NHL Odds & Picks for Capitals vs. Penguins: Will Bettors Fade Pittsburgh After Two Losses? (Sunday, Jan. 17)

NHL Odds & Picks for Capitals vs. Penguins: Will Bettors Fade Pittsburgh After Two Losses? (Sunday, Jan. 17) article feature image
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Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin

Capitals vs. Penguins Odds

Capitals Odds -107 [BET NOW]
Penguins Odds -114 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 6.5 [BET NOW]
Time 12 p.m. ET
TV NBC
Odds as of Saturday night and via DraftKings.

Needless to say, but avoiding big losing streaks is going to be paramount in a 56-game season when you’re playing all your games within the division. Not only does losing (especially in regulation) three or four times in a row mean you are not collecting any points, but it also means that you are giving points to teams that you’re racing against.

In a normal season, the Pittsburgh Penguins dropping their first two games to the Philadelphia Flyers may not be a huge deal. But in 2021 it could become too late very early.

Pittsburgh opened as a slight favorite against the Capitals, who swept their back-to-back with the Sabres, for Sunday afternoon’s game.

Washington Capitals

We have a pretty good feel for the Washington Capitals. Even with a new coach in town and a few new faces, the Caps are still going to be a team that succeeds through their stars. Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson and John Carlson gives Washington the type of core that can win it games even if the Caps have an off night.

That happened on Friday as the Caps were out-played by the Sabres but eked out a 2-1 win thanks to a stellar performance in goal from Vitek Vanecek and goals from Wilson and Vrana.

Even though Washington finished the two-game set with Buffalo with a -0.18 expected goals differential and struggled to create scoring chances at 5-on-5, the Caps got better goaltending and won both games. That’s Washington Capitals Hockey.


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 Capitals were held back by a porous defense that finished in the bottom-10 in goals against, xG allowed and high-danger chances surrendered. Ovechkin and the offense kept Washington in contention, but it was pretty clear that at some point the Caps would be found out.

So the club brought in Peter Laviolette to help re-organize this defense. Laviolette isn’t a run-and-gun type of coach so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Caps focus on playing a safer, more structured style of hockey as this season wears on.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Two games into the 2021 season and I’m already telling myself not to smash the panic button on the Penguins, a team that I was pretty high on a week ago. A couple of sloppy, three-goal losses later and the doubt is naturally starting to creep in.

Instead of overreacting to a couple of bad results, the best course of action is to take a deep breath and see what the hell happened. As ugly as the scorelines were, the Penguins did not play that poorly against the Flyers. Pittsburgh generated 2.59 expected goals for and allowed 2.22 expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 in the two-game set. Unfortunately, goaltending and a strong Flyers’ power play made Pittsburgh’s decent 5-on-5 play moot.

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Most concerning for the Penguins is that Tristan Jarry is off to a rough start in goal. The Pens traded away the out-of-form Matt Murray in the offseason with the hopes that Jarry and Casey DeSmith would be a good enough tandem behind a good defensive team. That hasn’t been the case so far as Jarry has a -5.44 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) in his first two starts.

Mike Sullivan gave Jarry the hook on Friday so I would assume we’ll see DeSmith, who was the weaker career portfolio of the two, against Washington on Sunday afternoon.

Long story short, I am not that alarmed about the Penguins overall, but the goaltending certainly doesn’t make me that excited to keep betting them.

Capitals-Penguins Pick

Overall, I think the Penguins are the better team in this matchup and they have a little bit of a rest advantage with Washington playing its third game in four nights. That said, I can’t blame anybody for not wanting to jump right back in on the Pens considering they just got outscored 11-5 in their first two contests.

Hopefully, Pittsburgh’s two-game losing streak coupled with Washington’s two-game winning streak will keep the price on Pittsburgh down and we can get the Pens at a discount.

Pick: Penguins -120 or better

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