Flyers vs. Devils NHL Odds & Picks: Will Underdog New Jersey Keep Rolling on Tuesday? (Jan. 26)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images. Pictured: Jack Hughes
- The Devils are one of the surprises of the early NHL season and look to keep rolling.
- The Flyers are off to a solid start, but starting their backup goaltender and their underlying stats are concerning.
- Where's the value in Tuesday night's matchup? Michael Leboff breaks it down.
Flyers vs. Devils Odds
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The East Division was expected to be “The Group of Death” for the 2021 NHL season. Six of the eight teams were expected to be playoff contenders and a seventh, the Buffalo Sabres, caught some preseason hype because of a couple of flashy offseason moves. Then there were the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils were expected to be the division also-ran, cannon fodder for the headliners to trample over on their way to the playoffs. It’s still early, but New Jersey has given a good account of itself through the first two weeks of the campaign.
The Devils will look to continue their surprising start against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.
On the surface, things look OK for the Flyers. A 3-2-1 start is nothing to celebrate, nor is it worth panicking over. What is a bit alarming, though, is how the Flyers have played to get to their mediocre record.
Of course we’re only five games into the season, but Philadelphia’s -2 goal differential and 42.97% expected goal rate show that this team may not be as strong as the betting market thought coming into the campaign. In fact, only Detroit and Vancouver sport a worse xG% than the Flyers at this junction.
The Flyers have played a pretty tough schedule — four of their six games came against Pittsburgh and Boston — but this was a team that came into the season as one of the favorites in the East Division, so you should expect them to put up competitive numbers no matter the opponent.
Philadelphia’s lofty expectations were based on a few things. First, the Flyers were viewed as a pretty deep team. They may not have a ton of game-breaking talent, but Alain Vigneault could roll four lines and three defense pairings without having to really worry. The second reason was that Carter Hart was expected to be one of the strongest goaltenders in the NHL. That hasn’t been the case so far as Hart currently ranks dead last among all goaltenders with a -5.5 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) in five games.
The Flyers will give Hart a breather on Tuesday night and roll with Brian Elliott against the Devils. Elliott has been strong in his two games in 2021, but he struggled big time in 2019-20. According to Clear Sight Analytics, Elliott cost the Flyers 10.5 goals, the fifth-most in the NHL last 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.
New Jersey Devils
A lot of praise has been heaped on the Devils for their 3-1-1 start, and allow me to add to the chorus. Not only has New Jersey collected points in four of its five games, but those contests came against pretty tough opposition (Boston twice, Islanders twice and Rangers) and the Devils were missing two of their best forwards for all five games and their starting goaltender in their two-game split with the Islanders.
While the rest of the Hockey World is celebrating New Jersey’s adorable little start, bettors are resigned to the cold-hearted task of trying to figure out if the Devils are for real. Unfortunately, the underlying metrics suggest that New Jersey’s running a bit hot. The Devils currently sport the fifth-best Goal Differential per 60 minutes (5-on-5) at +1.27 but their expected goal differential per 60 minutes (xGD/60) is -0.36.
How are the Devils overachieving so much? It’s mostly thanks to exceptional goaltending from Mackenzie Blackwood and Scott Wedgewood. Blackwood and Wedgewood have stopped 97.7% of the shots they’ve faced at 5-on-5. That type of goaltending will make any team hard to beat, even one that is having trouble generating offense like the Devils are. New Jersey is currently scoring 1.97 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, though it’s xG number is a bit higher than that at 2.18.
When the Devils do score, it’s likely coming as a result of a play by Jack Hughes. The 2019 No. 1 overall pick has three goals and four assists to start the season. As encouraging as that start is, Hughes is one of two Devils with more than one goal and one of just three with more than one assist. In other words, if Hughes or the goaltending stumbles, the Devils will have a tough time getting wins on the board.
You usually want to be weary of backing a team that is overachieving despite some mediocre metrics, but I think the Devils are the value side in a matchup with an overrated, short-handed Flyers team.
New Jersey has found ways to get results despite receiving very little offense from important players like Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Andreas Johnsson and P.K. Subban. Those players should eventually get going and Tuesday is as good a time as any because the Flyers have been struggling to suppress scoring chances and they will be starting their second-choice goaltender.
The current moneyline odds imply that the Devils win this game 42.6% of the time. I think that overrates the Flyers a little bit, but I’m hopeful this number ticks up a bit and I can get the Devils at +140 or better.
Pick: Devils +140