Andrew Berkshire's picks for Thursday's action include wins for the Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs and Canadiens.
After a couple of odd days in the NHL’s regular scheduling due to Halloween, we’re back to what we expect with a packed Thursday evening full of 12 NHL games on the schedule. We’re not quite a month into the 2023-24 NHL season, but already teams are telling us who they are. Some are on hot or cold streaks, but the underlying play is close to being a large enough sample size that we can separate the contenders from pretenders. Let’s take a look at the best bets for Thursday.
Columbus Blue Jackets to beat Tampa Bay Lightning 2.30
I don’t think anyone believes the Columbus Blue Jackets are currently a better team than the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, considering the Blue Jackets are at home and still not the favourites, this needs more investigation. Historically and roster-wise, Tampa is clearly superior, but based on play this season? Not right now.
The Blue Jackets and Lightning are both in the bottom of the league in expected goal differential at even strength and in all situations, with the Lightning ranked 29th and 23rd respectively, and Columbus ranked 25th and 26th. The gap between the two teams so far is simply not large at all. Tampa’s offence has clicked better, but in a single game with Columbus at home, this is worth a shot.
T.J. Oshie to score anytime vs New York Islanders 3.00
It’s been a tough start to the season for Oshie, who has been a very consistent 20+ goal scorer for over a decade, averaging just under 25 goals per 82 games in his career. Oshie ranks 40th in the NHL in individual expected goals with 3.82 so far this season, but has yet to light the lamp through 23 shots on goal.
To make matters worse, he’s only managed a single assist so far, as the Capitals have been one of the biggest disappointments to start the year. With Nicklas Backstrom announcing he’s stepping away from the team due to ongoing health issues, more pressure is on all the top players remaining, and Oshie is overdue to contribute offensively.
Toronto Maple Leafs to beat Boston Bruins 1.90
I’m not buying what the Bruins are selling. Overall they’re still a good team, but just like last year, too much is going too well for them above and beyond the play they’re showing on the ice. Sitting outside the top-10 in expected goals for percentage in all situations, no team has a higher share of actual goals than Boston does at over 67 per cent, and even that doesn’t justify winning eight of nine games.
The Maple Leafs aren’t any better than the Bruins are, but their record makes much more sense for the play they’re showing on the ice, so while they’re not overdue for anything, the Bruins are a decent team who are winning like a dynasty, and that’s simply not going to last.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the early season outside of the Edmonton Oilers’ poor start; the Arizona Coyotes might be good? Signing a bunch of middle of the roster players while graduating some legit prospects like Logan Cooley has allowed the Coyotes to surprise early this season, as they’re a top-10 team in expected goals share at 5-vs-5 and in all situations. Can they keep that up? Highly questionable, but it’s very cool.
The Canadiens as vastly improved over last season as well, even without Kirby Dach available, but they’re riding more vibes than the Coyotes are with some excellent goaltending. With that said, the Coyotes may be the home team, but they played just last night, which should give the rested Canadiens a serious advantage, and with the Coyotes the favourites anyway, there’s great odds on this bet.