NHL picks: 4 best bets for Thursday
Chris Peters makes four money line picks for Thursday night's NHL action.
Lightning to beat Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have multiple injuries to deal with and Jason Spezza has been suspended for six games. With Mitch Marner and Rasmus Sandin also sidelined, it’s not the best situation for Toronto to head into a game against a team with the firepower of the Lightning. That’s especially true when the Leafs haven’t prevented goals as effectively in the last week – allowing three or more in each of their last four games.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is surging with four straight wins including each of the first three games on their current road trip which wraps later this week in Ottawa. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions have been scoring with regularity, but have been particularly stingy in goals allowed. Andrei Vasilevskiy’s save percentage is up to .927 as he continues to play at a Vezina level.
Despite missing Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, the Lightning remain a dangerous group with Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman producing at especially high rates – leading the team with 28 and 27 points, respectively. Alex Killorn has also stepped up in a major way, producing 21 points in 25 games so far.
With Toronto missing a few more bodies, I definitely prefer the surging Lightning in this one.
Blackhawks to beat Canadiens
The Habs have gone through a major front office shakeup and it hasn’t done much to change the results on the ice. Montreal is winless in four straight, but have played consecutive competitive games – losing by just a goal to Nashville on the road and the Lightning at home. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of relief in sight for them in the short-term.
The Chicago Blackhawks, which have also gone through a massive team overhaul in the front office and with the coaching staff, have settled back into inconsistent or uneven performances that have seen them alternating wins and losses the last few weeks. Most recently, Chicago dropped a 6-2 decision to the New York Rangers. If they stay on the current pattern they’re on for the last 10 games, this one should be a win. It rarely works out that way, though.
That said, the Blackhawks have gotten some really strong performances out of Seth Jones, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Marc-Andre Fleury that have allowed them to play with a little more confidence than Montreal has shown of late. As I’ve been saying for a while, until Montreal more consistently shows signs of life and competitiveness, I’m probably picking against them.
Flames to beat Hurricanes
This should be a phenomenal hockey game. You’ve got two teams near the top of the league standings that are well-coached. Carolina is the league’s best road team with 10 wins in 14 games away from Raleigh. Meanwhile, Calgary has only been OK on home ice with just four wins in nine contests at the Saddledome.
One reason to lean against Carolina is that they’ve had some COVID issues that have negatively impacted their blue line, forcing Tony DeAngelo and Brett Pesce to miss the Canadian road trip. The Hurricanes have been able to survive without them, but Calgary poses a pretty significant threat with their scoring depth. There’s not a ton of great matchups out there when you’re missing one of your best defensive defensemen with Pesce out.
On top of that, Calgary has been so difficult to score against this season. Jacob Markstrom continues to impress with a sparkling .937 save percentage and Calgary makes it tough to get to their goaltender. I think the Flames might be catching the Hurricanes at just the right time here to squeak out a win against a quality opponent.
Oilers to beat Bruins
Things haven’t been as rosy for the Oilers the last week as they’ve hit a bit of a rough patch, losing three straight games including two on home ice. This is actually the first time Edmonton has lost consecutive games this season, so it’s uncharted territory for a team that’s been solid otherwise. They’ll have the benefit of Boston coming in on the second half of back-to-back from Vancouver. So the schedule aids the Oilers a little bit.
Held to just one goal in each of their last two games, it’s really hard to anticipate the Oilers are just going to stay offensively quiet when they have the two most dynamic scorers in the league today in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. What is a little more concerning, however, is the quality of goaltending they’ve been getting in the absence of Mike Smith.
Mikko Koskinen has a pedestrian .907 save percentage and was leaky in his last two starts – though Edmonton’s defense was not giving him a ton of help. Stuart Skinner has been serviceable in limited action, but has allowed four goals in each of his last two starts, both losses.
The Bruins, meanwhile, have Brad Marchand back from his suspension. He’s leading the team with 24 points. Despite the boost he’ll provide over this road trip, having to go into Edmonton on the second half of a road back-to-back is not the most ideal of circumstances, which is why I have to lean Oilers in what should be a very good matchup.