There’s a lot going on in the NHL these days (and everyday). The playoffs are just over a month away, the trade deadline is in a week and a frightening COVID outbreak with the Vancouver Canucks has cast an ominous cloud over just about everything. The show goes on, though, and bettors have themselves a juicy nine-game slate to pore over on Tuesday night.
Here are our favorite bets for April 6:
Michael Leboff: Pittsburgh Penguins (+100) vs. New York Rangers
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
For the second season in a row the New York Rangers have made believers out of bettors in the second half. The Rangers are 6-3-1 since Artemi Panarin returned to the lineup and have posted a 59.5% goal share at 5-on-5 during that span. If Panarin’s return reignited an offense that underperformed in the first half of the season, fellow Russian Igor Shesterkin’s return from a groin injury completely stabilized the goaltending situation on Broadway.
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.
Shesterkin ranks 11th in the NHL with a +5.58 Goals Saved Above Expectation and has been one of the driving forces behind New York’s recent jolt. The Rangers defense does deserve some credit, too, as the Blueshirts have the ninth-highest expected save percentage on unblocked shots this season, per MoneyPuck.
With Shesterkin in good form and the offense buzzing behind Panarin, the Rangers will always have a chance to beat any team. That said, they are punching a little bit above their weight right now. New York is scoring 3.1 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, but generating just 2.2 expected goals per 60 over its last 10 games.
A talented offense can always beat its expected goals, but at some point you’d expect goal-scoring numbers to regress at least a little bit and I think there’s reason to believe we’ll see it happen against the stingy Pittsburgh Penguins.
Also 6-3-1 over their last 10, the Penguins have surged up the East Division table over the last six weeks. Pittsburgh is 17-7-1 with a 57.8% goal share at 5-on-5 over their last 25 games. The Penguins are getting results thanks to a defense that is allowing just 1.63 goals and 2 expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 since March 1 (18 games).
The Penguins are still without Evgeni Malkin, but their defense is good enough to keep them in games long enough for Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust or Jared McCann to create something.
I think the Rangers are getting a little too much love here and think the Penguins are worth a play at -110 or better.
Mike Ianniello: Pittsburgh Penguins (+100) vs. New York Rangers
I believe what we have here folks, is a classic case of the wrong team being favored.
You can almost set your watch to the Pittsburgh Penguins starting the year slower than expected, yinzers freaking out and calling local radio shows demanding they clean house and start over, just for the Pens to figure it out and go on a run.
Since March 1st, only the Colorado Avalanche have more wins than the Penguins 13-4-1 record. Pittsburgh now sits in third place in the East Division, and just four points out of first place.
The Penguins have been led by their first line of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust who have a 55% xGoals% in 380 minutes together this season. No trio in the league has played more minutes together than the Penguins top line and they have combined for 109 points this year.
Since the beginning of March the Penguins have an xGF% of 51.25 and High-Danger Chance% of 53.38 compared to the Rangers who have a 50.17 xGF% and a 48.89 HDC%.
Tristan Jarry has been cleared to return and could start Tuesday but backup Casey DeSmith has actually been one of the best goaltenders in the league recently. In his last eight starts, DeSmith has gone 6-2 with a GAA of 1.44 and 0.950 save percentage. His 6.87 GSAx is fourth in the NHL over that span. Bettors should feel comfortable with whoever is in net for the black and yellow.
Pittsburgh has dominated the Rangers to a 5-1 record this season and I see no reason they shouldn’t be favored in this game so I will gladly take them at plus-money here and would take them down to -110.
Nicholas Martin: Tampa Bay Lightning (-122) To Win in Regulation vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET
The Columbus Blue Jackets play a tight-checking game and, if true to form, won’t give up easy chances against any team. However, they haven’t controlled play often this year as evidenced by their 45.3% expected goal rate. The top talent just is not there anymore and the skilled players that are there can be healthy-scratched out of nowhere.
Talent isn’t an issue for the Tampa Bay Lightning, though.
After resting on Sunday, Andrei Vasilevskiy should return to his net tomorrow. The Russian netminder sits first in the NHL with a +24.9 GSAx and a .923 save percentage over 29 games.
The Lightning are simply a class beyond Columbus and come into this game in a tight race for the top seed in the Central Division. The Bolts are two points behind Florida with a game in hand, while the Hurricanes are a point behind Tampa with a game in hand on the Lightning.
Given the tight division race, and the embarrassing 5-1 flop to Detroit on Sunday, I think it is fair to say we should see Tampa Bay come out with some more urgency than we have seen at times this year. Columbus are alive in the hunt for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division, but I just don’t believe this roster has the talent to make a push to get in.
I like Tampa Bay to raise their level of play and get this done in regulation, and I think -122 is a very fair price.
Pete Truszkowski: Dallas Stars (-117) vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Puck Drop: 8 p.m. ET
At the start of the season, there were two big surprises in the Central Division for very different reasons: Dallas and Chicago.
The Blackhawks collected points in 18 of their first 25 games to catapult themselves into the playoff picture in a year where nobody expected much from them. However, since that point they’ve won just four of 14 and look likely to miss out on the postseason.
On the other hand, the Dallas Stars entered with heightened expectations after appearing in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. However, a COVID outbreak, a weather crisis and poor puck-luck put Dallas behind the eight ball. They’ve played more consistent hockey over the past few weeks and have re-entered the playoff picture.
Coming into this game, Dallas sits three points behind Chicago with three games in hand. More importantly, both teams sit right behind the playoff cut-off line. Chicago is two points behind Nashville, while the Stars are five points back with three games in hand on the Predators. Needless to say, this is a huge game for playoff positioning.
For that reason, I expect the cream to rise to the top. Despite the similar positioning in the standings, these teams are not on the same tier.
Dallas has the eighth-best expected goal rate in the league while Chicago ranks dead last by xG%. Dallas also ranks inside the top-10 in both shot attempt share and high-danger chance percentage, while Chicago ranks bottom five in both metrics. Chicago ranks bottom six in both expected goals scored and expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5. While Dallas’ offense isn’t impressive, its defense is third best in xG against per hour.
Kevin Lankinen has had an impressive rookie season in between the pipes for Chicago, but a lot of his shine was accumulated in the earlier part of the season. Since March 1st, the young netminder has a -2.94 GSAx which should alleviate the concerns of running into a hot goaltender.
Frankly, I believe Dallas is the fourth-best team in this division and I expect the Stars to make a very strong push to sneak into the playoffs. If they’re going to do that, they need to win their games in hand against beatable teams like the Blackhawks. At this short price, I back them to do just that.
Jeremy Pond: San Jose Sharks (-106) To Win in Regulation vs. Anaheim Ducks
Puck Drop: 10:30 p.m. ET
Someone is going to have its streak snapped in this West Division showdown when the San Jose Sharks host the Anaheim Ducks in a crucial matchup.
San Jose enters this affair riding a four-game winning streak, with its most recent victory coming via a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. Dylan Gambrell scored the game winner with under five minutes to go for the Sharks, who got a big performance Martin Jones. The veteran goaltender, who stopped 35 of 37 shots, has allowed just four goals in his last three starts.
In contrast, life has become downright miserable for Anaheim. The division’s last-place outfit saw its losing skid run to three games following Sunday’s 3-2 overtime defeat against the Arizona Coyotes. The Ducks fell prey to an unreal night from Jakob Chychrun, who finished with all three goals for the hat trick.
Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape between these franchises:
|Last 10 Games||3-6-1||6-3-1|
When it comes to the xGF/xGA comparison through 60 minutes, San Jose holds the edge with its 2.39 xGF/60 compared to 2.36 xGA/60 that generates an extremely flat +0.03 differential. As for Anaheim, it trails in both categories at 2.07 xGF/60 and 2.44 xGA/60 for a -0.37 differential.
Putting it all together, I really like San Jose to get the job done at the SAP Center and will back it as my top pick. The Sharks are playing a better brand of hockey at the moment, which should carry them to their fifth win in a row.
Throw in the fact Anaheim has one victory in its last seven tries — including a 1-5 road mark — against San Jose, and I like my chances with this wager.
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