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NHL Thursday best bets: Rivalries renewed and a desert 'dog

Mike Carlson / National Hockey League / Getty

If we talk about NHL games as a series of coin-flips and then bet one lined like a 50-50 game, we probably shouldn't be surprised when it goes to overtime. The joy was palpable after the Hurricanes' overtime win against the Stars on Wednesday. But we're not geniuses for winning a bet after regulation, just as we aren't dummies for losing one. It's all in the name of making valuable bets and letting the chips fall where they may.

Bruins (-115) @ Lightning (-105)

We've alluded to this week as the moment our weekly betting guide comes alive. A Monday update would have shown our projected fair moneyline for this game at BOS +121/TBL -121. Since -105 is a better price than -121, the Lightning are worth a bet at an expected value of +3.4%.

We know why the market is high on the Bruins. They win. A lot. Boston's start to the calendar year is similar to its start to the season: 10 wins in 11 games. The Bruins are 38-9 on the moneyline, thanks in part to being third in the NHL in five-on-five expected goal share (xG%) at 54.7%. But their true dominance stems from their ability to turn even-strength high-danger chances into goals at a high rate while allowing opponents to convert their relatively few high-danger chances at just a 7.9% rate.

Who has the best chance of beating the Bruins? A team that creates a lot of high-danger chances and has the skill to convert them. The Lightning lead the league with 9.75 five-on-five high-danger chances per game, converting them at the same rate as the Bruins.

Since the Christmas break, Tampa Bay's even-strength metrics have been better than Boston's. The Lightning are top five in xG% and high-danger chance share, while Boston isn't. Once we break their moneyline records down by location, the Bruins' impressive 16-5 road record looks a lot like the Lightning's 18-5 home record. You can see why Tampa Bay is more likely to win this game than the moneyline suggests.

Pick: Lightning (-105)

Penguins (+100) @ Capitals (-120)

The formula we use to build our weekly guide suggests there's modest value on the Capitals, with a fair price just slightly higher at -123. But that's based on numbers accumulated throughout the entire season. Recently, there's been reason to expect more from Washington and less from the Penguins.

It's worth comparing expected goal share and the percentage of high-danger chances each team has generated at even strength, both before the holiday break and after:

Penguins 53.8 XG% 54.7 HDC% 50.06 XG% 49 HDC%
Capitals 51.5 XG% 51.7 HDC% 52.4 XG% 50.2 HDC%

The concern for Washington is that injuries are piling up again. The Capitals were without Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom for much of the season, and both are uncertain for Thursday night. T.J. Oshie and John Carlson are also out. Still, Washington has been the better team in expected goal share in five of its last six games, despite a 2-4-0 record in that time.

While the Capitals are banged up, the biggest injury is on the Penguins' side, with goaltender Tristan Jarry out until mid-February. That leaves Pittsburgh with Casey DeSmith back between the pipes after giving up six goals to the Panthers on Tuesday.

Pick: Capitals (-120)

Blues (-155) @ Coyotes (+135)

When the Blues were without Ryan O'Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Torey Krug, the market's rating of St. Louis went largely unchanged. When Tarasenko and Krug returned, the market didn't change drastically either. That inertia was rewarded Tuesday when St. Louis lost to the Sabres, mustering just five high-danger chances at even strength in the process.

Beyond a pair of modest winning spurts, the Blues haven't been good all season, healthy or not. The Coyotes aren't any good either, but the argument is the same as it was when we faded the Blues against the Blackhawks on Saturday: If both teams are bad, take the team priced at plus money. That's especially valid here, with the Coyotes hovering around .500 on home ice and likely to go back to Karel Vejmelka - their much better option in net.

Pick: Coyotes (+135)

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

NHL Thursday best bets: Rivalries renewed and a desert 'dog
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