Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 3:00 PM EST.
Game 1 - Montreal +129 over WINNIPEG
7:38 PM EST. What a difference a sweep makes, eh? The Jets were an afterthought before their first round series with the Oilers, but now they are the Kings of the North, apparently. Jets’ backers had a field day in Round One and it would be easy to understand why they or those who are suffering from FOMO to get behind them here, especially after getting a "break" with the Canadiens upsetting the Maple Leafs. We're not going to lie, we were hoping the Leafs took that series, not because we’re part of Leaf Nation, it was because we were looking very forward to taking back inflated prices on the Jets every night but that is not how that cookie crumbled. However, we do not play favorites and when the market takes a stand on a team, as they have with Winnipeg, we take notice.
A deeper dive into this matchup shows that recency bias is as real as the ground you are stepping on. During the regular season there was little doubt about which of these two teams were much the better side. Believe it or not, the final standings are not the be all and end all and luck plays a big part in how the NHL season shakes out. Surface stats can be misleading and we'll highlight a bit of that now. Overall during the regular season, the Jets topped the Canadiens in goals, power play %, shooting % and faceoff %. On the defensive end, the Jets were 10th in goals allowed while the Habs were 18th. On the PK, the Jets were better there, too, 13th to Montreal's 23rd. What does that all mean? It means jack. We know that hockey outcomes are extremely luck driven and most of those areas in which you will find the Jets ranking higher are those luck based statistics. PP and PK percentages are luck based, as are goals for and goals against. We'll leave those talking points for those that have airtime to fill, it's the goods under the hood that pique our interest.
One does not need to dissect the Habs’ improbable comeback from down three games to one versus the mighty Maple Leafs, but the message we hear in the market is that Montreal did not win; Toronto choked. That may be true, but we're not going to be so quick to dismiss the efforts of the Canadiens. This was a team that had a damn good year, but was unluckier than most, including the Jets. When looking at PDO or "Puck Luck'' Winnipeg ranked in the top 10 (ninth), Montreal, 24th. For some perspective, the six "luckiest" teams this season were the Wild, Maple Leafs, Penguins, Capitals, Islanders and Golden Knights. Four of those teams are golfing and the Knights (a Cup and market favorite) look totally outclassed against the Avalanche. Only the Islanders do not look out of place here in Round 2.
Luck is not everything. To be unlucky, one must be playing some damn good hockey on a consistent basis. The Jets had a 30-23-3 record to Montreal's 24-21-11 and Winnipeg beat them in six out of nine meetings. That success in the regular season is going to hold weight, but three of those games went to overtime. A bounce or two in the Habs' direction and it's a whole new ballgame. Over the course of the season, Montreal ranked 11th in xGF% (expected goals for) while Winnipeg was 23rd. The Habs were sixth in CorsiFor% (a proxy for puck possession) to the Jets 18th. When looking at HDCF% (high danger chances), the Canadiens (12th) were so much better than the Jets (29th). If one wanted to dive just a little deeper, the Habs dictated the play in seven of those nine games. We'll highlight just a few here to show you what we mean when we say hockey is so luck driven. On February 21, which was a 2-1 OT win for the Jets, the Habs dominated CF% 75.66 - 24.34. On March 17, again an OT win for Winnipeg, Montreal led the way 59.02 - 40.71. Finally, on May 30, which was a 5-3 Montreal win, the Habs posted a CF% of 65.36 to Winnipeg's 34.64. For those that are not big followers of the analytics, a couple of percentage points above or under the 50% mark in CF% is a sign of a dominant effort. The numbers posted above are off the fucking charts in Montreal’s favor.
We can already hear the holes being poked in our argument. The playoffs are different. The Jets are healthy and getting hot at the right time. The Habs just played a Game 7 with their arch-rival, won and now have to turn around and face the team that swept the McDavids just two nights later. You don't think we read and heard all that nonsense too? Long time readers of this space know that one has to use those media talking points to one's advantage. Do not ignore them completely because they influence the market. Those same dudes in nice suits with fancy haircuts that were slobbering over Matthews and McDavid in Round 1 now have their lips puckered for Hellebuyck, Scheifele and the other Connor.
As purveyors of value, we cannot help but lick our lips at the sight of this matchup. Never mind the analytics or the talking heads. Let's focus on the price in contrast to market perception.The Habs are just +120 or thereabouts to win this series. That short price screams that the Habs should be live as hell. The Islanders were +219 against the Bruins and the market was tripping over itself for action on the “Bs”. What unspeakable things will they do to get down on the Jets at a much, much shorter price? That brings us to Game 1, where Winnipeg opened as a small favorite. Well, the efficient market got a hold of that number and drove it up to where it is now. How could the Jets be a +122 pooch in Game 3 and +102 in Game 4 at home versus Edmonton on the ropes and now be 40-60 cents more expensive today? And what if Toronto beat Montreal? What would the Leafs be to beat Winnipeg in a best of seven? -240? -200? Let us remind you again that Montreal beat Toronto and it wasn’t a fluke. This series is the epitome of an overlay and it is one that we are not going to pass up. If the Jets win tonight, so be it. We’ll be back on the Habs with another play on Friday and probably another series play too.
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Montreal +129 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.58)