NHL Odds, Picks and Predictions (Tuesday, Aug. 11): Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars Game 1 Preview

Credit:

Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Anton Khudobin

Game 1 Odds: Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars

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Flames Odds +100 [BET NOW]
Stars Odds -115 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 5 (-137/+112) [BET NOW]
Time 5:30 p.m. ET
TV NBCSN

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Oddsmakers project Dallas vs. Calgary to be the closest of all the Round 1 series. The current odds at DraftKings (Dallas -118/Calgary +100) imply that the Stars would win 52% of the time. In other words, flip a coin and hope you get lucky.

Are these two teams this close? Or is a good showing from Calgary in the qualifying round and a pedestrian one from Dallas causing overreactions in the market?

Calgary Flames

The Flames easily dispatched the hobbled Winnipeg Jets during the qualifying round. Winnipeg was a bit of a fraudulent team propped up by a ridiculous goaltending performance by Connor Hellebuyck in the regular season, and the Flames demonstrated their superiority over four games.

Despite Calgary’s strong performance, I am more interested in the bigger picture. A four-game sample size isn’t really going to change how I will bet on a team in these playoffs.

The Flames were a bit all over the map in 2019/20. There was some good (creating scoring chances), bad (preventing scoring chances) and mediocre (goaltending). The team’s season took an unexpectedly dark turn on Nov. 27 when it head coach Bill Peters resigned after it was revealed that he used a racial slur during a previous coaching stint in the AHL.

Whether a coincidence or not, the Flames began to trend up with Peters out of the picture. Interim head coach Greg Ward seemed to breathe new life into the Flames as they went 24-15-3 with Ward behind the bench, and even more encouraging was the fact that Calgary’s expected goals rate jumped to 51.8% in that span.


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 Flames still weren’t matching the expectations they put on themselves with a 107-point season in 2018/19 but they were getting better. Overall, Calgary looks like a team that is better than its results, but we are not talking about a top-tier team here. More good than great, so it goes.

5-on-5 Stat Result Rank
Goals For Per 60 Minutes 2.31 20th
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes 2.57 20th
Expected Goals For Per 60 Minutes 2.47 8th
Expected Goals Against Per 60 Minutes 2.4 17th
Shot Attempts For Per 60 Minutes 57.2 10th
Shot Attempts Allowed Per 60 Minutes 57.4 22nd
High-Danger Chances For Per 60 Minutes 10.32 20th
High-Danger Chances Against Per 60 Minutes 9.97 8th

Calgary does have some offensive punch at the top of its lineup. Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane make up a formidable top-six, though I wouldn’t say any of them are consistent game-breakers at this point.

The Flames’ bottom-six isn’t a liability, but it also won’t propel them to new heights. Elite teams like Vegas, Tampa, Colorado and Boston are four lines deep. Calgary’s offense is top-heavy and its top isn’t elite.

Calgary’s defense is similarly built. Mark Giordano may be past his prime, but he headlines a blueline that goes from good to mediocre after the top pair. This roster wouldn’t be as big an issue if the Flames had some reliable goaltending to fall back on.

Cam Talbot was good against Winnipeg, but he’s been a mediocre goaltender over the past few seasons. Talbot was slightly above average during the regular season with a +0.29 Goals Saved Above Expectations (GSAx) but he was coming off a terrible 2018/19 in which he finished with a -17.9 GSAx.

I’d say Talbot is just as likely to be a liability in this series as he is to steal it. And that’s not a good thing when you consider what he, and the Flames, are going up against in the other cage.

Dallas Stars

It speaks volumes of Dallas’ defense and goaltending that it could finish with the fourth-best points percentage in the Western Conference despite scoring the second-fewest goals per hour at 5-on-5. I guess it says plenty about the Stars offense, too.

Puck luck certainly played a role in keeping Dallas’ offense quiet but so did down seasons from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The Stars need their, ahem, stars to play better.

Even with their stumped offense the Stars’ defense makes them a tough out in a best-of-7. Dallas finished No. 2 overall in goals against and fifth in expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.

The Stars are one of the NHL’s best at keeping teams out of harm’s way and letting their terrific goalies make the saves they are supposed to make.

5-on-5 Stat Result Rank
Goals For Per 60 Minutes 1.96 30th
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes 1.99 2nd
Expected Goals For Per 60 Minutes 2.42 13th
Expected Goals Against Per 60 Minutes 2.17 T5
Shot Attempts For Per 60 Minutes 54.2 21st
Shot Atttempts Allowed Per 60 Minutes 56.07 17th
High-Danger Chances For Per 60 Minutes 11.68 5th
High-Danger Chances Against Per 60 Minutes 10.13 12th

Speaking of those goalies. Dallas’ tandem featuring Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin has become the NHL’s most dependable duo. Bishop and Khudobin have combined to post a +42.17 GSAx since 2018/19. They are a two-headed beast and could prove to be the difference in this series.

Betting Analysis

These close odds make a ton of sense. The Stars are a strong defensive team that lacks scoring teeth while Calgary is good-but-not-great at every part of the game.

I am always skeptical about betting a team because of goaltending but there are exceptions to the rule. The reason I am bullish on the Stars at this price is not just because I believe in Bishop and Khudobin, but because I believe in Dallas’s defense to give its goalies every chance to be the difference in this series.

I tend to think good defensive teams are undervalued in the betting market but most of the time those defense-first clubs are underdogs. In this case, the stingy Stars are a short favorite but I still think they are a good price. If this game was played a week ago I think Dallas would be in the -130 range. Recency bias can be a boost for a savvy bettor.

I’d play Dallas to win Game 1 at -120 or better and I’m also interested in the series price up to -125.

[Bet the Dallas Stars at DraftKings and get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.]

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