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Odds & Picks for Sabres vs. Flyers: Can Buffalo Pull the Upset on Monday? (Jan. 18)

Odds & Picks for Sabres vs. Flyers: Can Buffalo Pull the Upset on Monday? (Jan. 18) article feature image

Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Jack Eichel

Sabres vs. Flyers Odds

Sabres Odds +148 [BET NOW]
Flyers Odds -175 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 6 [BET NOW]
Time 7:30 p.m. ET
Odds as of Sunday afternoon and via DraftKings.

I thought both Buffalo and Philadelphia were overrated by bettors, bookmakers and pundits this pre-season. Buffalo, a 50/1 longshot, made some flashy moves in the offseason and has a couple of terrific young prospects, but the Sabres still have some worrying flaws, especially in goal. Philadelphia has a deep but unspectacular lineup, but that depth will now be tested with No. 1 center Sean Couturier sidelined.

Even without Couturier, the undefeated Flyers are -175 favorites over the winless Sabres on Monday night.

Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo was unlucky not to get any points from its season-opening series with the Washington Capitals. The Sabres finished with a 53.5% expected goals rate in those two games and held the Caps to 1.2 expected goals for (xGF) and 8.4 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.

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.

Buffalo’s strong defensive work shouldn’t be a surprise as the Sabres were pretty impressive in that department last season, allowing 2.37 goals and 2.26 xG per 60.

As good as the Sabres were at suppressing scoring chances, they weren’t able to generate opportunities of their own last season and that was also the case against the Caps. Buffalo produced just 1.38 xGF/60 in its two-game series with Washington. You’d expect an offense with Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner, Victor Olofsson and Eric Staal to prove tougher to contain than that.

Even if the offense improves, which I suspect it will, it won’t matter unless the Sabres start to win the goaltending battle. Neither Linus Ullmark nor Carter Hutton has established himself as a reliable starter in their time in Western New York. Hutton struggled to a -13.49 GSAx in 31 games last season and is already off to a rough start with a -3.45 GSAx in his lone start in 2021.

Ullmark will likely be given the longer leash, but that doesn’t mean you should expect him to be a positive contributor. Ullmark posted a -4.81 GSAx in 34 games in 2019/20 and sits at -1.13 after one game this time around.

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Philadelphia Flyers

Two wins from two games and the Philadelphia Flyers are on their way to proving me wrong this season. That said, two games isn’t enough for me to change my mind about this team, especially since they were the beneficiaries of some suspect goaltending by the Penguins in both games.

The Flyers ended the series with a +6 goal differential, but they were actually in the red in terms of expected goals and high-danger scoring chances. The Flyers generated 2.22 xGF per 60 minutes but surrendered 2.59.

This is a team that has made a habit of punching above its metrics, though, so maybe I am underrating the fact that Philadelphia has enough skill to turn relatively pedestrian metrics into good results. The Flyers also have a big edge in goaltending in this matchup, as long as Carter Hart gets the nod.

I think this is a good price on the Sabres, especially with Couturier out. Shutting down Eichel and Hall is priority number one against the Sabres and that job would have fallen on Couturier’s shoulders for this matchup.

Even though the Flyers ranked sixth in the NHL in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 in 2019/20, they were in the middle of the pack in expected goals and they were even worse in The Bubble. In other words, I don’t expect the Flyers to overwhelm a strong Sabres defense. Whether or not Buffalo generates enough offense and gets a good goaltending performance is another question entirely, though.

Sabres-Flyers Best Bet

Despite concerns about Buffalo’s goaltending and its ability to create offense, I like a bet on the winless underdogs in this matchup.

Consider this — the Sabres closed at +115 and +108, respectively, in their two games against the Capitals. Should the odds be swinging this much for a game against the Flyers just a couple of days later?

At +148 you need the Sabres to win this game above 40.3% of the time to start seeing value. I think they hit that mark and would bet them at +145 or better on Monday night.

Pick: Sabres +145 or better

[Bet Sabres-Flyers now at DraftKings and get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.]

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