NHL Odds, Picks and Predictions: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Preview (Monday, August 3)

Credit:

Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images. Pictured: Andrei Vasilevskiy.

  • The Lightning are favored at -137 in Monday's Eastern Conference round robin game vs. the Capitals.
  • Sam Hitchcock likes Washington at anything above -105 if Tampa Bay is without Steven Stamkos.
  • Read his full analysis of Capitals vs. Lightning Game 2 below.

Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Capitals Odds +118 [BET NOW]
Lightning Odds -137 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 6 (-122/+100) [BET NOW]
Time Monday, 4 p.m. ET
TV NBCSN

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The round robin is like a three-game extension of the regular season, but with every team’s odometer set to zero. The Eastern Conference round-robin games are important for two reasons: getting your squad into postseason form and avoid a first-round matchup against Pittsburgh (or maybe not).

It is a cliché, but to win in the NHL playoffs a team needs luck, health and favorable matchups. The question, “Is Steven Stamkos healthy enough to play?” is especially salient when evaluating the Tampa Bay Lightning’s price against the Washington Capitals in the first game of group play.

DraftKings has Tampa Bay at -137, yet Stamkos is not expected to participate.

Washington Capitals

In 2017-18 Capitals’ goaltender Braden Holtby posted a 6.84 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx). During the 2014-15 postseason, which was when Vasilevskiy made his postseason debut, Holtby posted a 12.77 GSAx. It was the best playoff GSAx of that season and no one would surpass it in the subsequent four playoffs.

Holtby can be boom or bust, but he has demonstrated that his highs are really spectacular.

The Capitals’ Achilles heel is a lack of discipline — they led the NHL in minor penalties. But this weakness will be offset by a Lightning opponent who commits nearly as many infractions and could be without their most deadly sniper.

During the regular season, the Capitals fell just outside the top five in the penalty kill. Tampa Bay hovered around the middle of the pack. The Capitals’ power play tendered mediocre numbers this season, but they also likely boast the greatest shooter of all-time lining up along the left circle.

Alex Ovechkin only tallied 13 goals on the power play this year, but his incredible 48 goals overall in 68 games affirms he is as lethal as ever. Tampa Bay puts Washington on the man advantage at its own risk.

One of the beneficiaries of the extended hiatus is that Michal Kempny is purportedly healthy, which with John Carlson may shore up the top pair. It was an uneven regular season for Kempny, so if his play improves that spells bad news for Tampa Bay.

Conversely, while the Lightning posted tremendous defensive numbers, their blue line is still laden with uncertainty. Can Kevin Shattenkirk, who was bought out last summer by the Rangers, actually play 18 minutes a game?

Is Jan Rutta a millstone around Victor Hedman’s neck? Are Erik Cernak and Ryan McDonagh an effective shutdown pair or is that just the role they have been assigned? As great as the Caps’ Kuznetsov and Ovechkin are as a duo, the Jakub Vrana-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie line is also primed to abuse this defensive corps.


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.


Tampa Bay Lightning

The first line of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point accounted for 87 goals this season, or a shade under 36 percent of the Lightning’s 243 goals. While this pales in comparison to the Oilers’ top trio (a stalwart line that contributes 44% of Edmonton’s scoring), the number could have been much higher were it not for a career season from Alex Killorn.

The 30-year-old left wing exceeded his personal best in goals this season by seven. Considering the season was unexpectedly abridged, Killorn’s number greatly outpaced everything he had done in his first 500-plus NHL games.

Undergirding that jump was a sky-high 20% shooting percentage. Should Stamkos miss this game, there have been reports that Killorn would play on the first line in his stead. Like death, we know regression for Killorn is not an if but a when, and pre-COVID that seemed like next season.

It is fair to wonder if regression will cause Killorn to become temporarily snakebit this postseason.

If Killorn is bumped up to the first line, a lot of pressure will be put on Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat to anchor a reliable second scoring line. Their metrics suggest they could author an effective possession line that minimizes mistakes and is defensively accountable.

In 249 minutes together, they produced a 59.6% expected goals rate to go along with a 66.67% high-danger chance rate.

And yet, coach Jon Cooper likes to pit Cirelli against opponents’ top lines. So Cirelli and Palat would be battling the redoubtable Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson trio.

The Lightning played the Capitals three times this season and there is an interesting through line in the small sample size of data.

In each matchup, the Pat Maroon-Cedric Paquette-Yanni Gourde line got taken to the woodshed. They surrendered six high-danger scoring chances while producing one. On Nov. 29, they posted a 29.39% expected goals rate, on Dec. 14 they registered a 26.58%, and on Dec. 21 they mustered a 26.42%.

Most concerning is that not just one line feasted on the ungainly Lightning checking line. It was an array of Washington’s top-nine forwards. It is very possible Cooper will need to shelter the Paquette line as much as possible.

Upon closer inspection, even recognized Lightning advantages make one leery. The Lightning revamped their identity this season after memorably collapsing in the first round against the Blue Jackets in last year’s playoffs. Unlike then, all four lines can now forecheck and, if pressed, they can win a low-scoring game.

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But winning a tight-checking, mistake-rare contest requires stellar goaltending. In the last five postseasons, only Devan Dubnyk in 2015-16 recorded a worse GSAx than Andrei Vasilevskiy did last playoffs.

In 2017-18, Vasilevskiy was not much better, submitting a -5.1. Even Vasilevskiy’s regular season metrics, which look sterling in their totality, are rife with inconsistency. In the first part of this season, he was abjectly bad with a -4.31 Goals Saved Above Average at 5-on-5 and a .912 save percentage at even strength.

Those numbers shot up from Jan. 1 onward, with Vasilevskiy posting a league best 14.01 GSAA and .940 respectively. In a way, he may be one of the players the long break hurt most because he was at last playing really well.


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.


Betting Analysis

I think the Lightning are a bad matchup with the Capitals, and I think Washington dominates long stretches of play. I like Washington at anything above -105 so long as Stamkos is out.

[Bet the Capitals at DraftKings. CO, NJ, PA, IN and WV only.]

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