Only in sports does 1 plus 1 not always equal 2.What do I mean by that? Well, I’m talking about when good teams get a star player back in their lineup after he’s been missing for a long time. While it seems like a lock that those teams would only get better when they add an elite talent to their lineup, it often isn’t the case — at least at first, as the returning player needs to find a way to fit into a roster that was already clicking without him.

Case in point: the Toronto Maple Leafs. A couple of weeks ago, the Buds were rolling right along without William Nylander, who had been holding out all season in search of a big contract. But as soon as Leafs management caved and gave Nylander a huge raise — just before the deadline to sign him or have him sit out the entire years — the Leafs have hit a big of a skid. In five games with Nylander in the lineup, Toronto has just one victory to show for its efforts.

You can be sure the Leafs will be motivated to pull out of their recent tailspin when they visit the struggling New Jersey Devils Tuesday night, but there’s no guarantee they will. As disappointing a season as it’s been so far in New Jersey, the Devils have proven to be a tough team to beat on their home ice — and they’ve enjoyed plenty of success hosting Toronto in recent years as well. Which team has the edge in this matchup, or is the Over or Under a better play? I’ll break it down in this edition of my NHL Pick of the Week.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs New Jersey Devils Betting Odds

Judging by the betting line they’ve put out for this one, oddsmakers aren’t too concerned about the Leafs’ recent struggles. Toronto has been installed as -165 road chalk in this contest, while the Devils pay +145 to pull off the upset on home ice.

Both of these teams have shown a tendency to throw caution to the wind defensively and fill the net on offense, so we should have expected a high total for this one. Oddsmakers have certainly delivered one, hanging a 6.5 with -125 juice to the Over. That’s opened up plus money (+105) odds to back the Under 6.5, a bet that would cash even in a 4-2 or 5-1 game. Something to keep in mind with betting the Over on totals of 6.5 or higher is that you’re basically banking on each team to score at least 2 goals (if not 3). If you aren’t expecting a competitive game in which both teams contribute to the scoring, it’s going to be hard to cash an Over 6.5.

Puck lines are often an attractive way to get an underdog return on a favorite, with the only caveat being that they win the game by 2 goals or more. Toronto looks tempting on the -1.5 puck line at +155 odds, since so many of the Leafs’ wins this year have come by 2 goals or more. Then again, New Jersey has played quite a few 1-goal games this season and the Devils +1.5 increases your win probability quite a bit, although it’s pricey at -175 odds.

All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from at 11:30 a.m. eastern on December 18, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

Maple Leafs Have Been Road Warriors

With all due respect to Detroit, Toronto’s the real Hockeytown in the NHL. It’s the biggest media market in Canada, many players in the league come from the Toronto area and every game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena (formerly Air Canada Centre) is a sell-out.

But despite having such a supportive home crowd behind them, the Leafs have actually been a far better team this season when they’ve played in enemy territory. Their 12 road victories are more than any other team in the NHL, and they’re 7 games over .500 on the road, compared to just 4 games over .500 at home.

The big key to Toronto’s road success has been the Leafs’ offense, which has blitzed hosts to the tune of 3.83 goals per game. While most teams like to play a dull style on the road to try to take the crowd out of it, the Leafs seem to prefer silencing the crowd by racing out to an early lead. They’ve needed all of that offense, however, to overcome a leaky road defense that is allowing 3.17 goals per outing — an extremely high average for a Stanley Cup contender.

But as much as the Leafs like playing on the road, this still looks like a pretty tough situational spot for Toronto. The team is playing its final game of a 5-game road trip that started nearly 2 weeks ago in Boston, then headed south to Carolina before visits to Tampa Bay and Miami. Even though the Leafs should be hungry after earning just 1 win so far on this trip, I could see the players looking forward to getting home, sleeping in their own beds and hosting a revenge match against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

Poor Defense and Goaltending Killing Devils This Year

After making the playoffs last year for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, the Devils looked like an exciting young team on the rise to better things. Led by defending NHL MVP Taylor Hall, New Jersey was even a darkhorse pick to win the Metropolitan Division with regression expected from the Capitals and the Penguins appearing to be on the decline.

A third of the way into the year, however, things aren’t looking too rosy in Newark. The Devils have just 11 wins in their first 31 games (although they have earned 7 additional points due to overtime or shootout losses) and find themselves 1 point out of the basement in the East, barely ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers. Yes, the same Flyers that canned coach Dave Hakstol earlier this week. Could New Jersey head coach John Hynes be the next on the chopping block?

I’m not sure about that, considering that Hynes delivered New Jersey fans a taste of playoff hockey last spring. But the Devils coach certainly has to be concerned with how awful his team has been in its own end this year, the most obvious reason why New Jersey’s languishing near the bottom of the East. Supposed #1 netminder Corey Schneider has been especially dreadful, posting a 4.66 goals-against average and .852 save percentage in 9 games (7 starts) this season. It may actually be a blessing in disguise that Schneider was placed on injured reserve Monday, 3 days after getting lit up for 3 goals on 7 shots in 10 minutes of action against Vegas.

New Jersey has limited the opposition to less than 3 goals just twice in the last month, and you just can’t win regularly in the NHL if you need at least 4 goals from your offense every night. Maybe the Devils can build on Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss in Nashville, even if that improved defensive performance came against a Predators attack that has been sputtering recently without several of its key offensive players. New Jersey’s also been dramatically better defensively at home, allowing 2.79 goals per game to key an 8-2-4 record on home ice.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. New Jersey Devils Betting Pick

When you’re struggling the way the Leafs (by their standards) and Devils are lately, you usually turn to what you do best.

And what both of these teams do best is score goals. I already talked about how many goals the Leafs typically score, especially when they’re playing on the road, but New Jersey is no slouch itself when it comes to putting the puck in the net. The Devils are averaging a robust 3.03 goals per game in 2018-19, an average that soars to 3.50 when you look at their games played on home ice.

With each of these teams’ potential to score goals, their struggles keeping the puck out of their net and the chances for a competitive game, I’m backing the Over 6.5 in this one, even at the -125 juice. I fully expect both the Leafs and Devils to score at least 3 goals in this clash, which would guarantee us a win on this bet. (And if you’re looking for an even bigger score, I’d recommend a small play on the Draw on the regulation time result, a bet that pays +340 odds at Bodog.)

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