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@FastMoneyLabs’ Best Bet for NHL Friday - 3/11

Vegas Golden Knights @ Pittsburgh Penguins (7PM ET)

It's time for another $FML preview, this time his focus is firmly on Friday's clash between the Knights and Penguins in Las Vegas.

What’s the deal with Vegas?

Last night, I backed VGK offense to erupt with confidence in a plus matchup. My reward? A lousy, 1 goal effort, though they did tally 3 expected goals —a participation trophy of sorts.

Underperforming expected goals has been a consistent trend for VGK of late. That’s the main reason I backed them last night. The data tags them as a strong candidate for positive scoring regression, and I viewed Buffalo as the perfect opponent to get right against. 

I liked the matchup vs. Buffalo, because the source of VGK’s issue (besides injuries) is easy to pinpoint. It’s their Power Play. And Buffalo is a soft penalty kill team (76.3%, 22nd). Had I known Vegas would get 4 Power Play Opportunities (PPOs) — I would’ve rejoiced and perhaps laid an even heavier bet. Good thing I didn’t, because they went on to spoil all 4 PPOs and have now failed to convert 25 of their last 28 (89.3%).

If the Golden Knights couldn’t get their Power Play right vs. Buffalo, I don’t see how they’ll get it tonight on short rest vs. Pittsburgh (PIT), a team that has the 4th best Penalty Kill Percentage (85.0%) and held 16 of its last 20 opponents to 2 PPOs or less.

VGK’s projected goaltender at time of writing is Logan Thompson. If true, it would be just his 3rd career start. There’s also a chance Reilly Smith will miss his 2nd straight game, which would be devastating for VGK offense. They looked lost without his playmaking last night. If he can’t go, Vegas won’t have much time to flip the script as tonight marks their 2nd night of a B2B and 3rd road game in 4 nights. Even if Smith does play, it would serve as a boost for the Knights’ offense, but not a game changer.

Are the Penguins due for a spark at the Igloo tonight?

Pittsburgh’s normally one of the strongest, most consistent teams in the league. However, right now, they’re not in their best form. They’re coming off back-to-back losses to tough opponents (CAR and FLA) and have now lost 7 of their last 9 home games. I find that crazy considering the Penguins were one of the most dominant home teams last year (22-4-2 home record). This year, they started 8-5 at the Igloo. 

So should we buy the dip? The answer —like always for me— lies in the data. I lifted up the hood to see what’s going on with a focus on their last 3 home games, which were especially bad. What I found is that in their last 3 home, they tallied 2.58 expected goals per game but only scored 1.67. Ideally the expected goals would be higher, but I’m more focused on the gap between actual and expected. When expected goals exceed actual by almost an entire goal, it usually indicates the team is due for positive scoring regression, or better “puck luck” as they call it in hockey.

The same concept applies for Pittsburgh goaltending. In their last 3 home, they’ve allowed 3.33 per game vs. just 2.5 expected. Tonight, Pittsburgh’s starting goalie, Tristan Jarry, gets the nod, which increases their chances at getting the positive goaltending regression the data expects tonight.

$FML Verdict & Best Bet

It would be ironic if Vegas erupts tonight, wouldn’t it? That’s a risk I’m willing to take. I’m backing the favorite to win in regulation at the best available price at time of writing.

The market is starting to drift towards Pittsburgh (-140 ML last night to -165 ML now), so I suggest locking this line in early while it’s still bettable. I personally played it for 1 unit and will circle back with my Player Prop leans later today on Twitter.

Best Bet

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PIT to win in regulation @ -115
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