NHL Daily Odds & Picks (Thursday, April 1): Our Best Bets for Canadiens vs. Senators, Wild vs. Golden Knights & More
Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Kirill Kaprizov
Welcome to April.
In a normal season we’d be gearing up for the playoffs, but in 2021 we are just gearing up for the stretch run. The NHL kicks off the final full month of the regular season, with a nine-game slate featuring a trio of heavyweight battles in the East and West divisions.
Here are our favorite bets for Thursday’s hockey action:
Jeremy Pond: Ottawa Senators (+175) vs. Montreal Canadiens
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
Canadian outfits that define the word “rested” go at it when the Ottawa Senators host the Montreal Canadiens in their sixth meeting of the season.
This will be Ottawa’s first game in a week, with its last effort being a losing one on home ice in a 3-2 overtime setback against division leader Toronto. In contrast, Montreal enters this game off Tuesday’s 4-0 victory over Edmonton. The Canadiens were playing for the first time in 10 days during that affair, so the fresher legs were clearly an advantage on home ice.
In terms of the head-to-head battle this season, Ottawa does hold a 3-2 series edge, but it was Montreal that secured the win the last time these outfits met on March 2 via a 3-1 triumph.
Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape between these sides:
|Last 10 Games||5-2-3||4-3-3|
When it comes to the xGF/xGA comparison through 60 minutes, Montreal has a distinct advantage with its 2.48 xGF/60 compared to 1.89 xGA/60, generating a +0.59 differential. As for Ottawa, it trails in both categories at 2.28 xGF/60 and 2.61 xGA/60 for a -0.43 differential.
For me, this comes down to the fact Montreal has been downright awful away from Centre Bell. The Canadiens have a brutal 2-8 record in their last 10 road affairs, which gives me little to no confidence in a team that has become a shell of itself after the raucous start to their campaign.
Now, Montreal makes the short trip to Ottawa to face a rested opponent that’s won two of its last three games and looks to wreak havoc in the North Division. I fully expect Connor Brown, Ryan Dzingel, Matthew Tkachuk and the rest of Senators to come out with a chip on their shoulders, with the goal of dealing the visitors another road defeat.
That said, I am backing Ottawa at ripe +175 odds to pull off the upset victory. Oddsmakers continue to give Montreal way too much credit, so I’m happy to jump on the feisty Senators at plus money in this spot.
Matt Russell: Detroit Red Wings (+200) vs. Florida Panthers
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
For the first half of the season, the big issue was whether Jonathan Bernier or Thomas Greiss would start in goal for Detroit. Bernier was outplaying his teammate, giving the always-underdog Red Wings a chance to win every night. Bernier’s +5.07 Goals Saved Above Average has made him an interesting piece that should be available at the nearing Trade Deadline.
Unfortunately for Detroit (and perhaps his suitors), Bernier suffered an injury last week, and his return, while soon, is still uncertain for their rematch with the Panthers on Thursday.
So why am I playing the Red Wings regardless of who is in net? The short answer is that they’re at least trying to compensate for some shaky goaltending by playing better offensively. In Detroit’s last three games, they’ve earned 2.27, 2.44, and 2.34 Expected Goals For at even-strength, which is three of their top four performances this season.
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.
The longer answer has to do with the Panthers missing their star defenceman, Aaron Ekblad for the rest of the season, and given they only accumulated 1.87 Expected Goals For in their win over the Red Wings on Tuesday, after back-to-back games in Dallas where they only had 1.3 Expected Goals in each game, there’s reason to believe Florida’s been lucky lately.
My “Let’s Do That Hockey” model believes the Wings should be +150 underdogs but after being +200 on Tuesday and losing, the common price is up to +210 for the Wings.
That’s more than enough for me to take my chances with Detroit at the big price, even if I have no idea what to expect from their goaltenders, other than I hope whoever gets the call can make it through the first period.
Michael Leboff: Minnesota Wild (+155) vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Puck Drop: 10:30 p.m. ET
The Minnesota Wild have become betting darlings this season. The Wild have made believers out of bettors by posting strong play-driving metrics for years, but they never made good on them until now. A lot of that can be chalked up to a massive improvement in goal with Kaapo Kahkonen and Cam Talbot.
Neither of the two netminders has dazzling isolated numbers (Talbot has a +2.5 GSAx and Kahkonen is at -2.24), but they’ve combined for a league-best .919 save percentage this season. That tells you that Minnesota’s defense is making life easy on the goaltending and, for the first in years, the goalies are holding up their end of the bargain.
If Talbot and Kahkonen are meeting expectations, the rest of the team has exceeded them. Minnesota is third in goals per 60 minutes, sixth in goal differential per 60, sixth in expected goal differential per 60 and second in high-danger chance rate. Known as a defensive force coming into the season, the Wild have taken a serious step forward offensively thanks to the arrival of Kirill Kaprizov, a breakout season from Joel Eriksson Ek and decent production from their depth forwards.
The Wild were expected to be on the edge of the playoff picture coming into the season but instead they look like a potential noise-maker in the West Division.
Vegas was also a 5-on-5 juggernaut in seasons past, but this year has been different for the Knights. They are still a formidable bunch, but their 51.9% expected goals rate lags behind where they were in 2019/20 (56.5%) and 2018/19 (55%). Fortunately, Marc-Andre Fleury’s splendid play in goal has helped to cushion any potential fallout from Vegas’ modest deterioration at 5-on-5.
Both Vegas and Minnesota come into this game in good form and I think the listed odds suggest the gap between these two teams is wider than it actually is. The Wild are for real and look like the better 5-on-5 team in this matchup. Vegas gets the edge in terms of high-end talent and depth up front, but Minnesota’s defense has been up to the task all season, allowing just 8.32 high-danger chances per 60 minutes.
Vegas is at home and has a slight rest advantage with Minnesota traveling on a back-to-back (the Knights played at home on Wednesday), but I think this number flatters the Golden Knights, who are likely not as good as their results suggest this season. I like the Wild at anything north of +135.
Pete Truszkowski: Wild (+155) vs. Golden Knights
Puck Drop: 10:30 p.m. ET
Very few people expected that the Minnesota Wild would be in the race for the top seed in the West Division, but here we are. The Wild have amassed a 21-10-2 record and have won 15 of their last 20 games. Despite this, they’re substantial underdogs on Thursday in Vegas.
These teams are closer than this line would lead you to believe.
|5-on-5 Stat||Vegas Golden Knights||Minnesota Wild|
|Expected Goal Rate||51.94%||53.63%|
|xG per 60 minutes||2.52||2.4|
|xG against per 60 minutes||2.33||2.07|
|Goals per 60 minutes||2.76||2.79|
|Goals against per 60 minutes||2.16||2.16|
|High-danger chance rate||52.4%||56.8%|
|5-on-5 save percentage||91.97%||92.79%|
With Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights have more high-end talent through the line-up than the Wild. However, Kirill Kaprizov is turning heads in his rookie season and that has taken some pressure off the players down the lineup like Mats Zuccarello, Jordan Greenway, Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek.
Both teams have strong options between the pipes. Cam Talbot is expected to get the start for Minnesota, and he’s stopping 92.5% of the shots he’s faced while posting a Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) of +2.5. Vegas’ duo of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner has been solid, but Minnesota should be able to hold serve between the pipes.
The fact that Minnesota plays and then has to travel on Wednesday night isn’t ideal, but even when you account for that, this line is too big. At this line, it’s implied Minnesota wins this game less than 40% of the time and I don’t buy that. These two teams are almost even. I’d bet Minnesota at +140 or better.