NHL Daily Odds & Picks (Monday, May 3): Stars vs. Panthers & Rangers vs. Capitals
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It’s an unusually busy Monday night in the NHL.
There are 14 games on the docket and every last one of them features at least one team fighting for a playoff spot or seeding. What a soap opera.
My colleague Matt Russell broke down one of those games, a North Division showdown between Ottawa and Winnipeg, but I have my eye on a couple of other contests below the 49th parallel.
Let’s take a look:
Washington Capitals (-112) at New York Rangers (-105)
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
The New York Rangers had their playoff dreams dashed over the weekend as their crosstown rivals, the Islanders, swept them in a two-game set by an aggregate score of 7-0. It was always a longshot that the Blueshirts would have crashed the party in the East Division but they did come into that series with both the Islanders and Bruins in their sights.
The Rangers now need to win out and have the Bruins not collect a single point in any of their last six games just to tie Boston for the last playoff spot. In other words, the Blueshirts are toast.
Despite coming up short in their quest for playoff hockey the Rangers have been a very impressive bunch in the second half of 2021. New York came into that two-game set with the Islanders on a 10-3-2 run and had the best goal differential in the East Division before the Isles flipped that script.
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.
As impressive as the Rangers’ push for a playoff spot was, they actually have struggled to drive play at 5-on-5 over the last month. Despite playing a relatively light schedule that included 10 games against the Sabres (4), Devils (4) and Flyers (2), the Rangers skated to a 48.4% expected goals rate over their last 17 contests. New York has more than enough high-end skill to overcome mediocre play-driving results, but it is reasonable to expect at least a little bit of regression from a team that is scoring 0.45 more goals than expected per 60 minutes (5-on-5) over the last month.
Perhaps the most concerning facet of New York’s recent form is its defense. After looking like an improved bunch after a terrible time in 2019/20, the Rangers have allowed 2.5 expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 over their last 17 contests. Terrific goaltending from Igor Shesterkin has limited opponents to just 2.05 goals per 60 minutes in that span, but I’d suspect that number may start creeping up over this last stretch.
The Washington Capitals have also posted some pedestrian play-driving numbers over the past month but they have seemingly found their form of late, posting a 54.2% expected goals rate in their last five contests, all of which came against the Islanders and Penguins.
This game is a bit of a mess lineup-wise as Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson are questionable for Washington, while Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren are doubts for the Rangers, so you may want to wait for the dust to settle before making your bet, but with the way the game is currently priced I think Washington will have some value. The Rangers defense was already struggling and subtracting out Trouba and Lindgren could lead to more problems, especially against a Caps offense that is still potent without Ovechkin.
The Capitals are the better overall team and have started to trend back up lately, while the Rangers are still probably a little overpriced based on their April run. The messy lineup situation does give me a bit of pause, but I still think the Caps have value at the current number and would bet them to -125 if Ovechkin and Carlson draw into the lineup.
UPDATE (5:50 p.m. ET): The Capitals have announced that Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ilya Samsonov and T.J. Oshie are out tonight. Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson are both questionable. I would not play the Caps given the recent lineup update.
Dallas Stars (+123) at Florida Panthers (-141)
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
Fans of the Dallas Stars can be given a pass for feeling a bit sorry for themselves this season.
Currently three points behind Nashville (with a game in hand) for the last playoff spot in the Central Division, Dallas had its scheduled interrupted by an early-season Covid outbreak and the horrific snowstorm that blanketed Texas in the winter. Add to that the Stars have lost a league-high 13 games after regulation and you’re left wondering what could have been for a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last season.
Despite the misfortune the Stars are still very much alive in the hunt for the fourth spot in the Central. Dallas will need to run through a schedule that includes a game against Florida and two against Tampa, but this team is not without a chance against better opposition.
For one, Dallas is one of the best defensive teams in the NHL this season. The Stars rank sixth in goals against average, second in 5-on-5 goals against average and second in 5-on-5 expected goals against average. Their strong defensive play has helped them skate to the ninth-best expected goals rate (52.9%) in the NHL this season.
The Florida Panthers are currently flying. Florida ranks sixth in the NHL in points percentage, fifth in wins and third in expected goals rate. The Cats aren’t slowing down either as they’ve posted a 56.1% goal share and 57.3% expected goals rate at 5-on-5 over their last 17 games. The top of the Central Division is a gauntlet with Carolina and Tampa but the Panthers have absolutely earned the right to be in the heavyweight mix as we approach the playoffs.
That said, Florida will be dealing with some injuries at the top of their roster as Carter Verhaeghe is out and Patric Hornqvist is questionable for Monday night’s contest. Verhaeghe is a critical blow to the Panthers as he’s been one of the NHL’s most effective players this season.
Dallas’ defense, which allows the second-fewest high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the NHL, is stingy enough to give the Panthers trouble at full strength, but their chances certainly tick up with Verhaeghe and Hornqvist on the sidelines.
The Panthers will also be without their best goaltender, Chris Driedger, meaning that Sergei Bobrovsky or highly-touted Spencer Knight will draw into the net for Joel Quenneville’s side. Bobrovsky has struggled to a -11.73 Goals Saved Above Expectation in 30 games this season and Knight has only played three games in the NHL so far, so it’s hard to be all that confident in the Panthers’ netminding situation for this game.
The Panthers are deserving favorites in this game, but the Stars are masters at turning games into coin flips and that’s always a plus when betting on an underdog. I like Dallas at +120 or better on Monday night.