Monday NHL Odds & Picks: Over/Under, Prop Bets and More for Islanders vs. Lightning Game 1 (Sept. 7)
Elsa/Getty Images. Pictured: Brock Nelson.
- Despite having the lowest odds of any Islanders player in Game 1 vs. the Lightning, Sam Hitchcock thinks the price is right for Brock Nelson to score at +260.
- Check out more of Hitchcock's top betting picks for the NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals opener.
The New York Islanders are so comfortable playing in their own zone that it seems like it’s their opponent who is chasing the play. By Game 7, Philadelphia’s best chances came through fly-by tip plays.
Like one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s many movies where his character becomes unhinged, the Flyers were frayed and frazzled by Game 7. Evidently, they were chafing at their inability to find shooting lanes on the cycle or carry the puck through the neutral zone. The pulp had been squeezed from the orange, and the Islanders discarded another opponent.
To point out the obvious: The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t the Flyers. Stocked with far more skill at forward and a better team defense, Tampa Bay has been bracing for a series of this nature since they were bounced by Columbus last year. Tampa Bay can play a game of patience and forechecking, a requisite to beating the Islanders and their coach Barry Trotz.
The Lightning can win the races to the pucks in the corners and around the net. And so, this series is ideal for bets outside the moneyline. In Game 1, both coaches will try to find matchup advantages. But with that facet murky since the playoff sample size isn’t there, a wager on tedium is the way to go. I expect lots of shot blocks, plenty of roughhousing after the whistle, and little scoring.
Under 3.5 Alternate Total Goals, Inc. OT (+260)
At 5-on-5 during the playoffs thus far, the Lightning and Islanders both have expected goals against per 60 minutes under 1.94. Each team allows less than 27 shots per hour and fewer than nine high-danger chances over sixty minutes. Assuming Thomas Greiss starts in net for New York, both goaltenders will have Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) above 2.95. Both of these squads have been elite defensive teams.
I expect a low-scoring contest because each team has the capability to short-circuit its foe. Take the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal line. It was electrifying against the Flyers, providing a host of chances off the rush with Barzal weaving in and out of lanes and setting up Jordan Eberle for an unfathomable amount of opportunities that he would fail to convert on.
With Tampa Bay as the home team, New York is about to see a heavy dosage of the Lightning’s tenacious third line centered by Yanni Gourde. This will be a matchup to watch because the Gourde line has been a heavy quilt over opponents this postseason. Barzal and his wings are going to spend more time than they like in their own end trying to pry the puck away from the Lightning energy forwards.
Furthermore, the Gourde line surrenders 3.68 high-danger chances against per 60 minutes, which is microscopic. Combine that with this line’s 1.04 expected goals against per hour and the Barzal line will need to find scoring against a trio that has suppressed the creativity of its opponents.
The Islanders find scoring from unlikely sources, but the Lightning have strong depth in their forward group which will make it hard for New York to find a mismatch. Pair that knowledge with Andrei Vasilevskiy starting in net for the Lightning, and it is hard to imagine the Islanders scoring more than two goals. At +260 on DraftKings, the Islanders will be starved for scoring, but so will the Lightning. Cue the segue!
Home Team Total Goals Under 1.5 goals (+295)
Yes, I am aware that Nikita Kucherov is going to play in Game 1. However, even though that’s great for Tampa Bay as far as their prospects for winning go, Kucherov is going to have trouble finding room at even strength. The Islanders’ defensemen bring a DMV-like hostility and confrontational posture to the neutral zone, and coach Trotz is going to try to use Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock against the Lightning’s top line.
In six games, the Flyers’ tandem of Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux saw 33 minutes at 5-on-5 against Pelech and Pulock. In that time, they scored one goal and created five high-danger chances. That is a paltry output for Philadelphia’s offensive engine. The Islanders created more shots and had a 69.89% expected goals in that matchup. Since Tampa Bay has the last change, it will be interesting to see what lengths coach Jon Cooper goes to move Kucherov away from that matchup.
The Islanders’ back pressure from their forwards empowers their defensemen to keep tight gaps and force dump-ins. Part of the problem when they have to relinquish the puck is that Kucherov and Brayden Point will need to be careful about where they place it on their dump-ins. New York has a mobile defense and forwards who are attentive in their support. A simple retrieval can quickly turn into an opportunity for New York on the rush. Bolts take heed.
The Flyers experimented with exotic dump-ins that set up carom opportunities for skaters chasing down the puck. With the neutral zone a traffic jam and the Islanders skillful at closing down passing and shooting lanes and exiting the zone in their own end, scoring on New York can be a bit like threading a needle through concrete.
The Lightning were held to one goal or less twice in the playoffs, both occasions before August 14, which seems like eons ago. But they haven’t faced a defense like the Islanders. At +295 on DraftKings, the suggestion is that the Lightning being held to one goal or less is highly unlikely. I disagree and implore bettors to follow me into their scoring abyss.
Brock Nelson to Score (+265)
The Kucherov line is primed to play against the Brock Nelson line, and while Kucherov and Point will be steeling themselves for a significant defensive effort from Nelson and his wings, the Lightning’s top forward line is probably their weakest defensively.
During the regular season, Point and Kucherov had the highest expected goals against per 60 minutes of any consistent duo currently in the lineup. Kucherov especially can be reckless in his puck management.
Nelson to score seems like a wise choice because he has two wings on his line who can feed him in space and he has the shot and touch around the net to finish the feed. Against Philadelphia, the Nelson line outshot its opponents by 12 at 5-on-5. At +265 on DraftKings, bettors are getting the Islanders’ leading scorer (by a half dozen) from the regular season, not to mention a forward who has four goals in his last four games.
Nelson leads all of New York’s top-six forwards at 5-on-5 shooting percentage, which makes this choice feel a little like a sucker bet that is skewed by recency bias. Against Philadelphia and in the playoffs overall, Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle have seen more high-danger chances than Nelson and converted on less. But Nelson has done a far better job getting shots through as evidenced by his shots on goal relative to shooting attempts. At the very least, Nelson will challenge Vasilevskiy with a shot on net and force him to make the save. In eleven straight games, Nelson has two or more shots on goal.
The third Islanders goal in Game 7 against the Flyers provides the most interesting template for a Nelson goal. Nelson tracked down center Claude Giroux, forced a turnover, and turned the play into a 2-on-1 goal after Beauvillier received a stretch pass.
Nelson could have chances like that against the Kucherov line, exploiting its ambition and turning the play into a counterattack. Unlike his colleagues, Nelson has the release and placement to beat Vasilevskiy clean if given the chance. This makes Nelson a worthy investment at +265.