NHL Daily Betting Picks (Thursday, March 18): Best Bets for Sabres vs. Bruins, Jets vs. Oilers & Wild vs. Avalanche
Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Joshua Morrissey
March Madness may be looming, but there's still plenty of other action to whet the whistle while you wait for the for the main event.
And what better way to pass the time than to bet three underdogs, one of whom hasn't won a game in over three weeks. That's the good stuff, baby.
These are our favorite underdog bets for Thursday's 10-game NHL slate:
Pete Truszkowski: Buffalo Sabres (+210) vs. Boston Bruins
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
Warning: not for those easily disgusted or with low tolerance for pain.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s back the Buffalo Sabres.
Buffalo has lost 12 games in a row, is in last place in the entire NHL (by a wide margin) and just fired head coach Ralph Krueger. Very little has gone right for the Sabres as they rank bottom ten in most metrics, they score less than any other team in the league and their goaltending is bad. None of this is earth-shattering for a team that has lost 17 of its last 19 games.
That said, I do think this team completely gave up on their coach over the last few weeks. It was obvious that Krueger's tactics and system did not mesh with his best players. Jack Eichel remains out with an injury, but a forward group with Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, Victor Olofsson, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner should not rank last in the league in terms of scoring goals.
Part of this handicap is hope that the coaching change injects some life into a dormant group, even if it is temporary. Maybe under interim coach Don Granato the reins are loosened and the team responds positively.
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.
xG numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.
Another part of the handicap is that the Boston Bruins don’t quite appear to be the Bruins that we’ve grown accustomed to.
Over the past month, Boston has played to an expected goal rate of just 47.6%. Over that same time frame, their defense, which is usually dominant, ranks a mediocre 15th in terms of expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5. Offensively, Boston has never been a team that’ll blow your doors off, but over the past month the Bruins find themselves bottom five in terms of expected goals scored per hour.
The “Perfection Line” featuring Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak remains tremendous, but the Bruins are not getting much from lines 2-4. On defense, the team is without Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller and Jeremy Lauzon. In goal, Tuukka Rask is questionable due to an injury. Even if he’s ready to go, Rask along with Jaroslav Halak have not played to their elite level this season.
It might be painful, gross and disgusting, but I have enough doubt in the current form of the Bruins to fade them here as monster favorites. Buffalo should have some adrenaline playing their first game under a new coach and they can’t lose every night, right? Right?
Michael Leboff: Winnipeg Jets (+118) vs. Edmonton Oilers
Puck Drop: 9 p.m. ET
The Winnipeg Jets drive a lot of bettors nuts. For the second season in a row the Jets are near the bottom of the NHL in expected goals rate at 5-on-5 but they've somehow managed to skate to the 11th-best record in the NHL. At this point we can probably accept that the Jets will never be an analytics darling. Instead, we're left to wonder if Winnipeg is good enough to achieve big things despite a 46.6% expected goals rate.
Perhaps we just don't give the Jets enough credit for their talent. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nicolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny, Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele make up one of the league's most prolific top-sixes and they are backed up by a third line that has been a revelation for Paul Maurice this season. Winnipeg's defense is still an unmade bed, but the goaltending behind that blueline is near the top of the league. Winnipeg's goaltending can pick up the team when the scoring goes cold and vice verse.
I don't expect the Jets will be able to shut down the high-flying Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are both flying and the Oil are doing a decent job of driving play. When you have two of the best players in the world on your roster you don't need to dominate possession, but it's certainly not a bad thing that Edmonton has an xG rate above 50%.
As expected it's the offense that is doing the heavy lifting for Dave Tippett. The Oilers are generating 2.58 xG per hour at 5-on-5 (third overall) and scoring 2.68 goals per 60 at 5-on-5 (sixth) through 31 games. That type of offensive production means the Oilers can survive a defense that is leaking 2.48 xGA/60 and 2.58 GA/60.
These two teams are pretty similar. They both boast dynamic offenses and suspect defenses. The main difference, though, is in goal. Winnipeg is expected to start No. 2 goalie Laurent Brossoit against Mikko Koskinen and even though Brossoit is a backup and Koskinen was expected to be the starter, it's actually Brossoit who has been more reliable in 2021. While Koskinen has struggled to a -4.68 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) in 18 games for Edmonton, Brossoit owns a +2.6 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) in seven starts,
This projects to be a high-event game, so I'll take plus-money on the team with the deeper offense and more reliable goaltending.
Jeremy Pond: Minnesota Wild (+125) vs. Colorado Avalanche
Puck Drop: 9 p.m. ET
Well, the last time we dished out a pick the Toronto Maple Leafs decided to collapse in the third period of Saturday's 5-2 loss against the Winnipeg Jets.
So, instead of tailing my friend, Michael, and his aforementioned pick on that same Winnipeg outfit that scored three unanswered against Toronto, we're going another way. And that route comes in a game featuring West Division teams who are essentially spitting images of each other.
Yes, I'm talking about the huge showdown about to happen between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild in downtown Denver.
So, how even are these powerful clubs? These numbers, as eerie as they are, don't lie. Take a look for yourselves:
|Last 10 Games||7-2-1||7-2-1|
Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen anything crazier in these NHL statistics. They're virtually identical, with the only difference being Minnesota having one less overtime loss than Colorado.
These teams have been on fire as of late, with the Wild heading to the "Mile High City" riding a five-game winning streak. And yes, the Avalanche have been just as good, sitting on a four-game winning tear of their own.
When it comes to backing a side, it doesn't come down to which team has the better offense or defense in this game. For me, I'm looking directly at the goaltending, which is where I believe Minnesota has the slight advantage.
Veteran Cam Talbot, who picked up two wins against Arizona before getting the night off in Tuesday's 3-0 victory over the Coyotes, should be fresh between the pipes. The standout has been solid, holding a 6-4-1 record and 2.46 goals against average in 11 appearances.
Talbot looked fantastic in both of appearances against Arizona prior to his day of rest, especially in last Friday's 4-0 shutout triumph on home ice.
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) March 13, 2021
On the other side, standout Philipp Grubauer should get the start after having to come in relief in the Avalanche's come-from-behind 8-4 win over Anaheim last time out.
Despite Grubauer sporting a stellar 16-7-0 record, he's logged an awful lot of minutes that will eventually catch up to him at some point.
That said, I forecast that exact situation happening in this affair. When you have teams that are virtually even in all aspects of their games, give me the franchise with the fresher goaltender. And in this case, that's Minnesota.
Add in the fact I'm getting the Wild at ripe +125 odds via DraftKings and I'm even happier with this play. This should be a fantastic display of hockey from both powers, but I'm riding Talbot and the Wild to shine in this contest.