The NHL is rolling ahead, with teams approaching the halfway point in their schedules. With the Red Wings falling out of the playoff picture, the Eastern Conference playoff race is shaping up to be among the most boring ones in recent memory. The top eight teams seem clearly defined; they could very well have nothing but seeding to play for down the stretch. The Western Conference, however, is a different story, with five teams within three points of the final wildcard spot.
Saturday was a massive day for NHL action, with 13 games taking place. There will be just one game occurring on Sunday, but luckily it does have a betting angle on which we can capitalize. Let’s dive into it.
Matchup: Vancouver Canucks (+165) @ Washington Capitals (-185)
After winning seven straight games to kick off the Bruce Boudreau era in Vancouver, the Canucks (16-18-3) have proceeded to lose four of their last five. The last three losses have come at the hands of Eastern Conference playoff teams, and they will face another on Sunday as they travel to Washington DC for a battle with the Capitals (puck drop 2 p.m. ET). The three losses were by a combined goals differential of -8; Vancouver scored just five goals over the stretch. They are six points out of the second wildcard spot in the West.
Washington has also seen their fair share of struggles over the past couple of weeks. Their 2-0 victory on Saturday over the Islanders, who sit in last place in the Metropolitan division, snapped a four game losing streak. The Capitals (21-8-9) now sit in third place, trailing the division-leading Rangers by three points (albeit with a game in hand). With five of their next six games occurring at home, Washington will look to regain momentum and take the lead in the division.
Vancouver will have a slight edge in goal, regardless of whether or not they turn to Thatcher Demko for the second time in less than 24 hours. Demko and Jaroslav Halak have both been solid for the Canucks this season—they have saved 5.0 and 3.7 goals above expected, respectively. By contrast, the Capitals’ goaltending has been questionable this season. Ilya Samsonov, who has allowed 4.4 goals above expected, will likely start on Sunday.
That, however, is where the list of advantages held by the Canucks ends. For starters, the Capitals have been a much better team at even strength. Their 5v5 expected goals share of 53.17%, which ranks 9th in the NHL, is significantly higher than the Canucks’ share of 48.99% (19th). To be fair to Vancouver, their mark is largely dragged down by a horrendous start to the season—it isn’t wholly indicative of their recent play, where they have been more successful at generating offense. Still, the edge in results at even strength goes to Washington.
This matchup could serve as a get-right game for the Capitals’ power play. Despite having arguably the greatest shooter of all time on their squad, Washington has converted just 14.3% of their power plays this season, a rate that ranks 30th in the NHL. It does rank 25th in terms of xGF/60 (chance generation), so perhaps the unit isn’t quite as bad as their raw success rate might imply. Far more encouraging, however, is the unit that they’ll be facing. Vancouver’s penalty kill is, to put it mildly, abysmal—it ranks dead last in the NHL with a kill rate of just 68.8%, and has also surrendered the third most xGA/60. If there is a spot for the Capitals’ PP to start clicking, this is it.
The Capitals are deservingly favorites, but -185 just isn’t a price I’m willing to pay. The puckline also gives me pause—this team has lost a lot of games recently, and I don’t trust them to get this done by two or more goals. The play I really like here is the over. Both teams played road games on Saturday, and will be playing on extremely short rest with the 2 p.m. puck drop. Tired legs usually result in sloppy play, and both of these teams have recently played pretty sloppily to begin with. I expect the Capitals to put up three or four goals at minimum—they rank 9th in the NHL with 3.29 goals per game, even with their power play struggles—and the Canucks should be able to chip in a few of their own. I’m more confident in this play if Halak starts for the Canucks, but I think that there’s value even with Demko in goal.
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Jason Yamaguchi is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive.