So long, January.
Man, it was a tough opening month to the season as I have not only been so cold handicapping NHL games in my life, but it seemed every single night we found a way to lose on a one-goal result. I’d have to go back and check the numbers, I can’t remember more than a couple losses being by more than one goal.
That’s the NHL for you, where parity reigns supreme while the re-aligned divisions and strict intradivisional play have certainly given NHL bettors a new look.
That said, it’s a new month and a clean slate.
Let’s get February started on the right note with a Flames vs. Jets NHL pick from Winnipeg!
- Season Record: 8-15
- Units: -8.04
Flames vs. Jets Betting Odds
- Flames (-118)
- Jets (+107)
- Flames -1.5 (+205)
- Jets +1.5 (-245)
- Over 6 (+107)
- Under 6 (-118)
Flames vs. Jets NHL Pick Breakdown
The Flames are off a mediocre offensive start at 18th with 2.86 goals per game on the season, but much of that damage stems from a power play that’s started hot at 29.4% on the season, good for eighth in the league in the early going.
Their 5v5 work hasn’t been so productive, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see improved results there moving forward. After all, the Flames sit fifth in scoring chances for/60 at 5v5 this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, but also 12th in expected goals/60 at 5v5 as well. Their 1.53 goals/60 at 5v5 is well under their 2.25 expected mark, so some even-strength improvement from this Flames offense appears to be on the horizon.
It’s an offense that features a little bit of a new look this season with Elias Lindholm switching to center a line with Matthew Tkachuk while the Sean Monahan/Johnny Gaudreau duo remains together in the top six. Those four names are the team’s top four point-producers so far, a good sign, but Mikael Backlund and Milan Lucic are the only bottom-six forwards with goals this season and have combined for just three. That type of secondary scoring is not going to get you anywhere as it’s been the big boys doing the damage with help from defenseman Rasmus Andersson as well, otherwise known as their top power play unit.
It’s good that their top players have performed as such early on, but they’ll need more from the supporting cast moving forward.
On the surface, it’s been a fine defensive effort from the Flames so far this season as they rank seventh with just 2.43 goals against per game and their penalty kill as been solid enough at 80.8% on the season.
The advanced data isn’t so generous, however. At 5v5 this season, the Flames rank 24th in scoring chances against/60, 23rd in high-danger chances against/60 and 19th in expected goals against/60. Their 1.72 goals against/60 at 5v5 this season sits below their 2.19 mark in the early going.
It’s a blueline that saw significant turnover in the offseason. Right-side defenders T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic signed elsewhere in free agency while the club brought in top-four veteran Chris Tanev in free agency from the Vancouver Canucks.
The club also promoted 2016 first-round pick Juuso Valimaki after he missed all of last season with a knee injury. Valimaki appeared in 24 NHL games in the 2018-19 season before the injury while he enjoyed a fine 19-game tuneup in his native Finland, tallying 19 points in as many games before heading overseas to rejoin the Flames for the 2021 NHL season.
In Andersson, Tanev, Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin, the Flames have a fine top-four while Valimaki and NHL returnee Nikita Nesterov continue the maturation process on the bottom pair.
It’s a group that’s produced fine results so far, but one that might be fortunate to reside within the league’s top 10 at the moment.
Of course, one of the biggest headline-grabbing offseason moves came in Calgary where former Canuck Jacob Markstrom took his talents on the open market. Vancouver let Markstrom walk after a career-year a season ago, and so far it looks awfully regrettable on behalf of GM Jim Benning.
Markstrom has enjoyed life with the Flames so far, turning in a 2.18 GAA and .929 Sv% on the season to go along with two shutouts. He shut out his former team on January 16 and posted his second of the season Saturday in Montreal, a 37-save effort that helped hand the Habs their first regulation loss of the season.
— NHL (@NHL) January 31, 2021
David Rittich has seen just one game of action this season, but it will once again be Markstrom tonight in Winnipeg.
The big Swede hasn’t enjoyed much success against the Jets in his career, posting a 3.44 GAA and .891 Sv% in 13 career appearance, winning just two of those games, including a 4-3 OT loss in Winnipeg to open his season back on January 14.
Nonetheless, Markstrom is certainly coming into this one riding plenty of confidence following that perfect outing in Montreal two nights back.
The Jets traded Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to the Columbus Blue Jackets more than a week ago, and Pierre-Luc Dubois has been unable to join his new club yet as he goes through his quarantine period.
As a result, the Jets have largely been undermanned upfront without Laine, Roslovic or Dubois in their top-six yet, but the club hasn’t missed a beat on offense so far.
Not only do they rank fourth in averaging 3.68 goals per game so far, but they also sit seventh in scoring chances for/60, 12th in high-danger chances for/60 and ninth in expected goals for/60 at 5v5 this season. That said, their 2.92 goals/60 at 5v5 this season sits well above their 2.40 expected mark.
Still, the team has benefited from a meteoric rise from winger Andre Copp who has nine points in eight games while Nikolaj Ehlers is off to a fine start with a team-leading 11 points in eight games. Paul Stastny has six points in eight games in his return to Winnipeg, bottom-six center Adam Lowry has eight points in as many games and bottom-six winger Mason Appleton has chipped in four points in eight games.
In other words, it appears a major difference in these two offenses so far is the Jets’ ability to get scoring from their bottom-six while their big boys are also getting the job done in spades at the top of the lineup.
We knew this Jets defense was going to be a suspect group after they were brutalized last season, only to be held up by a Vezina-winning effort from netminder Connor Hellebuyck. It’s more of the same this season, only Hellebuyck hasn’t been as big of a savior to this point.
The Jets enter this one ranked 24th with 3.13 goals against per game on the season and their 72.7% penalty kill sits 25th. Things don’t get much better at 5v5 where they rank 23rd in scoring chances against/60, 26th in high-danger chances against/60 and 23rd in expected goals against/60. Their 2.43 goals against/60 isn’t much higher than their 2.27 mark, so it appears the Jets more or less deserve their defensive fate so far.
It’s just a real thin group in the bottom-four. Josh Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo and Neal Pionk are fine as the top three, but a bottom three featuring Derek Forbort, Nathan Beaulieu and Logan Stanley leaves plenty to be desired. Tucker Poolman hasn’t played since Opening Night due to NHL protocol.
We saw poor results last season with a similar group in terms of their top-heavy, bottom-light personnel group. Adding DeMelo at the deadline and re-signing him helps in a big way, but there isn’t enough underneath to warrant much consideration as a standout group, even with Hellebuyck’s services as the last line of defense.
It’s not as if Hellebuyck has struggled, but he hasn’t been as brilliant as he was last year. And, to be honest, it was always going to be difficult to repeat such a herculean effort behind this defense.
On the heels of his 2.57 GAA and .922 Sv% from last season, Hellebuyck has put together a 2.67 GAA and .910 Sv% in six starts this season. He’s allowed at least three goals in each of his last three starts and has posted an .882 Sv% in that time.
If we’re going to use some advanced stats for goaltenders as well, we’ll look to Hellebuyck sitting 26th with 0.86 goals saved above average this season (GSAA) while Markstrom sits fifth with a 4.44 mark. That’s out of 64 goaltenders that have made at least one start this season.
So, he hasn’t been as sensational so far as he was in carrying his team last season, but he’s put in solid work nonetheless in a small six-outing sample.
Flames vs. Jets NHL Pick
After the Flames dropped two in a row at home against the Maple Leafs and saw that losing stretch move to three games in losing the first of two at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Calgary played a more complete hockey game in a 2-0 shutout of the Habs in the rematch on Saturday.
They surrendered 37 shots, but also put 32 shots on goal themselves in what had to be a confidence-boosting win for a group that didn’t start well and one that was expected to be a major competitor in this North Division.
Based off my personal expectations and what I’ve seen from each group so far, I believe the Flames largely haven’t played nearly as well as they can — at least not consistently — and the Jets have played a little over their heads.
I like the Flames here. I like their offense up against these defense and Markstrom has been the better of the two netminders this season. The Jets haven’t played a defense better than 26th over their last six games, and scored just five goals in their first two games of the season against the Leafs and these Flames.
I’ll test that Jets offense in this one, but more so look for this Flames offense to take advantage of a weak Jets blueline while Markstrom enters this one coming off the best start of his 2021 season so far.