The Action Network is providing NHL.com readers with odds and analysis for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today, a look at Game 4 of the Semifinals between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Montreal Canadiens.
Golden Knights at Canadiens Game 4 odds
Golden Knights odds: -175
Canadiens odds: +145
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Note: If you’re new to betting, the Knights’ -175 odds mean a $175 bet would profit $100 if they win the game. Conversely, the Canadiens’ +145 odds mean a $100 bet would net $145. Convert odds using The Action Network’s Betting Odds Calculator.
Prior to the season I thought the Montreal Canadiens were a good sleeper bet to win the Stanley Cup. Listed at 50/1, the Habs were coming off a season where they posted terrific 5-on-5 numbers — including the third-best expected goals rate in the NHL — and they had an encouraging showing in The Bubble. The thought behind my bet was simple: Montreal was underrated, and the North Division projected to be the most-wide open of the four sets in the 2021 season. That may not seem like a lot, but when betting on longshots you’re just looking for a viable path to success and hoping to get lucky.
Through the first few weeks of the regular season that bet looked like it had serious legs. The Habs were challenging the Leafs at the top of the North Division and were among the league leaders in expected goals rate, goal share and high-danger chance rate. As we got into the middle part of the campaign, however, the Canadiens’ fortunes began to change. Key injuries, a coaching change and inconsistent form changed the Habs from a team that looked like a legitimate contender to one that would have to scratch and claw its way into the postseason, where they’d be heavy underdogs against the Maple Leafs.
All of a sudden that path to success looked a lot less viable and I basically wrote that bet off as a loss. Shame on me.
Not only do the Habs have a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup Semifinal, but they’ve earned that advantage through some stellar play. Even though Vegas has outscored Montreal, 8-6, at 5-on-5, the Habs and Knights are basically even in terms of expected goals and high-danger scoring chances through the first three games. In other words, Montreal has stuck with Vegas for enough of this series to stay within striking distance of the heavily favored Knights. By doing so, the Habs put themselves in position to take advantage of a mistake, a lucky bounce or a moment of magic. That’s exactly what happened on Friday night as a misplay by Marc-Andre Fleury allowed the Canadiens to tie the contest late before stealing Game 3 in overtime through a Josh Anderson goal.
No matter how you shake it out, it was a lucky victory for the Habs. Not only did they benefit from a rare lapse from Fleury, but they were also on the wrong end of the expected goals ledger. In fact, you could argue that Vegas played its best hockey of this series in Game 3. It was just another lesson in the beautiful chaos of hockey. The “better team” doesn’t always win.
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. xG numbers and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.
Bettors try to do everything they can to minimize variance and give themselves a clear picture so they can try to do the impossible: Project the future. Of course, there’s no magic formula to work into their numbers to predict a goal off a skate or a one-in-a-million misplay from one of the league’s best goaltenders. That is why I have a tough time laying the requisite juice to consistently bet favorites in the NHL. And it is why you will never catch me betting -500 favorite in a best-of-7 series (like the Knights were in this one), no matter how much of a sure thing it seems like at the time.
But now the price on Vegas seems much more palatable. Of course the reason that the Knights are down to -150 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final is because they are down 2-1 in the best-of-7, but that deficit also brings with it opportunity. So much of betting comes down to timing and getting the best number and if you’re going to back the Knights to win this series there may be no better time to buy than right now.
Michael Leboff covers the NHL and more at The Action Network — a sports media company that builds products and creates content to inform and entertain the sports bettor.