Rangers vs. Sabres Odds & Picks: Bet on the Blueshirts to Bounce Back (Thursday, Jan. 28)
Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Artemi Panarin
- The New York Rangers had considerable hype surrounding them coming into the 2021 season.
- A 1-4-1 start has quieted the noise. Have the Rangers just been unlucky or is there reason to believe they'll continue to slide against the Sabres on Thursday night?
Rangers vs. Sabres Odds
|Time||7 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Wednesday night and via DraftKings.|
The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres will meet for the second time in three nights on Thursday as the Rangers look to avenge a 3-2 Sabres win on Tuesday.
After a considerable amount of pre-season hype, New York has just one win in its first six games. Is there reason to believe the Blueshirts can turn their season around before it spirals out of control?
New York Rangers
There were plenty of people who thought the New York Rangers would build off an impressive second-half performance in 2019/20 to contend for a playoff spot in the loaded East Division. The early returns are not great. After splitting their opening two-game series with the New York Islanders, the Rangers have dropped four straight one-goal games.
Despite their poor record, there are some reasons to be optimistic about the Rangers. They aren’t playing bad hockey and sport a 50.5% expected goals rate at 5-on-5. That means they are generating more offense than they’re allowing. Additionally, the Rangers are above 50% in high-danger scoring chances.
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.
Last season, the Rangers allowed the second-most expected goals against at 5-on-5. It’s a small sample size, but they’ve improved defensively to start this season, allowing 2.18 xGA/60. That puts the Rangers right in the middle of the pack, which is a welcome improvement from the bottom.
The Blueshirts are also in the middle of the pack in terms of shot attempts and possession, but they are the type of team that should be able to survive average metrics due to their talent up front. Artemi Panarin is a contender for the NHL’s Hart Trophy as league MVP and players like Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome and Pavel Buchnevich add plenty of talented options for coach David Quinn to work with. That doesn’t even mention 2019 No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko, who has shown improvement in the early going of his sophomore season, and 2020 first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. The ceiling is high for New York’s forward group.
The biggest early season concern for the Rangers has been the play of goaltender Igor Shesterkin. The Russian netminder entered the season as the favorite to win the Calder Trophy. Last season, he posted a .932 save percentage in 12 starts and appeared like a sure thing as the replacement to franchise legend Henrik Lundqvist. Shesterkin has a .886 save percentage to start the season and has yet to win a game.
Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) is an advanced statistic that measures a goaltender’s performance against the quality of scoring chances he faced. It is a better catch-all metric compared to save percentage because every SV% counts every saved shot and goal the same, while GSAx weights shots by the quality of the scoring chance.
GSAx numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.
The Sabres have started the season with a 3-3-1 record, which is about where we expected them to be in the beginning of the season. Most people thought of Buffalo as a competitive team that probably wouldn’t be able to compete with some of the big dogs in the East Division.
Despite the pedestrian record, the Buffalo Sabres are playing well. The Sabres have the fourth-best expected goals rate in the NHL and are leading the league with a 1.57 xGA/60.
It is a bit surprising that the Sabres defense is leading the way as the team made a few flashy moves to bolster its offense. The Sabres added the top free agent on the market in Taylor Hall. They also traded for Eric Staal to anchor their second line. They also promoted 2019 No. 7 overall pick Dylan Cozens to the active roster.
Despite these acquisitions and already having one Jack Eichel, Buffalo’s offense has been pedestrian. They are middle of the pack in expected goals created and bottom-10 in actual goals scored at 5-on-5.
While Buffalo is doing a good job of controlling play and limiting opponents’ scoring chances, one issue remains for this team. The goaltending duo of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark has not been strong to begin the season. Despite Buffalo’s defensive prowess, the Sabres still rank near the bottom of the league in terms of goals allowed per 60 minutes.
It was a bold choice by Buffalo not to improve their goaltending this off-season and it’s not paying off early. Hutton has posted a -2.5 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) over three starts. Ullmark has also struggled, posting a -2.01 GSAx over four starts.
Rangers vs. Sabres Best Bet
While I didn’t expect the Rangers to make the big leap some people thought they would, I did think they would be improved this season. A 1-4-1 start has rung some early alarm bells around Manhattan and there is fear that this season could slip away very early.
The Rangers have lost four straight one-goal games, and in a sport like hockey that variance should balance itself out over the course of the season. I’d be much more concerned about this team if they were being blown out or consistently outplayed every night, but that’s not the case.
An interesting stat that I’ve noticed early in this season is how teams respond after losing the first game of a back-to-back. While it’s a small sample size and could be just noise, it is worth noting that the team that lost is 22-16 in the second game.
The market has made this game a pick’em and that seems pretty fair. That said, I like backing the desperate team coming off a hard-fought loss. New York is due for some positive results after a string of tough luck.
Pick: NY Rangers ML (up to -110)