NHL Daily Odds & Picks (Sunday, May 16): Our Best Bets for Islanders vs. Penguins, Wild vs. Golden Knights & Panthers vs. Lightning
Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Sergei Bobrovsky
The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway with a bang and the action continues on Sunday with a trio of Game 1’s starting at noon ET:
- New York Islanders (+110) at Pittsburgh Penguins (-127), 12 p.m. ET
- Minnesota Wild (+155) at Vegas Golden Knights (-180), 3 p.m. ET
- Tampa Bay Lightning (-121) at Florida Panthers (+105), 7:30 p.m. ET
Here are our favorite bets for Sunday’s slate:
Pete Truszkowski: Islanders-Penguins Under 5.5 Goals
Puck Drop: 12 p.m. ET
Coming into these playoffs, there might not be a team with more question marks than the New York Islanders. The Isles spent the first two-thirds of the season near the top of the league standings. Additionally, they were a top-five team in terms of expected goal rate, suggesting their success was well-deserved. Many considered the Islanders as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
However, the Isles have been a shell of their former selves since the beginning of April. They won just 10 of their last 20 games. Those results were also deserved, as New York has played to just a 49.4% expected goal rate in that span. The Isles spent the first two-thirds of the season at the very top of the league in terms of defensive metrics, but over the past month-and-a-half they sit in the bottom third of the league.
Many expect Barry Trotz’s group will be able to flip the switch come playoff time, and that would make them an extremely hard out. Their style of play is perfect for the postseason and they have the ability to grind any team down. Personally, I think this team will turn their game up. However, even if the Isles are at their best, the Penguins would be a tough matchup. If you think the Islanders can regain their form, the moneyline might not be necessarily the best method of attack. If New York is able to find its game, it will be on the back of its defensive effort. Even with their poor finish, New York had the third-best expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5 this season and only the Carolina Hurricanes allowed fewer 5-on-5 goals.
These two teams met in the first round in 2019 with the Islanders sweeping the Penguins. One of the main storylines of that series was how the defensive pairing of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech shut down Sidney Crosby and his linemates. Pelech and Pulock have only improved since then. They played over 770 minutes together at 5-on-5 this season and posted a 62.7% expected goal rate. They are allowing just 1.57 expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5, which is the best mark of any defensive pairing in the league that has played at least 300 minutes together.
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.
Offensively, the Islanders have struggled to replace the presence of Anders Lee. Kyle Palmieri was bought in at the trade deadline to help fill the void, but he has just two goals since moving to the Island. Overall, the Isles rank middle of the pack when it comes to generating shot attempts and quality chances. The Penguins defense similarly ranks near the middle of the league when it comes to preventing scoring chances.
Goaltending has once again been a strength for the Isles. Semyon Varlamov has put together a terrific season and even though he’s battling a slight injury, it’s hard not to be confident in the Russian after he posted a +9.55 Goals Saved Above Expectation in 2021.
I expect the Isles to get back to their game as the playoffs begin. That means a recommitment to team defense and frustrating their opponents. Their offense doesn’t scare many, so I wouldn’t expect them to fill the scoresheet themselves. The noon start also doesn’t hurt the Under here as the body isn’t programmed to play at that time.
I think goals will be at a premium in Game 1 on Sunday.
Mike Ianniello: Islanders-Penguins Under 5.5
The Penguins finished the regular season second in the league in scoring with 3.45 goals per game. When you look at some of the advanced metrics, they tell a slightly different story about the Pittsburgh offense. The Pens were just 18th in league in xGF and 20th in high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5.
Sure the Penguins have the fourth-best power play percentage, but the New York Islanders have the sixth-best penalty killing unit.
The Islanders might play “boring” hockey under Barry Trotz, but that style is ideal for the Stanley Cup playoffs, as evident by New York’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The Isles were second in the league, allowing just 2.23 goals per game this season.
Part of what makes the Islanders so sturdy defensively, is they don’t take risks on the offensive end or play a run-and-gun style. Matthew Barzal is an electric factory and led the team in scoring, but 17 goals in 55 games is a bit underwhelming given his skill set.
New York ranked 20th in the league in goals per game and have the 21st-ranked power play. The Islanders really struggled to score late in the season, ranking 25th in the league in goals and 22nd in xGF over the last 15 games of the year.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was excellent in his second year on Long Island, posting a .929 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average. Varlamov was terrific during last season’s playoff run, holding a .921 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average to lead the Islanders to the ECF.
For the Penguins, Tristan Jarry was solid down the stretch of the season, finishing the year 8-2 in his final 10 games, allowing 2.5 goals per game with two shutouts.
Things tend to tighten up and slow down during the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially when the Islanders are involved. The under was 32-21-3 in Islanders game this season. During the 2020 Playoffs, the under was 12-9 in Islanders games and when these two teams met in the 2019 playoffs, the under went 3-1 and New York held the Penguins to just one goal of three of the four games.
A great defensive team that struggles to score? What more can you ask for when playing an under!
Matt Russell: New York Islanders (+110) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Maybe it’s because I spent too much time this week listening to Leboff wax poetically hopeful about his Islanders on our Action Network Stanley Cup Playoff Preview podcast, or maybe it’s because the numbers in my “Let’s Do That Hockey” model, as heard on THE WINDOW: Sports Betting Podcast, scream “bet New York”, but I can’t pass up the plus-money price on the Isles here.
According to my model, the Islanders should be favored in this series thanks to their stellar 5-on-5 metrics this season, and the fact that the Penguins numbers at even-strength show them as rating around average for their division. However, the Islanders are short underdogs in the series because of the branding of the Penguins, and their division championship that earned them home-ice advantage for the first two rounds.
Islanders enthusiasts have grown concerned about their club after struggling to the finish line with losses to Buffalo and New Jersey. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that the Islanders lackadaisical finish to the regular season was due to a lack of motivation to finish in the top-3 of the division, as they may have been quite content with a first round matchup with the Penguins, instead of facing the Capitals or Bruins.
While the Penguins appear to have made a charge for the division title, going 19-7 in the last 26 games of the season, exactly half of those games came against the lowly Sabres and Devils, where they went 11-2. That leaves just an 8-5 record against everyone else. From a metrics standpoint, the Penguins even-strength numbers were actually worse than the Islanders during that successful stretch.
Unlike the NBA, having the best player or two on your team doesn’t guarantee you much in hockey. Mainly because the best players aren’t even on the ice for half the game. As such, teams like the Penguins who are top-heavy can be beaten by smart, disciplined teams that roll four lines and stay out of the penalty box.
The Islanders showed this capability two seasons ago when they swept right through the Penguins in the first round. Last season, the Islanders made a run to the Conference Finals through teams that couldn’t match their patience. They were beaten by a Tampa Bay Lightning team that not only had top-end talent, but also the depth and plan to match.
Meanwhile, the Penguins followed up that early exit in 2019, with another one in 2020, when the Montreal Canadiens did their best Islanders impression to shutdown Sidney Crosby and company.
While no one will do a better job against ‘Sid the Kid’ than the Isles did in 2019, holding him to just 1 assist in the four game sweep, Barry Trotz has years of experience dealing with the Pens’ star going back to his days with the Washington Capitals, so the 2019 containment was no fluke. Crosby had more success this season, with 3 goals and 6 assists against the Islanders, but the two teams haven’t met since March.
The playoffs are a different animal though, where the well-coached teams have time to concoct a game plan around stopping one or two key cogs. With Trotz, the Islanders certainly are that. While the injury to Anders Lee wasn’t what the Isles would have hoped for, their style of play lends itself to them being able to move on without him, as they aim to keep the games as low-scoring as possible. Hence why the under is so popular here.
Michael Leboff: Minnesota Wild (+190) to win the series vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Puck Drop: 3 p.m. ET
The Minnesota Wild were a betting darling during the regular season. Assumed to battle for the No. 4 spot in the West before the season, Minnesota stormed out of the gate and never really looked back, finishing just seven points shy of Colorado and Vegas.
What’s more is that the Wild were able to achieve those results thanks to stellar 5-on-5 play. Minnesota finished fourth in the NHL in expected goals allowed, ninth in goal share and 11th in expected goals rate. While those aren’t dominant numbers, they tell you that this is a consistent team that is able to stifle opponents.
What’s more is that the Wild are one of a few teams that is capable of shutting down Vegas’ high-flying offense. The Knights generated the third-most high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 this season but the Wild were the best team in the NHL at preventing high-danger chances.
The Knights are the better team, have a decided edge in goal and are deserving favorites, but the gap between these two teams is not as wide as these odds suggest. Minnesota’s defense can turn a game with any opponent into a coin flip and that will create a lot of value on the Wild at this price.
Michael Leboff: Tampa Bay Lightning (-121) vs. Florida Panthers
Puck Drop: 7:30 p.m. ET
Perhaps the most fascinating matchup in Round 1, the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning are -152 favorites to advance past the Florida Panthers in the first-ever playoff meeting between these in-state rivals.
While most casual bettors and fans will know that the Lightning are a force to be reckoned with, the Florida Panthers were one of the league’s best surprises this season. The Cats finished with the fourth-best record in the entire circuit and were just one point shy of first-place Carolina in the Central Division. The results were legitimate, too, as the Panthers finished with the fifth-best goal differential and third-best expected goal rate at 5-on-5.
Florida’s offense did most of the heavy lifting as the Panthers finished fourth in the NHL in goals per game and fifth in expected goals for per 60 minutes. Hockey can be a cruel game, however, as all that hard work earned the Panthers a date with the juggernaut Lightning in Round 1.
Tampa’s 5-on-5 metrics were not at the elite level this season, but the Bolts were dealing with a couple of key injuries throughout the season. Nikita Kucherov, one of the league’s best wingers, didn’t play a single regular season game. Steven Stamkos was limited to 38 games. Both of them are good to go for Game 1 and should provide a boost to a team that “only” scored 3.21 goals per contest in 2021.
With Stamkos, Kucherov, Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat in the fold the Lightning are known as an offensive dynamo. The truth, though, is that Tampa’s team defense and goaltending is its best asset. Tampa Bay allowed 2.59 goals per game (sixth) and 2.05 expected goals per hour at 5-on-5 (sixth) this season. Victor Hedman may have had a bit of a down year, but the Lightning still were one of the league’s stingiest defenses and they are backed up by the league’s best goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
In a matchup that projects to be pretty close, the goaltending edge could prove vital for the Bolts. While Vasilevskiy finished fourth in the NHL with a +12.01 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx), Sergei Bobrovsky rated out as one of the league’s worst goaltenders again this season with a -10.65 GSAx. Florida head coach Joel Quenneville confirmed Bobrovsky will start Game 1, but the numbers show that to be a possible mistake considering that Chris Driedger was not that far behind Vasilevskiy with a +7.03 GSAx in 23 games.
Considering the mismatch in goal and the fact that Tampa’s defense is well-equipped to handle Florida’s offense, I’m happy to back the Lightning at anything better than -130 for Game 1.