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Islanders vs. Penguins Game 5 Odds, Prediction, Preview: The Underdog Has Value in Key Matchup (May 24)

Islanders vs. Penguins Game 5 Odds, Prediction, Preview: The Underdog Has Value in Key Matchup (May 24) article feature image

Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Ilya Sorokin

  • The Islanders head to Pittsburgh for a crucial Game 5 matchup against the Penguins.
  • Both teams have been flawed through four games, although it appears the Isles have their goaltending situation in order.
  • Matt Russell breaks down where he sees betting value below with the series tied at 2-2.

Islanders vs. Penguins Odds

Islanders Odds+120
Penguins Odds-140
TimeMonday, 7 p.m. ET
Odds as of Sunday and via PointsBet

“Uh oh, somebody learned how to putt…” — Happy Gilmore, Happy Gilmore (1996).

While I wish that the somebody who learned how to putt was Louis Oosthuizen this past weekend with me holding a 79-1 ticket on him to win the PGA, in the hockey world, this applies to the New York Islanders. 

The series is tied at 2 and headed back to Pittsburgh, but if you ask me, it didn’t have to be. It took the Islanders the two middle games of the series to realize that their goaltending situation needed addressing. 

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“Uh oh, somebody found some goaltending” 

Semyon Varlamov had a great regular season, putting up the best numbers of his career. A 2.04 Goals Against Average and .929 Save Percentage should have him in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy, so coming into this Stanley Cup Playoffs, he was considered the most likely Conn Smythe Trophy candidate should the Isles go on a surprising championship run. 

However, after Varlamov was a late scratch in Game 1, Ilya Sorokin got the start in between the pipes for New York and made 39 saves in the Isles’ overtime win. Varlamov was deemed ready to go for Game 2, but it didn’t look that way early on. Bryan Rust beat him early with what looked like a harmless wrist shot that the Isles' goaltender just waved at with his glove on the way by. While Varlamov played much better the rest of the way, keeping the Islanders in the game, the damage was already done as Pittsburgh won 2-1. 

When the setting shifted to Nassau for Game 3, the expectation was Varlamov would be settled in and back to his old self, the version that looked good at the end of Game 2. Instead, he struggled with his angles, giving up five goals, two of which were on non-High-Danger Chances at even-strength. This lackluster performance wasted a relative offensive explosion from New York and put the Isles down 2-1 in the series after the one-goal loss.

Unwilling to waste anymore time (or goals), Head Coach Barry Trotz turned back to Sorokin for Game 4. He rewarded his bench boss by stopping all but one of the Penguins shots, allowing the Isles to pile up a 4-0 lead before the Pens could score.

With each goaltender playing two games, Sorokin’s Goals Saved Above Average is +1.54, while Varlamov’s is -1.46. With a best-of-three left to decide the series winner, the Islanders appear to have found the answer in hockey’s version of the short game.

Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.

Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.

xG numbers and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.

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The Penguins Are Flightless Birds so Far

Lost in the Islanders figuring out their goaltending situation is the Penguins not having the luxury of a legit backup plan.

With 12 goals against in the first four games, Pittsburgh isn’t blaming its starter, even if Tristan Jarry has looked shaky at times. When we look at the advanced metrics in this series, we see that the Penguins have allowed the Islanders to generate 10.75 High-Danger Chances per game at even-strength. That’s two more than Pittsburgh has generated each game. 

The Islanders have converted six of their 45 High-Danger Chances while 5-on-5, so the 13.3% conversion rate is quite adequate, slightly below league-average. However, when you give up that many, the average scoring clip is going to equate to more total goals.

The Pens' offense has converted 11.4% of their even-strength High-Danger Chances, which while not great would look a lot better if it had more of them. 

Whether you’re looking to credit or blame, much of the Penguins' offensive issues land at the feet of Sidney Crosby.

In previewing the series, we referenced the 2019 sweep that the Isles pulled over the Pens, during which Crosby was held to just one assist in four games. Here we are through two games and Crosby has a goal, and nothing more. In the same vein, the Penguins have just eight power-play opportunities in four games.

When it comes to a game plan, the Islanders have done well with the concept of “stay out of the penalty box” and “don’t let Crosby beat you”.

Betting Analysis & Pick

Going into this pivotal Game 5, I like to evaluate two things.

The first is the metrics through four games, which we’ve already discussed being in favor of the Islanders when it comes to counting High-Danger Chances and with expected goals at even strength grading out at 2.09-2.02 for the Isles, there’s not much case to be made that the Penguins are discernibly better, if at all. This at least somewhat supports our theory coming into the series that the Islanders were better. 

The other point of evaluation is more qualifiable. Through four games, which team has evaluated its shortcomings or disadvantages and is able to do something about it? The Isles saw the issues that Varlamov was having and were willing and able to make the move back to Sorokin. They also knew they needed to play their disciplined, defensive brand of hockey, and do their best to keep the Pens captain at bay.

New York has answered all those questions and with the slate clean with three games remaining, I’m willing to bet they keep doing what they’re doing.

With goaltending behind them that they can confidently rely on, the Islanders are worth backing here at an underdog price. 

Pick: Islanders +120 ( play down to +100)

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