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NHL Preview: Ottawa Senators at Toronto Maple Leafs, Feb. 17

The Battle of Ontario never disappoints and the Ottawa Senators proved two things on Monday: 1) no lead is safe in NHL matchups and; 2) they can beat the Leafs on any given night regardless of their records. Yet online sports betting odds still have Toronto as massive favorites heading to this fourth game of the season series.

The BetUS online sportsbook also pegs the Leafs as a 3-1 favorite at least. And for the most part of the last game, Toronto was playing like it was the overwhelming fave. It looked like a blowout… then the collapse happened.

Colin White of the Ottawa Senators competes for the puck against Illya Mikheyev of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game
Claus Andersen/Getty Images/AFP

As much as I enjoyed that Senators comeback, I don’t think that’s a trend more so than a one-off. I expect Toronto to get their revenge and finish the Sens off this time.

Quick Look at Each Team

Ottawa Senators: Turning the Corner

I love a great comeback story and the Sens could finally be graduating from being the division’s punching bags. They’re still quite incapable at stopping teams from scoring on them as evidenced by the five goals they allowed in just two periods. But things have improved for them this February.

Ottawa had possibly the worst month for any NHL franchise in January. But they’ve actually improved in February with a 3-5-0 record and a -7 goal differential. In these eight games, Ottawa has cut down their goals per game to 3.1.

On 5-on-5, the Sens are actually outplaying opponents and have a 51.5 corsi for percent (CF%). Considering their PDO is 96.6, Ottawa got a big “lucky” break against Toronto. They’re still far away from being a decent team but they’ve now won back-to-back games.

Goaltender Marcus Hogberg wasn’t spectacular, but he made the clutch saves against Toronto and was also solid against Winnipeg. If he can keep this up and the Sens can continue to play effectively at even strength and improve their special teams, they’ll be fantastic against their NHL odds every night.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Red-Hot Scoring Could Cool Off

Maybe the Leafs just got cocky against the Sens and blew a 5-1 lead, a meltdown of epic proportions. Several of the Sens’ goals came off of rebounds and counter-attacks. Toronto still controlled the puck and won the Corsi battle for 5-on-5 or close games. And they killed all three of Ottawa’s power plays.

But digging into analytics more, the Leafs are not as dominant as their first-placed standing indicates. They’re only 17th in CF%, 16th in expected goals for percent (xGF%), and 11th in scoring chances for percent (SCF%).

On the flip side, their PDO is 1.034 (third overall), the shot percent is 10.4 percent (fourth), and power play is 34.8 percent (second). You have a team that has been red-hot, but playing at an unsustainable level.

Things may regress for the Leafs and when goals aren’t as easy to come soon, they’ll need to find other ways to get by.

Monday’s night may have been a microcosm of these two teams’ NHL seasons so far. Toronto came roaring out of the gate but cooled off and couldn’t recover. Ottawa had a horrible start but fought back and eked out a win.

Ottawa has been playing with more confidence lately. They’re still losing plenty, but they’re in most of their games and have cut back on goals allowed. Toronto’s once nuclear power play has cooled off in February only going for 18.8 percent.

But despite the improvements or decline on either end, Toronto is still a more potent team here. They’re still scoring at a blistering rate (4.2 goals per game in Feb) and have only allowed 1.8 goals before Monday night.

I expect Toronto to get back on the proverbial horse and beat Ottawa more definitively this time. They are my NHL betting pick.

Pick: Toronto Maple Leafs to win

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