NHL Betting Guide: Saturday 8/1/20

At long last, meaningful NHL hockey is upon us!

The NHL Play-In Round gets underway Saturday with a five-game slate to get excited about. With that comes the chance to lay down some bets. Let's look at a few of Saturday's best bets based on our algorithm.

Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets

Jets moneyline (+105): 1-Star Rating Out of 5

Not to oversimplify, but the Winnipeg Jets' playoff success likely hinges on Connor Hellebuyck's ability to stop pucks. Hellebuyck has some pretty pronounced splits this season. He's posted a 1.55 goals against average and 95.4 save percentage in wins, while struggling to a 4.18 goals against average and paltry 86.7 save percentage in defeats. This suggests that the Jets need him to be sharp to get in the win column. It looks like Hellebuyck picked up where he left off in his last exhibition game, stopping 37 of 38 shots faced versus the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night.

Winnipeg also looked sharp from an offensive perspective in their lone tune-up match. Seven Jets players collected at least a point en route to 4-1 victory. Scoring depth is crucial come playoff time, and Winnipeg looks to hold an advantage in that regard.

The Calgary Flames' offensive woes continued in their exhibition game against the Edmonton Oilers. Calgary was able to capitalize on only one of 37 shots on Tuesday night, losing 4-1 to their intra-provincial rivals -- and the Flames' goal came with the man-advantage, no less. Offensive struggles have been a season-long trend for the Flames. They sit in the middle of the pack in chances and shots created, but they rank 20th in goals thanks to their 9.2% shooting percentage.

Our algorithm has this game as a near coin-flip, giving Calgary a 50.3% chance of winning. As mentioned earlier in the week, the Flames don't appear to have the tools to exploit the Jets' weaknesses, and that might become more obvious after tomorrow night's contest. FanDuel Sportsbook currently has the Jets listed as +105 underdogs, which makes the Jets moneyline a 1-star play.

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers

Islanders moneyline (-110): 2-Star Rating Out of 5

I think it's safe to say that the Florida Panthers thought they'd be getting a lot more out of Sergei Bobrovsky when they signed him to a $70 million deal. Early returns are not good. The two-time Vezina winner has been wildly inconsistent and struggled to his worst statistical year in the NHL. His post-pause return isn't off to a good start, either, as he stopped only 85.3% of the shots he faced in the Panthers' exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Making matters worse is the Panthers offensive metrics. Florida ranks 22nd in expected goals for thanks to creating just the 25th-most scoring chances and 26th-most high-danger chances.

Surely, the New York Islanders benefited from the mid-season pause. New York's playoff chances were starting to flicker prior to the break, as they were sitting on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. They had dropped seven straight games and 11 of 13. Their PDO during the seven-game losing streak was 0.937 -- which implies that they were in a correction phase after overachieving for a period of time. Islanders fans will hope that the Dixie Chicks were right when they said that time heals everything.

There is reason for optimism. The Islanders are back to neutral, which is reflected in their 1.004 PDO, and showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season. They had a 10-game winning streak early in the campaign, and when that run ended, they followed it up with a five-game streak. They have a plethora of scoring options with nine players totaling at least 30 points, and they own league's eighth-ranked save percentage. Moreover, Barry Trotz's coaching pedigree is second to none, and he'll likely look to exploit matchups with home ice advantage.

Based on our algorithm, the Islanders have the best chance of winning this one on Saturday. That advantage isn't reflected in the betting market, which currently has New York installed at a pick'em price. That advantage is likely to diminish as we approach puck drop, so you should act soon. Islanders moneyline is a 2-star play.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens

Canadiens +1.5 (-175): 3-Star Rating Out of 5

Most people agree that for the Montreal Canadiens to have any chance in this series, Carey Price will have to regain his Hart Trophy form of past years.

Consistency is the main culprit. Price has had impressive stretches in which his save percentage increases and Montreal enjoys more success. But he has followed that up with stretches of subpar performances, which result in the Canadiens struggling to win games. Overall Price sports a season-long 90.9% save percentage, which ranks 40th among all NHL goaltenders.

Montreal's PDO implies that there is room for growth. Whether that comes from an increased shooting percentage or increased save percentage remains to be seen. But there's no reason to believe that Price can't come out hot and steal a game or two for the Habs.

Inconsistency is something that the Pittsburgh Penguins can relate to, as well. Pittsburgh has had a mixed bag of results this year. Leading up to the break, Sidney Crosby and company had dropped 8 of 11, which ultimately cost them a spot in the top four of the NHL's Play-In Round. Things didn't look much better in their lone warm-up game, as they came out on the wrong end of a 3-2 decision in overtime to the rival Philadelphia Flyers.

There also appears to be some intrigue surrounding the starting goaltender. It wasn't so long ago that Matt Murray helped the Pens hoist the Cup, but his 89.9% save percentage this season is easily the worst of his young career. Tristan Jarry has been a breath of fresh air, but there's no telling how a young goaltender might respond to his first playoff game if called upon.

Playoff games have a tendency to be tighter-checking affairs, and for the Canadiens to have any chance, they're going to have to hope that trend holds true. Our algorithm projects a closer game than the betting market does. It's on that basis that the Habs +1.5 is a 3-star play.