How will Campbell stack up against Oilers?
Life comes at you fast.
From a betting perspective, there is opportunity to be realized from the sinking and rising fortunes of teams in the NHL’s East and North Divisions.
New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
Saturday, March 27 – 1PM ET
Statistics supply information but lack shading. Anyone can look at Philadelphia’s recent defensive metrics and see a team hemorrhaging goals. Watching the Flyers is a visceral viewing experience, like the feeling of handing in an exam one has just bombed. After Thursday night, an unavoidable question must be asked: Are the Flyers hobbled or broken?
In an 8-3 loss that evening, Philadelphia had collapsed by early in the second period. New York consistently found cavernous lanes for seam passes. The Rangers were able to get beneath the Flyers’ defensive coverage on the Ryan Strome and Pavel Buchnevich tallies, which quickly made the score 2-0.
New York proceeded to notch three straight power-play goals to put the game out of reach thanks to Philadelphia’s disorderly, infraction-drawing play. The Flyers are on a four-game winless streak (three regulation losses, one overtime loss), and while there is the temptation to zag and grab them at home in a game where they will be highly motivated, there are two prominent reasons to side with New York financially.
First, the play between the pipes. How bad has the goaltending been for the Flyers? In the month of March, Carter Hart and Brian Elliott rank last and second-to-last in Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). But Hart stands apart from his peers in putridity, with a -19.2 GSAx in 10 games. The only other goaltender in double-digit negatives is Elliott, at -12.1. It seems unlikely Hart will be in net Saturday afternoon, but Elliott’s struggles loom large over this matchup.
There is also the issue of how one-dimensional the Flyers are, underscored by how feckless they are on the forecheck. The Rangers understand the Flyers’ difficulty retrieving the puck and try to expose this shortcoming frequently. New York is eager to find its forwards for stretch passes in the hope of catching three or four Philadelphia skaters deep in the offensive zone.
After the Flyers’ last two five-goals-or-more losses, they won the next game or lost in overtime. But I repudiate this trend.
Betting on a team that is limited in its tools to attack, can’t defend, and has existential goaltending issues is unappealing. The Rangers have the advantage at forward, defence and goal. At a -125 moneyline for the Rangers, bettors should lean into the sweep.
Pick: Rangers -125
New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins
Saturday, March 27 – 7PM ET
Under coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders win with their defence and structure. But while that DNA still exists, the Islanders have morphed into a formidable offensive team.
The Islanders are first in the NHL in high-danger chances created per hour. Among all NHL players, Mathew Barzal ranks sixth in rush attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 and Scott Mayfield sits in the top 10 among defencemen. Furthermore, New York can dismantle its opponents in a variety of ways.
Yes, the Islanders’ transition offence is an animating force, partly propelled by their quick ups on breakouts. On the cycle, the Islanders can attack by bringing their third forward high, enabling them to drop a defenceman low to complete the interchange or utilize a high-slot tip.
But they also have proficiency below the circles, as they are capable of playmaking from behind the net and of jamming bodies (and the puck) around the low slot. Oliver Wahlstrom’s goal to make it 3-2 on Thursday exhibited this talent perfectly.
In the month of March, the Penguins rank first in 5-on-5 goals against per hour. It has been theorized that since the Kris Letang-Brian Dumoulin defensive pairing was reunited after Dumoulin returned from injury, Pittsburgh has rocketed up the standings.
Letang is the most dangerous playmaking defenceman on Pittsburgh and playing with the steady Dumoulin allows him to be more brazen in his opportunism. But the top pairing also surrenders a lot.
In the 12 games since Dumoulin rejoined the lineup, the Penguins’ top defensive pairing has allowed 2.66 expected goals and 12.01 high-danger chances against per hour. That isn’t just a leak; the basement is moments from being flooded. Considering that this defensive pairing will inevitably be pitted against the Barzal line, how much room New York gets in transition will be a significant subplot of this game.
The Islanders’ top defensive pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock is like the Queen’s Guard – austere and unflinching. During their last 12 games they have allowed a meagre 1.51 expected goals against per hour, and their high-danger chances against per 60 minutes is almost half of Letang and Dumoulin’s.
If Trotz can get Pelech and Pulock out against the Sidney Crosby line, Pittsburgh will struggle to score, especially with second-line forward Kasperi Kapanen injured. Among players who played more than 90 minutes in March, the two leaders in points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 are Evgeni Malkin and Kapanen. Gulp. Pittsburgh’s forward depth can succeed against Buffalo, but New York is a different beast.
The Penguins are playing their third game in four nights. Thanks to their Tuesday game against the Boston Bruins being postponed, the Islanders had Tuesday and Wednesday off before playing against Boston Thursday.
Nothing is less sexy than talking rest days, but in betting, a gruelling schedule can provide an edge for the less fatigued. I like the Islanders as the slight underdog in this one.
Pick: Islanders -110
Edmonton Oilers at Toronto Maple Leafs
Saturday, March 27 – 7PM ET
The Maple Leafs are 4-6 in their last 10 games. The Oilers are 7-3. This would appear to have the hallmarks of two teams accelerating in opposite directions, but I don’t think that’s the case for two reasons.
First, the Maple Leafs’ goaltending issues are temporarily solved with goaltender Frederik Andersen bowing out for the next week-plus due to an injury. In the month of March, Andersen has a -8 GSAx, putting him among the worst-five NHL netminders in that stretch. But against Ottawa on Thursday night, backup goaltender Jack Campbell posted a .94 GSAx, which passes the smell test for acceptability.
Against Calgary last Saturday, Campbell submitted a 2.04 GSAx. Playing only two games this month is a small sample size, but the goaltending bar for Toronto has been lowered significantly.
Second, in those 10 games where the Maple Leafs have such an underwhelming record, their numbers suggest they are playing very good hockey. In expected goals percentage, only the Colorado Avalanche have been better. In high-danger chances, Toronto ranks fourth best. The Oilers rank in the top 10 in both metrics during that stretch, but it is alarming that the Oilers are only 14-13 against all North Division teams that are not the Ottawa Senators.
With the Maple Leafs at home, they will be able to choose their matchups. This is especially salient because the Illya Mikheyev-Pierre Engvall-Zach Hyman line has had tremendous success against both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. As Toronto’s 3-2 victory over Ottawa Thursday night illustrated, having the option of winning in overtime or the shootout can trump an unsavory cost. At -167 moneyline, the Maple Leafs are the better play here.