Andrew Berkshire's picks for Thursday's action include wins for Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
The NHL schedule has kicked back in after a brief respite for the holidays, and it’s back to business for teams trying to claw their way up the standings, either into the playoffs or a better playoff position. Which teams got what they wanted for Christmas, and who was stuck on the naughty list and ended up with a lump of coal? We’ll soon find out.
Cole Caufield to score anytime vs Carolina Hurricanes 2.62
If there was any team in the NHL hoping for a lump of Cole, it’s the Montreal Canadiens. Cole Caufield has had a revelatory season in terms of his overall play. His defensive play is wildly improved over last season, his transition play has improved, his playmaking has improved, he’s producing better quality scoring chances and more of them to boot, but the goals haven’t been there.
Before this season, under Martin St. Louis, Caufield had converted 17.6 per cent of his shots into goals. This season, that number is at a lowly 6.6 per cent, far below the NHL average of 9.7 per cent. We know Caufield is far from an average shooter, so this kind of finishing shouldn’t continue. After a quick holiday break, expect Caufield to reset and get back to his usual. By the way, if he had converted at that rate this season, he’d be tied for fourth in the NHL with 21 goals, and tied for 21st in the NHL in points at 37.
Philadelphia Flyers to beat Vancouver Canucks 3.10
Two teams who are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games meet in a clash that should produce some wildly entertaining hockey. What’s even more fun is that these teams are barely separated by anything in their overall performance the last 10 games, both teams rocking an expected goal differential just a bit under 50 per cent, but how they get there is so different.
Vancouver are special teams experts, tearing teams to shreds with a killer powerplay, whereas the Flyers have the worst powerplay in the league, but an exceptional penalty kill, and outplay teams at even strength. The Canucks get massacred at even strength by shots and scoring chances, but have a ridiculous 16.58 per cent shooting percentage at even strength, higher than any other team by five percentage points. These are two relatively equal teams, but the Flyers play in a tougher conference, and I like their underlying numbers a bit better.
Los Angeles Kings to beat Vegas Golden Knights 2.45
With Adin Hill on the injured reserve, the goaltending has fallen out from under the Vegas Golden Knights of late. Logan Thompson’s solid start to the year has been erased by a five game run of .843 save percentage, making it nearly impossible for the Golden Knights to win games, despite generally outplaying opponents.
Both teams played last night, but while the Kings ran the score up a little in a 5-1 victory over the Sharks, the Golden Knights lost to the lowly Ducks and were really never in the game. On top of that, the Kings wisely started David Rittich, saving Cam Talbot for the Golden Knights. They seem to have all the advantages heading into this one, on top of being one of the league’s best teams.
There’s no way the Oilers mess this one up, right? The Sharks played last night and got rocked by the LA Kings, the Oilers have had plenty of rest, and by the underlying numbers, are one of the top teams in the NHL, even if the results aren’t there.
All the Oilers need is a goaltender who will stop and average number of shots. That’s literally all they need to win this one. If McDavid and Draisaitl work their magic, they may not even need that.