Wednesday night in Las Vegas was not just another hockey game. The Edmonton Oilers visited Vegas for a key first place showdown against the Pacific division-leading Golden Knights. Vegas was clinging to a two point lead over the Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.
The Oilers (33-22 and 74 points) had a game in hand on the Golden Knights (34-22 and 76 points) with both teams suffering six overtime losses and a pair of shootout losses. The goals for and goals against for each team were also very close with the Golden Knights leading the division and No. 2 in the Western Conference with 208 goals to 201 for the Oilers. Both teams had allowed 196 goals.
Despite all that and the Oilers sporting the best road record in the Western Conference at 18-10 with three overtime/shootout losses, Vegas was made a prohibitive -220 favorite over the Oilers at most sportsbooks. That included those throughout Las Vegas with the take back on the underdog Oilers +190 at William Hill Sportsbook.
The Golden Knights shutout the Oilers 3-0 at the Fortress in Vegas in front of 18,421 fans for their seventh straight win. Six of those Vegas victories have been at home over some of the top teams in the league St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington with all six teams sporting winning records and at least 72 points. The Knight’s beat the Blues 6-5 in overtime Feb. 13 to start the winning streak which followed a 4-0 loss at Minnesota in a terrible scheduling spot.
Oddsmakers set lines on games with a number of factors to consider beyond just the stats, power ratings, home ice edge or injuries. Scheduling situations play a part, and the Oilers were playing back-to-back nights after losing 4-3 in overtime at Anaheim Tuesday night to a Ducks team that will not be playing in this years NHL playoffs. Superstar Connor McDavid had three assists in that contest in his second game back from a left quad injury after scoring a goal with two assists against the Kings in his return Feb. 23.
The Oilers were 3-2-1 during his six game absence, and McDavid now has 31 goals and 56 assists through his 58 games following last night’s 3-0 Vegas victory. McDavid is one of those rare gems that come around once every two decades. Yet he’s not even the teams leading scorer. However, the Oilers picked up Andreas Athanasiou and former Buffalo first round pick Tyler Ennis (Ottawa) at the trade deadline and those two were McDavid’s wingers in last night’s game in Las Vegas. Athanasiou was a 30 goal scorer for the Detroit Red Wings last season but has battled injuries while playing 48 games this season and suffered a lower-body injury against Vegas in the third period.
Athanasiou picked up his 11th goal plus an assist in his Oilers debut at Anaheim while Ennis also had a goal (15th) and assist in his debut against the Ducks. Athanasiou is one of the few players in the league that has the speed to keep up with McDavid and AA will now be paired alongside the Oilers superstar and Ennis as Edmonton makes a playoff push.
The Oilers look forward to the return of forward James Neal (19 goals), who has been out with an ankle injury since Jan. 30, and Zack Kassian (14 goals), who is scheduled to return from a seven game suspension Feb. 29 versus Winnipeg. Also, Kailer Yamamoto is week-to-week after suffering an ankle injury against the Kings. The promising 21-year old winger has nine goals and 21 points in 21 games since joining the Oilers in late December.
Center Leon Draisaitl leads the Oilers and the NHL with 99 points on 37 goals and 62 assists through 64 games. However, he could not pick up his 100th point in last nights loss at Vegas. Draissitl rattled a shot off the post early in the third period after McDavid had pulled the puck from his backhand across his body and lifted a shot over a sprawling Marc-Andre Fleury and hit the crossbar midway through the first period. Draisaitl had a career-high 50 goals and 105 points last season, and the former No. 3 pick overall in 2014 joins McDavid (No. 1 overall in 2015) as a high-scoring duo that can make a playoff run with a healthier roster at longer odds in the Western Conference. McDavid did not score in his return to Vegas, but he did have two goals in a 4-2 Oilers win back on Nov. 23 in Las Vegas.
FanDuel Sportsbook, the leader in New Jersey sports betting revenue, and America’s largest sports book operator William Hill, have the following updated Stanley Cup odds for teams pushing towards the playoffs.
The New York Rangers are the biggest liability for FanDuel Sportsbook in the Stanley Cup Championship Outright Market. The Rangers and New Jersey Devils are at the bottom of the Metropolitan division and are the top two teams by handle and bet count at FanDuel. Regional bias is part of the futures betting market, and in Las Vegas and Nevada, the Golden Knights are the Stanley Cup favorite (+450) at William Hill Sports Book.
Vegas added some key players at the trading deadline as well. Recent Islanders and Black Hawks goalie Robin Lehner joins the Golden Knights after starting 31 games for Chicago this season (3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage). He gives Vegas a strong one-two punch between the pipes with Marc-Andre Fleury. A week earlier, the Knights acquired defenceman Alec Martinez from the Los Angeles Kings. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Kings who had the double-overtime goal in Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup final. Martinez adds strength and depth to the Knights defense and has already chipped-in big on offense with two goals and four assists in four games including two assists in the third period against the Oilers.
The other Golden Knights acquisition at the trade deadline was winger Nick Cousins, who arrived game day against the Oilers after flight and visa delays following his trade from Montreal. Cousins got his first goal as a Golden Knight with a backhand from a deflected shot off himself to give the Knights a 2-0 lead on the power play nearly six minutes into the third period.
In the Vegas locker room after the game, I witnessed Cousins and Fleury surrounded by reporters. Cousins acknowledged “It’s been a crazy couple of days,” but he was able to contribute right away in more than 12 minutes of ice time to become the sixth Vegas player this season to score a goal in his Golden Knights debut.
Fleury was at his best early, stopping 12 first period shots including a lunging pad save against top scorer Leon Draisaitl just 15 seconds into the game.
“He was dialed in, and that’s vintage Flower,” coach Pete DeBoer said after Fleury turned away 29 shots for his fifth shutout this season.
“That was a big game. That was fun to be a part of,” Fleury said. “A good challenge for us, and I thought we (rose) up good.”
Fleury and Cousins were key performers for a Stanley Cup contender with now even more balance and strength in all three units.
Despite being outplayed and outshot 12-6 through 16 minutes of the first period, the Knights Max Pacioretty broke the scoreless game. Pacioretty broke down the right side and pulled the puck to his forehand inside the face off circle to beat Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen on the short side with a snap shot past his glove.
Vegas controlled the second period with a 16-5 shots on goal advantage, but neither team was able to light the lamp and the game remained 1-0 Vegas through two periods. Following Cousins third period goal, Shea Theodore’s slap shot from the point beat Koskinen low on the stick side to put the game on ice game with 10 minutes remaining in the Knights 3-0 win.
As the push towards the playoffs and a Pacific division title continues, Vegas and Edmonton are viable contenders in the West joining the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and defending Stanley Cup champions St. Louis Blues. Much of that is due to quality goaltending, which the Blues got later last season from Jordan Binnington. His play was instrumental in leading the longshot Blues to a Stanley Cup title while going 24-5 with a 1.89 goals against average. St. Louis was 250-1 to win the Stanley Cup in early January last year before going on a heater and rewarding one Las Vegas bettor with $100,000 on a $400 bet.
Hockey is the most luck driven sport, and goaltending plays a huge part in outcomes. Teams lacking in quality goaltending will not win the Stanley Cup. But that’s why St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, Vegas and even Edmonton have the best chance in the West.
While there is little to no value in the Stanley Cup futures market on any of the top teams or really any teams with the bookmakers hold on futures bets, it’s the Golden Knights now leading the betting market in Vegas (+450) as the Stanley Cup favorite. Vegas will be valiant in victory and their push towards the Stanley Cup. But the Oilers have top talent and are a capable team and dangerous dark horse to consider come playoff time.
You can bet on it.