New Jersey Devils vs. Buffalo Sabres Odds & Pick: How to Bet Saturday’s NHL Matinee (Jan. 30)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Jack Hughes
- The Buffalo Sabres host the New Jersey Devils in a battle of NHL longshots on Saturday afternoon.
- These two teams entered the season with similar expectations, but Michael Leboff thinks the Sabres are a slightly better overall team compared to the Devils.
- Check out Leboff's full NHL betting preview and pick for Saturday's game below.
Devils vs. Sabres Odds
|Over/Under||6 (+100 / -121)|
|Time||1 p.m. ET|
The two biggest longshots in what was supposed to be the NHL’s toughest division meet on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo. There are no other games in the afternoon, so even though this game may not be must-watch for casual fans, hockey bettors looking for
pain and suffering daytime action on Saturday have no other choice than to strap in for Devils at Sabres.
The Sabres opened as -148 favorites in this game and it does behoove me to mention the run that home chalk has been on in the NHL this season. Through the first 113 games of the 2021 season favorites are 74-39 (65.4%) overall, while home favorites have gone 48-16 (75%). Perhaps there’s something about this season’s unique setup, but at some point you’d expect these numbers to regress. Since 2011-12 (and including this season), home faves have a 59% win rate. Their best clip, which came in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, was 62.7%.
If you’re just looking to follow the trend and see how long this ride lasts, more power to you. I’ll never judge anybody for how they want to bet and would never blame anybody for looking for a less stressful ride than the one I put myself on every night in the NHL.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils are coming off a pair of losses to the Flyers during the midweek, but you can’t really be too sour with how New Jersey played in the two-game set, specifically in the second game.
The Devils, who were +138 underdogs against Philadelphia on Thursday, dominated the puck all night but couldn’t beat Carter Hart. New Jersey doubled Philadelphia up on shots, 34-17, and won the expected goals battle, 2.45 to 1.94.
There was always a chance that the gamescript went that way, with Jersey playing well but losing because of Philadelphia’s goaltending edge with Carter Hart taking on journeyman Scott Wedgewood, but that shouldn’t be a huge issue on Saturday since the Sabres don’t have good goaltending.
Even though the Devils overall metrics don’t look that impressive, they do need some context. New Jersey has been missing key players at both ends of the ice as Nico Hischier and Sami Vatanen have yet to play a game, Jesper Bratt didn’t make his season debut until Thursday and Mackenzie Blackwood has been shelved since the third game of the season.
That’s the Devils’ No. 2 center, a top-four defenseman, a top-six winger and their starting goaltender. For this team to skate out to a 3-3-1 record with those kind of setbacks is impressive.
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.
Things don’t look particularly rosy for the Devils under the hood. New Jersey has a -0.39 expected goal differential per 60 minutes (xGD/60), so you’d expect that its +0.64 goal differential per 60 (GD/60) will come down to earth. But what’s interesting about those numbers is that the Devils are actually underperforming their expected goals on offense. New Jersey is creating 2.23 xG/60, but only scoring 2.08 goals per hour. The Devils need more offense from down the lineup. Jack Hughes can’t be the only threat on this team. Bratt’s arrival and his strong debut should help there, though.
The sooner the offense can start to click the better, because there’s no way that New Jersey’s goaltenders will continue to stop 95% of the shots they see at 5-on-5.
On the surface the Buffalo Sabres look like a picture of mediocrity. Buffalo is 3-3-2 with a -1 goal differential and sit fifth in the eight-team East Division. There are some positive developments in Western New York, though. Nobody will ever confuse the Sabres with a run-and-gun team, but they’re making their low-event style of hockey work. Buffalo ranks 10th in the NHL with a +0.34 xGD/60 and is third with a 1.64 xGA/60.
The Sabres’ strong defensive game is important because they don’t create a ton of scoring chances and, more notably, they don’t have good goaltending. Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have combined for a -4.54 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) this season and they are both coming off down years in 2019/20. Buffalo’s defense makes life easy on its goalies, but Buffalo’s goalies makes life difficult on the defense.
As for the offense, the Sabres have a pretty clear vision. They will keep things predictable and pragmatic and hope that Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall or one of their other skilled forwards can come up with the goods. The Sabres are only scoring 1.82 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 and their xGF/60 isn’t much better at 1.98.
These two teams came into the season with very similar expectations. In fact, they both came into the season with the same Over/Under (54.5). Despite that, I think the Sabres are a slightly better overall team compared to New Jersey and are deserving favorites on Saturday afternoon. Buffalo’s got more high-end talent in its current lineup, but that’s really the only big edge in this matchup. Both teams lack depth down the roster and the goaltending battle is basically a wash.
At -148, oddsmakers are implying that Buffalo wins this game close to 60% of the time. I think that number flatters the Sabres. The gap between these teams just isn’t that wide.
I like New Jersey at +125 or better and will continue to suffer the consequences of betting against home chalk.
Pick: New Jersey Devils +125 or better