NHL Daily Odds & Picks (Wednesday, May 5): Our Best Bets for Rangers vs. Capitals, Stars vs. Lightning & Predators vs. Blue Jackets
Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy
The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are scheduled to start in less than 10 days. While most of the teams heading to the dance have punched their ticket, there is still a lot of business that needs sorting out.
Here are our favorite bets for a busy Wednesday night in the NHL:
Pete Truszkowski: New York Rangers (+110) vs. Washington Capitals
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
Wednesday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers might not have a huge impact standings wise, but it is surely the most anticipated matchup of the night. The Rangers are eliminated and the Capitals have clinched a playoff spot with only seeding left to play for.
However, in Monday’s 6-3 win by the Capitals, things got a bit out of control. Noted disturber Tom Wilson punched Pavel Buchnevich in the back of the head, body slammed a helmet-less Artemi Panarin to the ice and then acted like a professional wrestler on his trip to the penalty box.
The NHL fined Wilson a measly $5000 for his transgressions. The Rangers organization is livid about the lack of suspension and put the league on blast publicly via a press release on Tuesday. Panarin is out for the rest of the 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.
On the ice, the Capitals are the superior team. They have a better record and have better puck possession and shot generation metrics. One team is competing for the top seed while the other will be golfing in a week. Both teams will likely be without star players as Panarin is out for the Rangers while Alex Ovechkin has been dealing with an injury for Washington and Evgeny Kuznetsov was just placed on the COVID list.
While analytics and numbers are a tremendous tool in evaluating teams, it’d be malpractice to not acknowledge that emotion and passion have a tremendous impact on the sport of hockey.
The Rangers organization, to a man, is livid with Tom Wilson, the Washington Capitals, and the National Hockey League. The organization released a scathing press release calling for George Parros, the head of player safety, to be fired after he failed to suspend Wilson. Coach David Quinn and numerous players have been outspoken in their thoughts on what occurred.
The Rangers have nothing to play for but pride. This is their final home game of the season at Madison Square Garden and their fans surely expect a passionate, hard-fought game to avenge what happened on Monday. I expect New York’s emotional investment in this contest to be huge.
Washington needs to prepare for the playoffs beginning next week while the Rangers could leave everything on the ice here. A win here would mean a lot more to the Rangers than it would to Washington. As a home underdog in this situation, I have to take the Rangers here on principle.
Matt Russell: Columbus Blue Jackets (+150) vs. Nashville Predators
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
Listen. I’d love to have my best bet for Wednesday night coming from a game between two high-profile teams. Maybe even just a matchup of a team in a must-win game, going against a team firmly in the playoffs, battle for seeding?
If you’ve followed my previews from the last few weeks, you know I’d love to write about the Senators’ value. Just between you and me, the Senators losing Thomas Chabot for the remaining games this season means that lucrative ship has likely sailed.
So we’re left with the game, literally no one has been waiting for. The Predators have all but locked up a playoff spot, while the Blue Jackets have been out of the playoffs for months. Unfortunately, this where the best value lies on a busy Wednesday night, assuming Columbus has one of their most important soldiers in the lineup.
Monday’s win in the front-end of this back-to-back put the Predators at 4-1 in their last 5 games despite not cracking double-digits in their High-Danger Chances at even-strength in any of the games. Meanwhile, their opponents have had games with 12, 13, and 14.
The Preds have benefited from converting on 8 of their 40 HDC in the 5 games, a 20% clip that is 6% higher than league-average. Conversely, their opponents have scored on just 3 of 51 High-Danger Chances at 5-on-5. That 5.8% conversion rate against isn’t sustainable, even for Juuse Saros, who’s been one of the best goaltenders in the league in the latter half of the season. We may catch a break should Saros get his first night off in 12 games.
The big thing we’re looking for in advance of puck drop is the big assignment for the Blue Jackets. Who will be in goal? There are few teams with a bigger discrepancy from their two main goaltenders than the Blue Jackets. Despite battling numerous injuries this season, Elvis Merzlikins is in the top-15 in the league in Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). His colleague Joonas Korpisalo has had trouble with the added workload when Elvis has left the building due to injury, as he sits next-to-last in the NHL with a -13.24 GSAA.
My “Let’s Do That Hockey” model grades them at 10% below-average at even-strength this season. Meanwhile the Predators are a playoff team, and are being priced that way as relatively heavy road faves. However, my model makes them a dead-average team in the division.
All this adds up to this game being more of a coin flip on the road in Columbus according to my model, so I’ll take a stab with Columbus paying out a dollar and a half as home dogs.
Nicholas Martin: Dallas Stars (+135) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
Dallas will head in to Tampa Bay desperate to claim two points in what is a do-or-die game with regards to their playoff aspirations, sitting four points behind Nashville with a game in hand for the final spot. The Stars took a tough overtime loss in Nashville in Saturday’s critical matchup, and another Tuesday night in Florida to extend their league-leading losses past regulation total to 14.
The Stars continue to hold the opposition to minuscule scoring chance totals, and have posted strong underlying numbers this season. Given better results past regulation, specifically in shootouts, the Stars would still own a playoff spot and would likely be looked at as a threat in this year’s playoffs.
The injury situation has been tough for Dallas, but Tyler Seguin did make a favorable return in Florida Tuesday and offers a potential crucial offensive boost behind the dominant top line of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Joe Pavelski.
The Lightning have been better of late, but still have not shown to be the outright dominant team we saw much of the previous few seasons often this season. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov will both continue to sit until the beginning of the playoffs, and it just feels like Tampa are ready to kick into high gear at that point.
When the Stars play to their identity, they certainly have a chance of taking any game and I think we should see them play a highly detailed and desperate game tomorrow night.
At +135, I see value in backing Dallas to keep their postseason hopes alive here . I also would recommend staying away from the over on this one.
Mike Ianniello: Stars-Lightning Under 5.5 Goals (-130)
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
The Stars find themselves in a must-win situation against the team that defeated them in the 2020 Stanley Cup finals. Dallas’s “tragic number” is down to four, and if Nashville is able to beat Columbus, a Tampa Bay win would end the Stars chance at the Lord Stanley for the second year in a row.
For most teams, you might think playing “desperate hockey” would lean towards more offense.
Not for the Stars. Defensive structure is what they are best at and I think them playing desperate hockey will mean they tighten the clamps even more.
Despite getting just average goaltending this season from Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger, Dallas is 7th in the league, allowing just 2.54 goals per game. The Stars play within their defensive system about as well as any team in the league and rarely allow scoring chances. They have allowed the third fewest high-danger scoring chances this season and the fifth fewest xGA.
Tampa Bay has been on autopilot a bit as of late, and ranks just 17th in High Danger Chances and 16th in xGF over the last month. The Lightning allow the 6th fewest goals per game in the league, thanks to the likely Vezina Trophy winner in Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy has a 30-8-1 record and .929 save percentage and 2.10 goals against average. He leads the league with an incredible 23.2 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx).
The first six games between these two teams have averaged a total of 4.5 goals and the under has hit in four of the six. The most recent game between them last week ended 3-0 and saw just 12 High Danger Chances the entire game.
With Dallas’s playoff hopes hanging by a thread, look for them to really play to their identity and slow the game down, sell out to block every shot, and rely on their defensive system to keep this game under the total.