Who's hot or not? NHL teams to watch

No NHL team is blind fade, or tail, but there are several teams bettors should be keeping an eye on for one reason or another as we enter the second month of the season. All statistics referenced here come courtesy of Evolving Hockey.

Philadelphia Flyers

Approximately 13.5% of the Flyers’ five-on-five shots are finding the back of the net and, according to Evolving Hockey’s expected goals model, they’re scoring a full goal more than they should be given the quality of their shots. In other words, the Flyers can score, but it doesn’t seem sustainable. A season ago, the Flyers converted on roughly 9% of their five-on-five shots. This is a team that we should expect to outperform their expected goals because they have proved in the past that they are capable of doing so. Still, they are very fortunate to be where they are in the standings given that their best player, Sean Couturier, just missed a couple of weeks. Couturier is back in the lineup, now though, which means the Flyers’ play should improve. However, I’m more confident than ever that this team isn’t among the league’s elite. The Flyers’ prices are going to climb, assuming the goals continue to pour in the way they have. If the team continues to grade out poorly through the lens of expected goals and puck possession, though, bettors should be wary of laying inflated prices.

Boston Bruins

Two weeks ago, I recommended that bettors back the Bruins at + 275 to win the East Division. Now, the Bruins are exactly where they should be, leading the group. It’s not a comfortable lead, but sniper David Pastrnak is back in the lineup and looks better than ever. Forward Jake DeBrusk and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk are also making their way back into the lineup. While the time to grab a great futures price has come and gone, this team is about to hit its stride. The Bruins rank third in expected goals and Corsi, however, the team isn’t getting a whole lot of bounces. A lot of the damage the Bruins are doing has come on the power play, where their top-end talent really shines. The Bruins do not play with pace, as far as the combined number of shots and chances they and their opponents generate. Bettors will be drawn to the Under because of this, however, the aforementioned dominance on the power play, and the fact that their games feature a lot of special teams play, should always loom large for hockey bettors.

St. Louis Blues

Outside of the back-to-back games they played versus the Avalanche to open the season and their lone matchup against the Golden Knights, the Blues have faced teams projected to finish much lower than them in the standings. Despite this, they have been average by expected goals and haven’t really held any sort of territorial edge. Much like the Flyers, the Blues are expected to outperform expected goals because they have in the past. There are a lot of talented offensive players on this team. However, if the Blues’ recent four-game homestand against the Coyotes is any indication, they’re in trouble. Before the season, the Golden Knights and Avalanche were thought to be in a tier above the Blues, and that looks to be the case. As Vegas and Colorado sit idle and await further instruction from the league, the Blues are squandering their opportunity to create space in the standings between them and their division rivals. They will get forward Vladimir Tarasenko back soon, but it might not be enough unless coach Craig Berube restructures the Blues’ attack. Losing forward Robert Thomas to an injury hurts, and goaltender Ville Husso is a weak backup for starter Jordan Binnington.

Arizona Coyotes

A young team with a good coach in Rick Tocchet and very strong goaltending, the Coyotes are going to be live dogs in the desert and on the road all season. They are holding their own to the tune of 53% expected goal share at five-on-five. Getting captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson back from injury won’t hurt, but there will be growing pains for this team. Some will be costly. The Coyotes are an aggressive team on the forecheck, and in the neutral zone, which has led them to take a lot of penalties. Some of that can be cleaned up. They are capable of drawing just about as many penalties as they take, but unfortunately NHL officials don’t usually give younger players the benefit of the doubt, and thus, they might not get the calls of a veteran team. It should also be noted that the Coyotes are playing with a lot of pace. Despite their reputation as a defensive team with very good goaltending, their games are going over the total more often than not. If Tocchet can keep his young team focused on generating offense, goaltender Darcy Kuemper can clean up a lot of their mistakes. He’s that good.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Grading out as the second-worst team by expected goals and the fifth-worst team in puck possession, the Blue Jackets have been atrocious five-on-five. Predictably, things have gotten worse since the team traded forward Pierre Luc-Dubois. Patrik Laine’s rocket of a shot is a welcome addition to the Blue Jackets’ power play, and Jack Roslovic has chipped in, but at five-on-five they have been getting their doors blown off all season, and Laine was never going to change that. At five-on-five, the Blue Jackets are generating the fewest expected goals per 60 minutes in the league. However, they are scoring goals at a rate that puts them among the top 10 teams in terms of offensive efficiency. There are a lot of ways this could play out. We could be looking at a team that’s going to ride a wave of puck luck into the playoffs, or maybe it’s a team that’s about to tumble down the standings. Luck is a big factor. In 2019-20, the Blue Jackets generated approximately 2.2 expected goals and scored roughly 2.1 goals per 60 minutes. This season, the team has generated 1.74 expected goals and 2.5 goals on a per-60-minutes basis. Defenseman Zach Werenski is dealing with an injury, and Seth Jones is having an awful season. With goaltender Elvis Merzlikins also on the shelf, Joonas Korpisalo could be ridden fairly hard over the next couple of weeks.

Chicago Blackhawks

Kevin Lankinen has played approximately 500 minutes in a Blackhawks uniform and has saved the team almost four goals more than an average goaltender would have. The Blackhawks have an expected goals against in this time of 23 in this time, but Lankinen has allowed only 19. He has been the story thus far for the Blackhawks. Admittedly, Lankinen wasn’t on my radar before the season, but I also don’t know anyone who had him factored into their forecast as a potential starter. However, I don’t believe I have underestimated just how hard it is to generate five-on-five offense without Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach. On a per-60-minute basis, the Blackhawks scored 2.6 goals while generating 2.5 expected goals during five-on-five play last season. This season, the team is generating fewer expected goals (2.3) and scoring only 1.7 goals, most of them on the power play. The Blackhawks have been one of the best while up a man. The team is scoring goals on the power play at a rate of 12.6 per 60 minutes. That’s about five more than expected, according to Evolving Hockey. This is a competitive hockey team, much more so than I predicted, and there are definitely going to be instances where backing them at a big price will make a lot of sense but that will depend on who is in goal.

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