Penguins vs. Flyers Odds, Betting Picks, Predictions: Underrated Pittsburgh a Good Bet in NHL Opener
Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Claude Giroux
- The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers will kick off the 2021 NHL season on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. ET.
- Bookmakers project the Flyers and Penguins for pretty similar seasons, but Michael Leboff thinks one of these teams is underrated, while the other is overrated:
Penguins vs. Flyers Odds
|Penguins Odds||+100 [BET NOW]|
|Stars Odds||-115 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||5.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. ET|
I think it’s really helpful, as a bettor, to take a stand on a few teams before a season gets underway. You can almost treat it as a future. “I’m betting that TEAM A will be overrated and will try and find opportunities to fade them.” That doesn’t mean you should just blindly bet against a team every game, but rather just have your ears perked up when you get to their upcoming matchup. There’s a reason you feel that a club is underrated or overrated, and betting gives you incentive to explore that opinion.
Additionally, it can provide a lesson in being open to change. If you’re proven wrong about a team, you will lose money. Pride is a hard thing to do away with, but you’ll see people are much more open to admitting defeat when there’s bread involved.
The Flyers host the Penguins in the NHL’s season opener on Wednesday night in a matchup of two teams that I have two very different opinions on. In my mind, Philadelphia is the most overrated team in the betting market. On the other hand, I think the Penguins are being overlooked as casual bettors have moved on from Pittsburgh to teams like Colorado and Vegas.
It could be a pretty long NHL season for me if the Flyers are able to justify their lofty Cup odds.
You can’t really blame the market for being lukewarm on the Pens in the brutal East Division. Pittsburgh was swept by the New York Islanders in Round 1 of the 2019 Playoffs and then lost in a best-of-5 to the Canadiens in the Bubble. Those types of performances will stick with bettors through the offseason and will be front-and-center when Pittsburgh takes the ice on Wednesday evening.
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.
Pittsburgh’s days as a Stanley Cup contender may be numbered, but they aren’t washed just yet, and savvy bettors will be looking at the Penguins as potentially underrated as the majority of the market moves on from them like they’re an outdated toy.
Despite two disappointing postseasons in a row, there is a lot to like about this team. We all know the Penguins for their star forwards — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel — but it was Pittsburgh’s defense that led the way in 2019/20. The Penguins finished seventh in the NHL with a 2.2 expected goals against per 60 minutes, but were let down by their goaltending as Matt Murray finished with a -13.98 GSAx in 38 games in 2019/20.
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 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.
Murray is now out of the picture, meaning that Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith will be Mike Sullivan’s puck-stopping tandem.
It’s hard to project any netminder, but this partnership is especially tough since neither Jarry nor DeSmith have much of a resume. Jarry posted a +0.99 GSAx in 33 appearances in 2019/20, while DeSmith played to a +0.6 GSAx in 36 contests in 2018/19.
Nobody knows how good or bad this tandem will end up being, but Pittsburgh’s ability to limit scoring chances should at least give Jarry and DeSmith a chance to succeed.
|Stat (5-on-5)||Regular Season||Rank|
|Goals per 60||2.71||10th|
|Goals Against per 60||2.46||14th|
|Goals Differential per 60||+0.25||8th|
|Expected Goals per 60||2.35||19th|
|Expected Goals Against per 60||2.2||7th|
|xG Differential per 60||+0.15||10th|
The most surprising number from Pittsburgh’s ’19/20 statistical portfolio is the pedestrian 2.35 expected goals (xG) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. The Pens seemed to make a bet that they could stand to sacrifice some offensive flair for some defensive fortitude. The Pens bank on the fact that world-beating offensive talents like Crosby, Guentzel, Malkin and Kris Letang will be able to make good on the chances they do create.
Just because I think the Flyers are overrated doesn’t mean I think they are bad. This is a playoff contender, but the odds would suggest they are a bit more than that. Nothing about Philadelphia seems extraordinary, though that could change if Carter Hart’s ascendency reaches new heights. But for now, I’m of the belief that Philadelphia is getting too much credit for a hot close to the regular season and lucky run in The Bubble.
After finishing the regular season on a 9-1-0 run, the Flyers earned a bye into Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and swept the seeding round to take the No. 1 seed in the East from Boston, despite the fact that the Bruins finished with 11 more points.
Philadelphia then eked by the 12th-seeded Montreal Canadiens in Round 1 and lost to the Islanders 4-3 in the Conference Semifinals. Philadelphia was out-played in both series, but got timely goaltending from Carter Hart to get within a game of the Conference Final.
Overall, the Flyers were an an above-average team in 2019/20. They finished fifth with a +0.37 goal differential per hour and 13th with a +0.09 xGD per hour (5-on-5). In other words, Alain Vigneault’s team was solid, but some good fortune made them look even better.
Interestingly, the Flyers actually improved their goal share in the playoffs despite the fact that they sported a -0.47 xGD/60 through 60 games. Hockey is weird.
|Stat (5-on-5)||Regular Season (69 games)||Postseason (16 games)|
|Goals per 60||2.77||2.41|
|Goals Against per 60||2.4||1.99|
|Expected Goals per 60||2.43||2.02|
|Expected Goals Against per 60||2.34||2.49|
Philadelphia has a strong, if unspectacular, top-six with Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek leading the way. It’s a similar situation on defense with Ivan Provorov, Philippe Myers and Travis Sanheim. There aren’t any game-breakers in this bunch, but the top of this roster is in good shape.
Flyers vs. Penguins Best Bet
There’s a chance I am wrong about the Flyers and they’re as good as advertised. If that’s the case, it will be a long season for me. But I think the Flyers are a bit overrated in this spot, especially since I think home-ice advantage will be marginal, if any at all, without fans.
At -115/+100, the market implies that the Flyers win this contest 53.5% of the time. That’s a bit high, as I think the Penguins win this game more often than not.
While the Flyers have the edge in goal, I think Pittsburgh’s defense will be the difference in a pretty tight contest. The Flyers may have scored at a top-10 clip in 2019/20, but they were closer to average in terms of creating scoring chances, so the Pens should be able to keep this game in range and let their stars wreck the game.
The Bet: Pittsburgh -105 or better