The lone all-Canadian matchup around the NHL on Monday features the Calgary Flames visiting the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lead the league with 30 points. A big reason for that has been the play of superstar Auston Matthews and if he scores the first goal of Monday’s game, he would make NHL history. Toronto opened as a -170 favorite on the William Hill Sportsbook NHL odds.
Matthews, who leads the league by a mile with 18 goals, has become the 12th player in NHL history to open the scoring in four straight team games, regular season or playoffs. No player has ever done that five consecutive games. The last player to hit four in a row was Washington’s Andre Burakovsky in January 2017. The first guy to do it was Montreal’s Billy Boucher in 1923.
The red-hot Matthews (18 goals, 11 assists) has at least a point in 16 straight games (two shy of team record), although the NHL only counts it as a 13-game run because he missed one. In Saturday’s 5-3 win at Montreal, the Leafs’ third straight victory, he had two goals and two assists. The American reached the 300-career goal mark and his 175 career goals are the third-most by a player through 300 games with the Leafs. Charlie Conacher holds the team record of 191 goals through 300 games.
Matthews’ 314 points through 300 games are a team record. Syl Apps had 313. The lone game this season where Matthews played and didn’t have a point was a 5-3 loss at Ottawa on Jan. 15.
Toronto swept a two-game series at Calgary from Jan. 24-26. Matthews totaled two goals and an assist. Defenseman Morgan Rielly had five assists. The Leafs lead the league in scoring at 3.79 goals per game.
Calgary, on a three-game skid, is 23rd at just 2.56 goals per game. The Flames have played their past two without center Sean Monahan due to a lower-body injury (they never say what it really is in the NHL), and he’s questionable Monday. Monahan has two goals and 10 assists.
It should be Frederik Andersen in net for Toronto and Jacob Markstrom for Calgary, although Markstrom was awful Saturday in allowing five goals on 10 shots and being pulled in a 7-1 loss to Edmonton.
I recommend Toronto in this matchup. It has won 10 of its past 13 as a favorite, while Calgary is 1-8 in its past nine as an underdog.
In hockey, the more scoring chances you have, the better your chances to win. The two most trustworthy ways to measure scoring chances are high-danger chances (HDCs) at even-strength, and power-play opportunities.
In the case of HDCs, you can expect to score 15% of the time. A very good PP scores 25% of the time. Teams get an average of eight HDCs per game, and four PPs per game. Easy math says you should score once per game in either situation for two total goals. Any subsequent goals in a one-game situation would theoretically come from either scoring when you didn’t really deserve to (ie. from a non-quality scoring chance, a short-handed goal, etc.), or getting more out of your HDCs or PPs than you mathematically should.
Over the course of a season, these numbers should even out. The only thing you can control is how many even-strength chances you get and give up, and how many penalties you draw and commit. The rest is just math.
Calgary has averaged 1.85 expected goals for and 1.62 expected goals against at even strength this season. The Flames have 164 total high-danger chances to their opponents’ 143 while playing 5-on-5. Despite being on the better side of 50% in both categories, the Flames have won just eight out of 18 games this season.
On top of that, the Flames are fifth in the entire league in power play time on ice. As the losses add up, so do the critics, but as much as one might complain about the head coach or individual players, the results add up to numbers that many teams would be happy to have.
The Flames have lost four of their last five games, but again the math doesn’t add up, considering they’ve had more high-danger chances than their opponents, 55-51, and their expected goal share at even-strength is a dead-even 50%.
Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.
Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto is 4.5% above average at even-strength. The Leafs have six more HDCs than their opponent, and have an expected goal share of 50.7%. Despite being barely above average 5-on-5 so far this season, the Leafs have won 14 out of 19 games this season.
An incredibly efficient power play is one of the reasons the Leafs have racked up the points toward the standings this season. They lead the league, converting 37.5% of the time on the power play. Many thanks go to Auston Matthews and his outrageous start to the season for this historically good man-advantage success.
The analytics community is waiting impatiently for the natural power play regression to hit the Maple Leafs. Especially considering — given their merely decent even-strength play — the Leafs have spent the fourth-lowest amount of time on the power play. Part of that is that they take advantage of the man-advantage so often that their time is abbreviated, but they’re still just 24th in the league in PP opportunities per game.
The Leafs scored three power play goals on Saturday night in a win over the Montreal Canadiens, and if we could predict things like “Team X will score three power play goals” then that would make the Leafs a viable bet on a regular basis. However, it’s just not responsible to rely on outlier performances like that.
It’s a busy night for NHL betting on Monday, with eight games scheduled—including a tilt between the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs are coming off a 5-3 win while Calgary was embarrassed in its last game and will be looking for a bounce-back performance. This will mark the third time these two teams collide this season, with Toronto coming out on top via one-goal victories in each of the previous meetings.
Can Calgary figure out the Leafs and get back in the win column? Find out with our best free NHL picks and predictions for Flames vs. Leafs at 7 p.m. ET in Toronto.