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@FastMoneyLabs’ Best Bets for NHL Tuesday - 2/22
7PM (ET): Toronto Maple Leafs @ Columbus Blue Jackets
Last night, Sportsbooks hung a -105 price on the Toronto 1st period puck line vs. Montreal. They set a trap in plain sight, I ultimately fell for it, and now I’m out for blood.
The NHL schedule isn’t giving Toronto (or their bettors) much time to grieve, as the team is back in action for the 3rd time in 4 nights. After opening as -200 favorites, the moneyline steamed down to -240 overnight, indicating sharp action is hitting Toronto. I found that interesting considering tonight’s opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, won 7 of their last 9 games.
Should we side with the market? Or back the hotter team?
Why did the market move towards Toronto?
The answer, in my opinion, is a simple one: If not for an elementary performance from Toronto’s backup goalie Petr Mrázek last night, the Leafs probably should have won. Or at least came close.
The final box score was ugly. However, if we examine what really happened, we see Toronto outshot Montreal 37-24. In the end, they were outscored 5-2, but on an expected goals basis, which considers quality of scoring chances, Toronto should’ve won 3-2 if not for poor goaltending on their part and stellar goaltending from Montreal.
Will the goaltending issue persist? Probably not, as Toronto’s starting goaltender, All-Star Jack Campbell, is back in net tonight. Hence, the likely driver of line movement.
Is the line movement justified?
Looking at the numbers, I’m not entirely convinced based on Campbell’s home/road splits:
- Home: 2.07 Goals Against Average (20 games played)
- Road: 2.84 Goals Against Average (16 games played)
If we extend the sample size to his full career, the difference is more muted but still present (2.35 GAA/home vs. 2.52 GAA/road).
I am also intrigued by Campbell’s performance splits by division. Against opponents in Atlantic, Pacific and Central Divisions, Campbell is a dominant 18-4-2. However, against opponents in the Metropolitan Division (which includes Columbus), Campbell is a mediocre 5-4-1.
In an earlier season matchup vs. Columbus, Campbell allowed 4 goals on 32 shots. They ultimately won the game 5-4, but on an expected goals basis, the Blue Jackets held a slight edge with 3.33 expected goals vs. 3.08 for Toronto. That matchup was a Toronto home game whereas tonight is a road game where Campbell has been less crisp.
Can we trust Columbus?
As mentioned in the introduction, the home underdogs are quietly one of the hotter teams in NHL.
They’ve won 7 of their last 9 games thanks to stellar offense. Entering tonight, the Blue Jackets have scored 7 goals in back-to-back games (though 2 of which were of the empty-net variety). They’ve now scored 4+ goals in 7 of their last 9 games.
On a full-season basis, Columbus ranks well in terms of scoring at home. They average 3.34 goals per 60 minutes at home (9th most). Since Christmas, it drops to 3.07 goals per 60 minutes (16th most). Not great but not too bad, either, considering their team total for tonight is o/u 2.5 goals.
Recent history supports the idea that Columbus can hang with Toronto. In 8 meetings since the 2019/20 season (including playoffs), each team is 4-4. The aggregate score across the 8 matchups was Toronto 22, Columbus 21. Overtime was needed to settle 2 of the 3 games played in Columbus.
Columbus also holds a rest advantage as they were off last night, whereas Toronto is playing their 2nd game of a back-to-back and 3rd game in 4 nights.I see 2 potential risks to backing Columbus:
- Goaltending: Tonight, the Blue Jackets are using their backup goaltender (Jean-Francois Berube) for the 2nd straight game. The 30-year-old played his first NHL game since 2018 on Sunday, and it went surprisingly well. He stopped 33 of 36 shots faced. The problem for Berube is tonight’s opponent, Toronto, packs a much more potent offense than Sunday’s opponent (Buffalo).
- Poor Track Record vs. Good Teams: According to SportsLine, Columbus is an impressive 20-12 vs. teams that win less than 54% of their games. However, against teams that win 55%+ of their games, Columbus is a lousy 5-12. Toronto falls in the 55%+ bucket.
Final Verdict & Best Bets
After 4+ years of serious sports gambling, I’ve learned to trust line movement. I don’t fully agree with this specific movement, but I understand why the market drifted towards Toronto based on their goaltending advantage tonight.
That said, I feel confident Columbus can skate with Toronto based on their recent track record in the matchup. The Maple Leafs’ goalie, Jack Campbell, also fares worse on the road, and Columbus tends to score more at home.
The issue for the Blue Jackets will be their own goaltending (or lack thereof). Since Christmas, they’re allowing 4.6 goals per game at home (most in NHL). I don’t see how calling up Jean-Francois Berube solves the problem. If any team will capitalize: it’s Toronto.
Taken together, all of these points suggest to expect a high scoring game. Unfortunately, the market already accounts for that with the Game Total currently sitting as high as o/u 7.0 at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Rather than back the Game Total, I see better value in the Team Total market. At o/u 2.5, I feel Columbus’ team total is disrespectfully low. They’ve covered this number in 16 of 24 (66.7%) home games. Toronto has also allowed 3+ goals in 7 of their last 10 games and 12 of their last 20 (60.0%), as shown below:
I know Jack Campbell is starting for Toronto, but he’s coming off a game where he allowed 5 goals.
While the +1.5 puck line (i.e., spread) is tempting, I prefer to back Columbus’ Team Total Over 2.5 (excluding OT) (-120 via DraftKings at time of writing).
Player Prop Angle
For my player prop angle, the high game total makes me want to back one player on each side to record 2 or more points (which include goals + assists). The two players I chose are:
- Patrik Laine (CBJ) 2+ Points (+265 via Barstool SportsBook, Bet Rivers or Sugar House)
- Laine is the most likely contributor to Columbus’ scoring.
- He’s currently on a tear, averaging 1.8 points per game in his last 10.
- He covered this 2+ points prop in 7 of his last 9 games.
- Auston Matthews (TOR) 2+ Points (+136 via FanDuel SportsBook)
- He let us down last night, but I believe successful gambling requires short-term memory.
- Before last night, he hit this prop in 7 of his last 10 games.
- In the December matchup vs. Columbus, Matthews scored twice and added an assist to finish with 3 points.
Summary of Best Bets:
I placed wagers to win 1 unit/each (i.e., normal bet size) on the following lines available at time of writing:
- CBJ Team Total Over 2.5 (excluding OT) (-120 via DraftKings)
- Patrik Laine (CBJ) Over 1.5 Points (+265 via Barstool SportsBook, Bet Rivers or Sugar House)
- Auston Matthews (TOR) Over 1.5 Points (+136 via FanDuel SportsBook)
Thanks for following along my journey to beat the books and best of luck tonight!
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