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Intelligent Hockey: Three road teams to consider on Saturday

Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers Aleksander Barkov - The Canadian Press

One of the great philosophical questions is: Can someone change? Great art has grappled with this, and often the conclusion is “no.” Change relationships, environments, and shed vices. But still, it seems one’s character is closer to immutable than to evolving. 

By March, NHL teams are similarly stuck in their ways. We know their habits and quirks. Like humans, they have highs and lows. The following picks are built around what we know: The Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, and Florida Panthers are better than their opponents on Saturday, even though their adversaries are all in various stages of being hot. The price is only viable because the teams I’ve chosen are on the road, a discount I’ll happily gobble up.

Florida Panthers at Detroit Red Wings
Saturday, March 2 – 3:00 PM ET


The year 2024 has been good to the Panthers and Red Wings. Florida is first in points percentage, and Detroit is tied for third over the last two months. Both franchises have had prolonged win streaks, with Detroit’s ending on Thursday night against the New York Islanders. I suspect both teams will look to the forecheck to win on Saturday afternoon, but Florida is significantly more equipped to control that facet, and I expect them to win the game, perhaps handily.

Florida’s 4-3 shootout victory Thursday night over the Montreal Canadiens led to an occurrence that hasn’t happened since Jan. 19th. After 14 straight games allowing two goals or less, Florida finally surrendered three. The Panthers are one of the more fun teams to watch because of how physically they play and how they exert their will on the forecheck. 

They’re first in the NHL in offensive forecheck chances, and the Panthers sometimes look like they have two or three more skaters than their opponents because of the way they vacuum up pucks. That forecheck was present on Thursday, but a fleck of sloppiness permeated this game, which Montreal managed to capitalize on. Nick Suzuki was left alone for a breakaway. On Juraj Slafkovsky’s goal off a Canadiens faceoff, Florida gave Montreal an extra offensive zone draw because multiple zone-exit attempts failed. Against an indisputably weaker opponent, Florida let down its guard. 

I don’t see such a slip-up repeating itself. The Panthers are among the best in the league in fewest slot passes allowed and in cycle chances allowed. Detroit tried to beat the Islanders on Thursday with a cycle and forecheck game that utilized a lot of motion and some cycling above and below the circles. But the Panthers check extremely well in its own end, and Detroit’s picks and use of its defencemen will not faze them. In high-danger chances generated, the Red Wings are abysmal. Only the Blackhawks have a worse number on a per 60-minute basis.

Florida is extremely skilled at creating tip and rebound opportunities off shots from the point, and Detroit is likely to struggle to foil this siege. We saw the Red Wings concede a goal this way against the Islanders on Thursday night, as Casey Czikas scored off a tip and poor box out. The Red Wings lean on the flip pass as a breakout strategy, but this could lead to an endless loop of Panthers’ cycle chances.

The Panthers have an identical record on the road and at home. But because this game is in Detroit, the price isn’t sickening. I am thrilled to get the Panthers in a game where they could win by three or more.

Pick: Panthers Moneyline -154

Edmonton Oilers at Seattle Kraken
Saturday, March 2 – 4:00 PM ET


There is a path to Seattle beating Edmonton on Saturday, but it is a narrow one. The Kraken are an energy team fueled by their defence. Regarding 5-on-5 high-danger chances and expected goals against, Seattle is a top-ten team. 

Goaltender Joey Daccord has greatly exceeded expectations, although in his last two starts Philipp Grubauer was excellent. In 5-on-5 team save percentage, the Kraken rank fourth in the NHL.

The Kraken want to stretch the ice. If they can convert on a few rush chances when they fly the zone and grind out a goal or two, working the triangle with play below the goal line, Edmonton can be defeated. But I don’t see it.

In their last outing, the Kraken were sloppy with their puck management and surrendered the blue line way too easily. It would be hard to envision a less propitious combination of weaknesses when facing an Oilers team that can poleax you on the rush and carve you up on the cycle. 

The Oilers’ fate depends heavily on their super line. Connor McDavid is currently playing with Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman, and in the three games since they were put together during the contest against the Calgary Flames on 2/24, the triumvirate has posted a +11 high-danger chances differential and is doubling their foes in goals. 

Whether McDavid is buzzing around the perimeter along the circle or working a give-and-go with a defenceman at the point, Draisaitl understands how to position himself for a cross-seam one-timer or middle-slot tip – and Hyman burrows into the slot. Seattle can wedge itself into lanes, but it needs to be airtight against that line – if that is even possible.

The Oilers have an offence just outside the top five and a top-three power play; they should be able to generate a few goals against a stingy Seattle squad. The question is what Edmonton allows, and that quandary relies on Seattle being able to harness the counterattack and the performance of Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner. 

In their victories over the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues, the Oilers' desire to drive the puck up ice as their forwards pushed toward the far blue line yielded opportunities for their opponents to intercept those passes. Additionally, the Oilers like to cluster their forwards (especially when the McDavid line is on the ice) with the weakside defencemen crashing into the slot when they have their opponent scrambling defensively. If Seattle can disrupt and force a takeaway, the Oilers can get caught beneath the puck and attacked off the rush.

Since coach Kris Knoblauch took over as Oilers head coach, Skinner has been a top- five goaltender in the league in Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). But since the win streak ended, Skinner has had a few tough outings, like when he allowed six against Boston on 2/21 and five in his next appearance against Calgary last Saturday. With quick puck movement and traffic, Seattle has a chance to rattle him.

Also, since the coaching change, Edmonton has the best points percentage in the NHL. Only the Winnipeg Jets can match Edmonton in the amount of regulation and overtime wins in that time span. The advanced stats reflect Edmonton’s dominance during this time, as they led the league in 5-on-5 expected goals and high-danger chances percentage. The Oilers are better than Seattle, and I’ll gladly take them on Saturday.

Pick: Oilers Moneyline -154

Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators
Saturday, March 2 – 6:00 PM ET


It is slightly poetic that a team’s nadir would help bring about its greatest triumph to date. On 2/15, the Nashville Predators were humiliated. They lost 9-2 to the Dallas Stars and were down 5-0 early in the second period. With that loss, Nashville had an equal number of wins and losses, a signal that the team was caught on the treadmill of mediocrity.

But fortunes can change quickly in the NHL. The Predators start March on a seven-game winning streak, heavily bolstered by their fourth line of Cole Smith, Kiefer Sherwood, and Michael McCarron. During those seven games, this line has amassed five goals and allowed zero. Sports can surprise you, and I fully admit that heaping praise on that line is not something I had anticipated writing.

On Thursday, Nashville pulverized the Minnesota Wild 6-1 behind a physical forecheck that forced turnovers and jammed its way into the crease. The Predators can impose their will by winning battles along the boards, spreading their opponent out, and using their third forward high as a way to open up the slot. Defensively, they have five players collapsing to protect the middle, and their gaps and checking were proficient against Minnesota.

The Avalanche can expose the Predators if they can bypass them on the forecheck. The Avs’ mobile defencemen all have a green light to join the transition, and their first layer on the rush does an effective job pushing the defence back to open up the cross-seam pass or open up room for the puck-carrier to step into a shot. If the Predators allow Nathan MacKinnon to get behind them, this game could go south for Nashville quickly.

Colorado needs consistency on Saturday. Spurts of heady play probably won’t cut it. The Avs had a listless start on Thursday night, conceding too many easy breakouts to the Chicago Blackhawks. They also had trouble killing plays in their own end. Eventually, it turned into a rout for the Avalanche, but early on the Blackhawks were collecting far more shots on goal. 

The Avalanche can’t afford a slow start against Nashville, and they can’t expect their league-leading offence to bail them out with Juuse Saros in goal for their opponent. If Colorado falls prey to one-and-dones, the Predators can use extra zone time to activate their star players in clever ways, for instance on set faceoff plays for Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg. 

The Avalanche are just outside the top ten in high-danger chances against per game, and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev had a strong February. Colorado should be able to win a low-scoring game or high-flying tilt. With the Predators going for their eighth straight win, I like the Avalanche moneyline.

Pick: Avalanche Moneyline -137