NHL Daily Odds & Picks (Saturday, April 24): Our Best Bets for Hurricanes vs. Panthers, Canadiens vs. Flames, Wild vs. Sharks & More
Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Ryan Suter, Zach Paries, Jared Spurgeon
We are firmly entrenched in the business end of the NHL season. While we’ve already seen two teams (Vegas, Colorado) punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there’s still a ton to play for and there should be plenty of drama during Saturday’s all-day, 11-game slate.
Here are our favorite NHL bets on April 24:
Michael Leboff: New Jersey Devils (+230) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Puck Drop: 12:30 p.m. ET
It is not going to be fun, but I think there’s value on the New Jersey Devils to end their eight-game losing streak in Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon.
Losers of eight in a row and nine of their last 10, the Devils have been relegated to a spoiler role for quite some time and they’ve certainly taken it on the chin since selling off a couple of key players at the trade deadline.
After getting swept in a four-game series by the Rangers, the Devils have dropped two in a row to Pittsburgh by an aggregate score of 12-7. Crooked numbers are nothing new to the Devils as they have a -21 goal differential over their last 10 games and have allowed at least four goals in seven of their last eight games.
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.
While those results are certainly ugly, there is reason to believe that New Jersey can hang with the Penguins, who by the way are 6-1-1 over their last eight games and have the second-best record in the NHL over their last 25 games.
Believe it or not, New Jersey sports the better expected goals rate between these two clubs this season. The Devils, who rank 13th overall with a 50.4 xGF%, are a tick better than the Penguins, who rank 20th in the NHL with a 49.1 xGF%. In fact, the Devils have actually skated to a 54.7% expected goals rate at 5-on-5 during their current 10-game malaise. Of course expected goals don’t tell the whole story as the Penguins are clearly a few classes above the Devils overall.
That said, if the Devils can continue to have success driving play at 5-on-5, they’ll at least give themselves a chance to pull the upset over Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. And when you’re looking at a number this big, that’s all you’re asking.
Mike Ianniello: Carolina Hurricanes (-120) vs. Florida Panthers
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
The Florida Panthers are an excellent hockey team. They rank eighth in the NHL with an 52.83 xGF% and ninth with a 52.82 High-Danger Chance percentage. Florida has the seventh best record in the NHL at 30-13-5.
But the Carolina Hurricanes are an elite team, and I think the difference between these teams is larger than the line indicates. Carolina is third in the NHL with a 31-10-5 record. They have the third best xGF% at 54.38 and their 54.95 HDCF% ranks fourth.
The Hurricanes are the only team in the league with both of their special teams ranking in the top five. At 27.5% they have the league’s best power play and at 84.1% have the fourth best penalty kill. Carolina has seven players with at least 30 points on the season, the most of any team. Sebastian Aho leads the way with 43 points and 20 goals in 46 games.
The biggest difference between these two teams comes down to goaltending. As a team, Carolina’s goaltenders have the third best save percentage in the league. James Reimer is 14-5-1 with a .907 save percentage, Alex Nedeljkovic is 12-4-2 with a .933 and Petr Mrazek is 5-1-2 with a .939. Mrazek was a late scratch on Thursday with a lower body issue, so my guess is we see Nedeljkovic on Saturday. The former AHL Goaltender of the Year and Calder Cup Champion sits seventh in the league with 9.75 GSAx and leads the league in save percentage and goals against average among any goalie with at least 10 starts.
Carolina is 6-0-1 against Florida this season and has outscored them 26-15. When these two teams played on Thursday, the Hurricanes had 14 High Danger Scoring Chances compared to just eight for the Panthers, and the xGF% was 60.5 in Carolina’s favorite.
The Hurricanes are just so good and I think this line is too short at -124. I would back them up to -140.
Pete Truszkowski: Montreal Canadiens (-108) vs. Calgary Flames
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
At this point, it seems like the playoff teams in the NHL’s North Division are set. The Montreal Canadiens look like they will qualify for the postseason while the Calgary Flames appear they’ll finish on the outside looking in.
Montreal has long been a darling of the analytics community, and this season is no different. The Habs rank fifth in expected goal rate, second in shot attempt share and sixth in high0danger chance percentage. The Canadiens rank fifth in both expected goals scored and expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5.
In the past, the Habs have vastly underperformed their metrics. While they still aren’t performing as well as the analytics would suggest, they’ve definitely taken advantage of their puck possession more this season. A lot of the credit has to go to newcomers Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson who have added some scoring talent to Montreal. Youngster Nick Suzuki has also taken a step forward in his game.
Under the hood, the Calgary Flames appear to be a solid team. They have a 51.6% expected goal rate, but their actual goal share sits at just 48.2%. The goaltending has not been good, as Jacob Markstrom has a -8.4 Goals Saved Above Expectation in his first season in Calgary, but the offense has also struggled as players like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have not had particularly impressive seasons, and the Flames don’t have the depth to withstand mediocre performances from their stars.
These teams played on Friday, which means we’ll likely see the back-up goaltenders on Saturday. Carey Price is injured for Montreal, which means we might see the season debut for Cayden Primeau. The Flames traded David Rittich at the trade deadline, so they’ll likely call on Louis Domingue to make his first start of the year.
Primeau is a decent prospect who has performed well in the minor leagues and he could end up with the edge against Domingue, who is a subpar journeyman goalie who has allowed over three goals per start in his career while barely saving 90% of the shots he’s faced. Primeau is unknown, but Domingue has a track record of being unimpressive.
At the pick’em price, I’ll take the better team — even with a young unknown goalie on the road. Montreal has more to play for and has been the better team all season long.
Nicholas Martin: San Jose Sharks (+107) vs. Minnesota Wild
Puck Drop: 9 p.m. ET
Minnesota will be in the worst scheduling spot by win percentage this season on Saturday night. The Wild played on Friday night and will travel from Los Angeles to San Jose to take on the Sharks.
San Jose’s dreadful seven-game losing streak has essentially ended its playoff hopes, but the Sharks haven’t been that bad over their recent slide. San Jose has skated to a 48.9% expected goals rate in its last seven games and while that isn’t great, it is not typically going to lead to such a drastic losing streak. That said, the Sharks have made a habit of breaking down in the defensive zone and those kind of mistakes will doom you no matter how well you drive play.
The Wild entered Friday night’s game against the Kings on a five-game winning streak and have all but locked up the third spot in the West Division. On top of the difficult schedule spot, the Wild really don’t have much to play for other than trying to stay sharp for a very tough Round 1 matchup against the Avalanche or Golden Knights. It’s never easy to handicap motivation, but it is not out of the question that we see a bit of a letdown from the Wild.
Given the price and a very tough scheduling spot for Minnesota, I see a lot of value in backing San Jose to finally end their losing streak on Saturday.
Jeremy Pond: Vancouver Canucks (+115) To Win in Regulation vs. Ottawa Senators
Puck Drop: 10 p.m. ET
Clubs with no shot of making the playoffs battle get back at it Saturday when the Vancouver Canucks host the suddenly streaking Ottawa Senators at Rogers Arena.
Ottawa, winners of three consecutive games, earned a convincing 3-0 win over Vancouver in Thursday’s showdown. Drake Batherson finished with a goal and assist for the Senators, who received stellar performance from goaltender Matt Murray. The net minder recorded 31 saves en route to shutout.
As for Vancouver, that game was actually just third time it has played since the entire team was shelved to due to a COVID-19 outbreak. The Canucks actually pulled off back-to-back upset victories over North Division leader Toronto this week in its return to the ice.
Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape between these clubs:
|Last 10 Games||5-5-0||6-3-1|
When it comes to the xGF/xGA comparison through 60 minutes, Ottawa holds an ultra-slight overall edge with its 2.23 xGF/60 compared to 2.55 xGA/60 that generates an unspectacular -0.32 differential. As for Vancouver, it has been offensive numbers at 2.35 xGF/60, but trails on the defensive side with its 2.82 xGA/60 for a -0.47 differential.
Although the Senators cruised to the win in their most recent contest, it’s actually the Canucks who hold the advantage when its comes to their entire bodies of work. Vancouver is 5-1 against Ottawa in six meetings this season, plus the home side is 6-2 in the last eight confrontations between the sides.
That said, I’m going with the franchise with the better overall résumé in season’s head-to-head battle and that’s why I’m backing Vancouver to get the job done in regulation at juicy +115 odds as my top pick. The Canucks are still trying to get their legs under them, but they should bounce back in style.
Matt Russell: Ottawa Senators (+120) vs. Vancouver Canucks
It probably wouldn’t go over well in bar debates, but the Senators are the better team in this matchup. The Canucks have managed epic wins over the Leafs as big underdogs, but not much else this season. Their wins over the Senators have come when Ottawa was struggling to find quality goaltending early in the season and in the NHL’s version of a black or red roulette bet when they went to overtime in back-to-back games in Ottawa last month.
On Thursday night, the Senators got more than just adequate goaltending as they shutout the Canucks, in what could have been labelled a letdown spot. There’s a decent chance the game was more a result of the Canucks just being exhausted as the effects of the games with Toronto left them unable to raise their game.
More relevantly, my “Let’s Do That Hockey” model shows the Senators as 4% below-average at even-strength, compared to the worse than 8% below-average rating for the Canucks. Even a modest adjustment for the Canucks playing at home isn’t enough to justify making the Sens a +120 underdog, so I’m fine with backing them for the second straight time.