NHL Odds, Preview, Prediction: Rangers vs. Panthers (Dec. 29)

NHL Odds, Preview, Prediction: Rangers vs. Panthers (Dec. 29) article feature image

Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Igor Shesterkin (Rangers)

Rangers vs. Panthers Odds

Rangers Odds+135
Panthers Odds-155
Time7 p.m. ET
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute NHL Odds here.

On Wednesday night, the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers will square off for the first time since a pair of games more than two years ago.

The Panthers won both, but that was a very different time for both teams, as Joel Quenneville (Florida) and David Quinn (New York) were patrolling the benches.

Andrew Brunette and Gerard Gallant are now in charge of the Panthers and Rangers, respectively. This year, both clubs have spent the first part of their seasons challenging for the top spot in the NHL standings.

The Rangers and Panthers both expect to welcome one of their biggest stars back to action on Wednesday. Here's the latest on the matchup, and why you should consider backing the underdog.

Rangers Returning Key Piece in Net

On Wednesday, the Rangers will return to the ice after an 11-day absence. Their last game — on Dec. 17 — was a 3-2 shootout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Their matchup against the Panthers will be part of a two-game road trip, which will also see them face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

On Wednesday, Igor Shesterkin (groin) should be back in the Rangers' net after missing his team's last eight games before the holiday break. He had been close to returning before the game postponements on Dec. 22 and 27.

Without their starting backstopper, the Rangers survived reasonably well, posting a record of 4-3-1. Alexandar Georgiev played some of his best hockey of the year, starting six of the eight games.

But with his 13-3-2 record, .937 save percentage, 2.05 goals-against average and 14.69 goals saved above expected, Shesterkin's season to date has put him in the Vezina Trophy conversation.

On a team that includes sparkling talents like Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox, the goaltender has stood above them and is arguably New York's MVP.

Georgiev is one of four New York players who were placed on the COVID protocol list after the holiday break. The others are defensemen Ryan Lindgren and Jarred Tinordi and forward Kevin Rooney.

Before the break, the Rangers were sputtering offensively, averaging just two goals over their last six games.

And even though they're challenging Carolina and Washington for top spot in the Metropolitan Division, New York's underlying numbers at 5-on-5 are surprisingly poor — 31st overall in Corsi For percentage, 27th in expected goals percentage and 25th in high-danger goal percentage.

Shesterkin helps mask those weaknesses with his outstanding netminding. And when they're not at 5-on-5, the Rangers are actually pretty good. They rank sixth in the league on both the power play and the penalty kill.

Panthers Dealing With Roster Issues

The Panthers were one of the teams that were hit hard by COVID before the break. They last played on Dec. 16 — a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings — and had four games postponed after they were officially shut down by the league on Dec. 17.

Wednesday's matchup against the Rangers will kick off a four-game homestand. It's also part of a back-to-back, which will see the Panthers host the Lightning on Thursday.

Before they were paused, the Panthers had lost four of their last five games. But I'm not sure we should read too much into that — their roster was decimated.

Most of those players will be back on Wednesday, and the Panthers will also welcome back their captain, Aleksander Barkov. He missed the last four games before the break with an upper-body injury.

Florida will be without another top forward, however. Jonathan Huberdeau has just entered COVID protocols.

During Tuesday's practice, Brunette confirmed that Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start against the Rangers. He's a solid 12-3-2 this season and hadn't lost a game at home this season until the defeat against the Kings right before the break.

Though the Panthers took a bit of a dip while they were undermanned, the team's overall numbers are still impressive — even if their special teams are in the middle of the pack.

At 5-on-5, Florida leads the league in Corsi for and high-danger goals percentage, is second in expected goals percentage and is third in goals per game.

Overall, the Panthers have been excellent at home, with a 14-3-0 record.

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Rangers vs. Panthers Pick

That said, the Rangers have one of the league's best road records so far this year, at 11-4-2. And they'll have plenty of their own fans cheering them on at FLA Live Arena on Wednesday, with lots of New Yorkers seeking out some sun for the holidays.

After a long stretch of time off, both teams are bound to be rusty.  But with more players coming back out of the COVID protocols — where they wouldn't have been able to skate or hit the gym — the Panthers might have a tougher time getting their legs back under them.

That being said, Barkov never seems to miss a beat when he returns from injury.

When deciding how to bet this game, your decision should basically come down to one thing: will Shesterkin deliver the same kind of magic as he did before his injury?

If your answer is yes, you've got a very nice line available. At +135 on the moneyline, the oddsmakers at DraftKings are giving the Rangers just a 42.55% chance of victory.

I say we trust him.

Pick: New York Rangers (+135); play down to +115

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