Pittsburgh Penguins v. New York Islanders
How am I betting this series?
The Penguins won 6 of 8 vs the Islanders this season and that alone could be somewhat depressing for Islander fans as they look at their first round matchup.
But, if you look under the hood, you’ll see many reasons for optimism.
1. The xG was actually in the Islanders favor 2.22 to 1.92 but the actual goal scoring was in Pittsburgh’s favor 2.20 to 1.59.
2. The Penguins had a ridiculous .943 save % – it’s highly unlikely for Tristan Jarry to sustain that. If he does, we tip our hat and move on. These teams are too close to overcome that.
3. Pittsburgh’s PP xG was 9.83 to the Islanders 7.71 but most of those games were before Oliver Wahstrom was being deployed on the PP and more importantly that was before the Islanders became one of the best PK units in the league.
Pittsburgh finished the season off scorching – 18-6 over their last 24 to win what most people say is the deepest/toughest division in hockey. But, keep in mind, their shooting % was unsustainably high during this stretch. For example, The Penguins trade deadline acquisition, Jeff Carter, is shooting 24.3% since he donned the yellow and black. In stark contrast, The Isles trade deadline darling, Kyle Palmieri, is shooting a paltry 6.5% – It’s funny how random actually scoring a goal can be. For what it’s worth, Palmieri is a career 12.5% shooter and Carter is 11.3% – So maybe both players are due for a little regression to the mean.
Two years ago, the Penguins were swept by this Islander team, but make no mistake – these teams are different today. The Penguins have more depth and more speed at forward than they did back then and are looking to take advantage of the Isle’s weaker defensive pairings.
That said, this is a confident Islander’s locker room. When everyone says they can’t win, that’s when they’re at their best.
In goal, New York has a sizable advantage. Semyon Varlamov is a Vezina candidate, while Tristan Jarry is incredibly inconsistent. Yes, he was great vs the Islanders this season and yes, if he saves 94.3% of the shots he faces, the Penguins will win – I can’t dispute that, but I’m willing to bet that he won’t.
I am shocked that these Islanders continue to get overlooked. From an analytics standpoint, you can argue these Isles are better than the 2019 team that swept Pittsburgh and the 2020 team that advanced to the ECF. I’m not here to tell you they aren’t without flaws, but to me this series should be closer to a pick’em. Yes, the Penguins have home ice and for that reason, maybe give them a small edge, but right now, I’m looking at Betrivers.com and seeing Pittsburgh at – 145 which implies that they’ll win almost 60% of the time. That’s utterly ridiculous. Yes, they won 6 of 8 this season, but one of those games was a shootout, another was in OT. Betting on the Islanders at +130/+135 represents a ton of value. If you prefer, you can bet on the Islanders to win the Eastern division at +475. I’m not confident they’ll win the next round – at least not yet, but I do think they beat Pittsburgh and then I can always hedge.
Another intriguing bet if you’re bullish on the Isles, is Semyon Varlamov to win the Conn Smythe at +3400. If the Isles make a deep run, it’ll likely be because Varly is standing on his head. The way this team is built, it’s very easy to envision a goalie being the MVP if the Isles shock the world. Again, we don’t actually need the Isles to win the Cup for us to profit on this bet. If they win the East, there will be opportunities to hedge and guarantee we make some money. If you’re really high on the Islanders this postseason, I prefer betting on Varlamov as opposed to the team where you’ll only get +2100.
As for other NHL bets, I’m loving this postseason at Betrivers.com, You can bet on Mark Stone to have more points than Sidney Crosby. This could blow up in my face IF Pittsburgh advances, but even if they do, Crosby plays 12-14 tough defensive games vs Eastern conference teams while Stone gets 12-14 against the high flying Minnesota Wild and (likely) Colorado Avalanche. If you think Pittsburgh could lose to the Islanders like I do, then this is a no-brainer.
At the end of the day, this is definitely a series that could go either way, but my money is on the better coach and better goaltender. And those men call Long Island home for now.
Follow David on Twitter at @TuckOnSports