020-21 season, thanks in large part to a resurgent Mike Smith. After skating to a -6.44 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) in 2019-20, Smith was terrific last season, posting a +8.36 GSAx and .922 save percentage (SV%) in 32 games. Edmonton rewarded the 39-year-old netminder with a contract extension.
It was fair to wonder if Smith and Mikko Koskinen were a good enough goaltending tandem for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. No matter if you have McDavid or not, pedestrian goaltending will sink you at some point.
While Smith has only played two games in October, Koskinen has been splendid with a .932 SV% and a +2.92 GSAx through five games. It’s fair to wonder if the Finn will keep it up after posting an .898 SV% and a -10.2 GSAx in 26 games in the 2020-21 season.
Edmonton doesn’t need to dominate possession or dominate the xG battle to win games. The Oilers have the best player in the world and a lot of other terrific offensive playmakers, so they can get plenty of points by just hanging around and waiting for No. 97 to win them a game. However, that also means it shouldn’t be a surprise to see some lesser teams skating with Edmonton.
My opinion the team hasn’t really changed. A solid club with significant flaws, the Oilers are going to be overpriced after a terrific start. With conspicuous goaltending, mediocre defensive results and unsustainably hot special teams, I’ll still be looking to play against Edmonton quite a bit this season.
Metro Teams Due for Negative Regression
Not unlike the Oilers, the New York Rangers are a really talented team that can have success without dominating the shot clock. With elite playmakers at the top of the lineup, the game’s best defenseman leading the blueline and a Vezina candidate in goal, the Rangers can win games in which they are outplayed, out-chanced and out-possessed.
That’s exactly what New York has done so far, running out to a 6-2-1 start despite only boasting a +2 goal differential, a 47.6% expected goals rate and a 48% high-danger chance rate at 5-on-5. In other words, the Rangers are collecting points at a Presidents’ Trophy pace but their underlying metrics are more in line with a team on the outside of the playoff bubble.
How have they pulled it off? Goaltending, mostly.
As good as Adam Fox has been to start the season, the MVP on Broadway has clearly been goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who has stolen the Rangers a couple of wins already on the year. Shesterkin is establishing himself as one of the NHL’s best netminders, but his .944 SV% is unsustainable and if the team can’t control play a little better, they’ll start dropping some points when he isn’t standing on his head.
The undefeated Carolina Hurricanes currently pace the NHL with a +11.5 Goal Differential Above Expected this season. Through their first eight games — all wins — the Hurricanes boast a +2.14 goal differential per 60 minutes (GD/60) at 5-on-5. Their xGD/60 is quite a bit lower at +0.35. That is still good enough for seventh-best in the league, but it’s nowhere near their actual output.
The biggest reason for the discrepancy between Carolina’s goal differential and xGD is goaltender Frederik Andersen. After getting run out of town in Toronto, the Danish netminder has been sensational for Carolina, posting a .955 SV% and saving 10.42 Goals Above Expected in just seven games.
Andersen is a great goalie, so perhaps he’ll continue to play well, but those numbers will cool off behind a defense that ranks in the bottom 10 in preventing high-danger scoring chances.
Despite sitting 26th in the NHL with a 46% expected goals rate and 30th with a 43.4% high-danger chance rate, the Philadelphia Flyers have started the season 4-2-1 and boast a +6 goal differential at 5-on-5.
While strong goaltending is playing a role in Philadelphia’s hot start, the main ingredient are some piping hot shooters. The Flyers have taken the fewest shots on goal this season, yet they’re second in the league with a 12.6 shooting percentage and first overall with a 10.97 shooting percentage at 5-on-5.
And it’s not like this is a quality over quantity situation, either. The Flyers are averaging 9.13 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, which is good enough for 25th league-wide.
While the Oilers, Hurricanes and Rangers each have the talent needed to overcome some issues at 5-on-5, the Flyers are lacking in the starpower department, so it’ll take some more convincing play from this group to get me to believe they are more than a middle-of-the-pack team.