Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:51 AM

Best Bets, Score Predictions for Monday Feb. 22

NHL Daily Free Picks & Predictions NHL expert Matt Blunt provides his score predictions and best bets for two NHL games on Monday Feb. 22, 2021.

Calgary Flames vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Money-Line Odds: Calgary +135; Toronto -159
  • Total (Over-Under): 6

Score Prediction: Calgary 4 Toronto 3

Best Bet: Flames ML

This is the first of two plays tonight that are likely to be up against the conventional wisdom from the market.

The conventional wisdom here is that outside of an inexcusable 3rd period collapse to Ottawa last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs (and Auston Matthews specifically) can do no wrong right now, and the Calgary Flames can't get much of anything right.

Matthews leads the league in goals (18) by a wide margin (6), with each of the top six goal scorers in the league coming from the North Division. Matthews has been the best offensive gun on the best team in the highest scoring division, and because of it, Toronto's starting to put some distance between them and the rest of the field.

The 6-5 OT loss really kind of happened out of nowhere, and once the laziness snowballed into Toronto realizing they found themselves actually in a game, it was too late to get the momentum swung the other way. Slip ups like that are excusable though in an odd season like this when you are still leading the division by multiple games, and have made it a point to go 3-0 SU since then.

At the same time, Calgary's done nothing but get their asses handed to them of late. The Flames haven't scored more than a single goal in any of their last three contests, getting outscored 14-3 and going 0-3 SU in the process.

The one goal per game thing isn't entirely all that new for the Flames recently either, as they've done it five times in their last 10 games overall as well. The 7-1 loss in Edmonton on Saturday night was especially ugly, but the Flames got to decide what they want their identity to be and just be comfortable sticking with it.

The emphasis on improving Calgary's defense was no secret this last year or so, and landing Markstrom in net this year was supposed to be the thing that put them over the top. Drilling defense into Calgary's heads though has got them working against their own strengths (offense) and trying to win 3-1 or 3-2 games all the time.

Most nights the Flames can't decide whether to be that ultra aggressive attacking team that finished atop the Western Conference in 2018-19 winning games by scoring 3.52 goals per game, or this new team defensive-minded team that wants to hold opponents to three goals or less no matter what – Calgary's xGA/60 is 2.7.

Considering the North Division being the one that's loaded with all the goal scorers, an emphasis on defense if you can execute is never going to be a bad thing. But not at the expense of sacrificing your offensive abilities because no matter what they are going to be needed playing in this division.

The thing the Flames could have working for them tonight and it's part of the reason they are getting backed here, is that there is no internal mental struggle or “choice” to make between playing an offensive or defensive-minded game against Toronto. Any Leafs opponent has to assume they'll need at least four goals to win, and if it turns out it's a defensive battle with a 2-1, 3-1, or 3-2 score, I'm pretty sure every other team in this North Division would take their chances in that style of game regardless.

Calgary's going to have no choice but to try and run and gun with Toronto in all likelihood, and maybe it serves as a reminded to them to stick to their strengths in how this roster was built. If you're one of the better offensive teams in the league (10th at 2.8 xGF/60) you can use that strength to be playing from ahead most of the time (against anyone) and work on your defense that way.

All of Toronto's losses this year have either been of the 2-1, 3-1 variety or the 4-3, 6-5 type variety, and Calgary's choice in how to react to those outcomes will be made awfully early against the Leafs. I view it as a good thing for the Flames right now to get out of their own heads and just play.

This downward spiral the Flames are currently in could get downright ugly should these two games in Toronto not go well, but all it may take to flip that is one confidence-building win over the division leader. With the road team on a 5-1 SU run the last six times these two have met, and the Flames being that desperate team conventional wisdom wants no part of here, I've got no issues going against the grain here.

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche

  • Money-Line Odds: Vegas +107, Colorado -124
  • Total (Over-Under): 5.5

Score Prediction: Colorado 4 Vegas 3

Best Bet: Over 5.5

The other against the grain play for Monday is looking for the final game of this four-game set between the Golden Knights and Avalanche to finally see an 'over' ticket cash. No matter how you look at it, these two teams (in somewhat limited action) rank out as two of the better defensive teams in the league and we've seen it play out that way in these three games between the two.

But after the long ordeal that was the outdoor game at Lake Tahoe, back in a climate controlled environment with two teams that are sick of each other and likely sore from playing such tight checking hockey, I believe we see both sides open things up in this game. With plus money offered on the 'over' I've got no problem backing up that opinion with a unit either.

These teams understand that this division is probably going to come down to to one of the two of them, and proving to yourselves (and that opponent) that you can seemingly score at will when you want to against them is quite the message to be on the right side of for any potential future matchups.

It's not like the Knights and Avalanche aren't capable of putting in three goals apiece on each other, as their xGF/60 is 2.99 and 2.98 respectively.

The situational angle of us seeing all 'unders' so far these past three games is a spot where I do think it makes sense to go for the flip, especially with the price being what it is.

It also doesn't hurt that the defensive numbers both sides have will lend many to looking 'under' again, and should it land in “public 'under'” territory, I like the contrarian approach even more.

I don't believe we've seen any two teams in the NHL this year play to the same total result when playing at least four in a row against one another, as small as that sample size may be.

The quality of offensive skill makes any concerns about their ability to score minimal, and if the defenses win the day for the fourth straight game, well the phrase conventional wisdom lives up to its origins once again.

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