NHL Best Bets (Saturday, May 1): Our Staff’s Picks for Senators vs. Canadiens, Rangers vs. Islanders & Stars vs. Predators
Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Roope Hintz
- It's a great weekend on sports, and the NHL is no exception with 15 games marking the calendar on Saturday.
- Our staff has narrowed in on three games: Senators vs. Canadiens, Rangers vs. Islanders & Stars vs. Predators
- See which sides they are picking as the regular season nears its end.
There is a lot going on this Saturday. The Kentucky Derby. Day 3 of the NFL Draft. Another UFC Card. And of course there’s a loaded NHL slate with 15 games beginning at 1 p.m. ET and lasting deep into the good night.
Here are our favorite NHL bets for Saturday, May 1:
Michael Leboff: Ottawa Senators (+180) vs. Montreal Canadiens
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
Don’t look now, but the Ottawa Senators are on a roll. Winners of five of their last six, the Sens are actually still mathematically alive in the playoff picture in the North Division. Ottawa has virtually no shot at catching Montreal, but the fact that the Sens are still technically alive this deep into the season is a step in the right direction for a club that nobody had high hopes for in 2021.
While taking three wins from a four-game set with the Canucks, a team that was just recently sidelined for nearly a month due to a Covid outbreak, isn’t worthy of a parade, it is another sign that this Senators team has elevated itself from door mat to pesky spoiler.
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.
On the season the Senators have skated to a 48.1% expected goals rate at 5-on-5 but their actual goal share sits at 42.9%. That shows you that while the Sens certainly aren’t controlling play with regularity, their results are negatively skewed thanks to porous goaltending and the growing pains of a young team trying to work its way up the NHL food chain.
Ottawa has been better of late, skating to a 52.8% expected goals rate and a 54.5% goal share over its last 10 games. Montreal, on the other hand, has continued to flounder under new head coach Dominique Ducharme. The Habs, who were one of the best play-driving teams in the NHL under Claude Julien, sport a 45.8% expected goals rate in their last 10 games.
This is also a decent situational spot for the Sens as Montreal played last night and started its best goalie, Jake Allen. That means there’s a good chance we get Cayden Primeau in goal for the Habs on Saturday night. Ottawa’s goaltending has been really bad all season but Montreal’s edge in goal could be negated with the Habs on a back-to-back.
This is a bet you lose more often than you win, but considering the recent form of these two teams I think Ottawa is worth a bet at +165 or better on Saturday night.
Matt Russell: Senators (+180) vs. Canadiens
The Canadiens won a big one on Friday night. They found their way to 12 High-Danger Chances at even-strength, dominating 5-on-5 play to the tune of a 2.74-1.19 advantage in Expected Goals. That said, they needed to come from down 3-1 in the second period, and got the game-winner late in the third for the key pair of points to keep the Calgary Flames at arm’s length. The bad news for Montreal is that they haven’t strung two good games in a row together since March, so why would we expect the same desperation 24 hours later?
In the Senators’ 6-2 stretch over the last two weeks, they’ve been able to look past multiple goaltender injuries to play at a rating of almost 17% above average according to my “Let’s Do That Hockey” model, as heard on THE WINDOW: Sports Betting Podcast. The under the radar underlying metrics of this Senators team that is growing up before our very eyes is what continues to make them a valuable bet.
My model projects the Habs as a 59% favourite using the season-long metrics for both teams. However, we’re looking at an inspired Senators team that’s finally getting consistency in between the pipes, and a Habs team that’s not consistent anywhere. On top of that, their win on Friday came without top defenceman, Shea Weber, who I’d expect to miss another game. Also, they’ll likely be turning to the young Cayden Primeau on the latter end of a back-to-back. The Senators have owned the Habs this season, so give me a confident young group at a sweet price.
Mike Ianniello: New York Rangers (+126) vs. New York Islanders
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
The Battle of New York will take place for the eighth and final team this season on Saturday. Just like last season, the Rangers have turned it on down the stretch to make a late playoff push. The Rangers sit six points behind the Bruins for fourth place and have just five games remaining.
The Blueshirts have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games, with two of those three losses coming at the hands of the New York Islanders. The Isles on the other hand are just 4-5-1 in their last 10 and have scored one goal or less in six of their last 10.
Despite Igor Shesterkin being the better of the two Rangers goalies, it is actually Alexandar Georgiev who has been the better netminder against the Islanders and he will start in goal on Saturday. The Rangers are 2-4-1 against the Islanders this season but 2-0 with Georgiev in net. In his two starts against the Isles, Georgiev has allowed just one goal.
When these two teams played on Thursday night, the Islanders came away with a 4-0 win. But the Rangers actually had a 53.98 xGF% at 5-on-5, with a 1.72 to 1.46 expected goal differential. The Rangers also led the High Danger Scoring Chances battle 8-5.
The Rangers top line of Panarin, Strome and Blackwell outplayed the Islanders top line to a 61.1 xG% and the third line of Kravtsov, Chytil and Kakko were an even more dominant 88.2 xG% when on the ice.
Speaking of dominant, Rangers defenseman Adam Fox is already one of the best defenders in the NHL. He leads all blueliners with 47 points and is a +21 on the season and should get serious Norris Trophy consideration.
The Islanders are limping down the stretch and rank 28th in HDCF% and 29th in xGF% in the last 10 games. Over the course of the season, the Islanders have struggled to score, sitting just 20th in goals per game, while the Rangers rank seventh.
With Georgiev’s success against the Islanders, the Rangers offense clicking and playing better down the stretch, and the Blueshirts playing desperate as their playoff hopes hang in the balance, I will back the Rangers at +110 or better.
Pete Truszkowski: Dallas Stars (-108) vs. Nashville Predators
Puck Drop: 8 p.m. ET
There are only two more weeks remaining in the regular season and for the most part there isn’t much drama or intrigue about which teams will qualify for the playoffs in each division. Six points separate the fourth and fifth seeds in the East and North Divisions, while the Blues have now built up a five-point lead over Arizona in the West.
Fortunately, there is one tight race to monitor down the stretch and it’s in the Central Division. The Dallas Stars have fought themselves to within two points of the Nashville Predators for the last playoff spot in the Central and the Stars still have a game in hand. The two teams face-off on Saturday night in Tennessee and bookmakers have this one lined as a virtual pick’em.
While the standings may say these teams are nearly identical, I don’t think that’s the case.
The Dallas Stars went on a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, and while I don’t think they’re as good as that would suggest, I do count Dallas as one of the stronger teams in the NHL. The Stars have the sixth-best expected goals rate in the NHL at 53.7%, they rank fourth in high-danger chance percentage and seventh in shot attempt share. In other words, Dallas is still one of the best teams in the league at controlling play at 5-on-5.
The Stars may be the best defensive team in the NHL. The Stars allow the fewest expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 and only Carolina has a better goals against average at 5-on-5 this season.
On the flipside, the Nashville Predators are an average team that is riding the wave of goaltending provided by Juuse Saros. Nashville has an expected goal rate below 50% and allows more shot attempts per game than they attempt themselves. Neither side of the puck is particularly exceptional for the Preds, as they rank 17th in expected goals against and 19th in expected goals created.
At this point, this game could very well decide who makes the playoffs this season. If you asked me that question straight up, I would say the Dallas Stars will sneak in over Nashville. At this pick’em price, I think the better team is worthy of a bet in this huge game.