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NHL Odds & Picks for Islanders vs. Rangers: The Battle for New York Is a Pick’Em (Thursday, Jan. 14)

NHL Odds & Picks for Islanders vs. Rangers: The Battle for New York Is a Pick’Em (Thursday, Jan. 14) article feature image

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images. Pictured: Jacob Trouba, Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Islanders vs. Rangers Odds

Islanders Odds -112 [BET NOW]
Rangers Odds -105 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 6 (-103 / -120) [BET NOW]
Time 7 p.m. ET
TV NHL Network
Odds as of Wednesday evening and via DraftKings. Get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus at DraftKings today or see more offers and reviews for the best online sportsbooks.

Only about 28 miles separate the New York Islanders and New York Rangers.

Stylistically, though, these teams are lightyears apart.

That’s what makes the betting market for this game so intriguing. Despite the fact that these two teams approach the game from opposite ends of the spectrum, bookmakers are having a tough time separating them.

Not only are they close in the futures market, but the line for Thursday night’s tilt is a virtual pick’em.

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New York Islanders

The general consensus around the NHL is that the Islanders should take a step back in 2021. It’s an interesting take since the Isles were two wins away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final just a few months ago. Not only that, but it was the second season in a row where the Isles defied expectations.

Frankly, what Barry Trotz has done on Long Island in his first two seasons is astonishing considering that the Isles watched their franchise player walk in free agency right after Trotz was hired.

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 cited from Evolving Hockey.

So why the skepticism?

For beginners, the Islanders’ roster reads vanilla. While most true contenders are built around stars, the Isles are built to win, and lose, as a team. Mathew Barzal is the biggest name on the Island and even though he’s one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NHL, his numbers won’t knock you over.

An uptick in production from Barzal would go a long way, but he does have support around him. Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Jordan Eberle, Casey Cizikas and Anders Lee may not be sexy names, but it’s a formidable group that prides itself on being tough to break down.

Add a strong top-pairing on defense with Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, as well as a potential top-five goaltending tandem with Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, and there’s reason for optimism on Long Island.

Of course, that all could be for naught if the Isles play the way they did right before the hiatus. The Islanders were the coldest club in the league before the pause back in March and were probably below 50/50 to even make the playoffs. That is pretty hard to believe since the Islanders started the season 16-3-2.

You often hear “it was a tale of two seasons” for a particular team but for the 2019/20 Isles, it was really a play in three acts. They followed that stellar start up by going 19-20-8 over the winter and putting their surefire playoff spot in jeopardy. Then came the bubble, where the Islanders looked better than ever.

Stat (5-on-5) Regular Season (68 games) Postseason (22 games)
Goals per 60 2.21 2.34
Goals Against per 60 2.36 1.85
Expected Goals per 60 2.38 2.36
Expected Goals Against per 60 2.39 2.16

Those numbers leave you with a dilemma: Which version of the Islanders should bettors expect?

The easy answer is to expect a team somewhere in between. A solid team, but not the elite one we saw dispatch the Panthers, Capitals and Flyers without much issue before giving the Lightning a good series in the Conference Final.

While I don’t foresee the Isles putting up the same kind of results they did in the bubble, I also think we should expect them to be closer to that version of the team than the one we saw struggle to even score a goal last January and February.

That’s because the Islanders’ struggles last year coincided with a pair of key injuries. Top-pair defenseman Pelech was supposed to miss the whole season after an injury he suffered in a pre-game kick-up game, and Cizikas was out for weeks after he got cut with a skate.

The Islanders started to address those issues by trading for third-line center Pageau and reliable third-pair defenseman Andy Greene. When the Isles got to the bubble, Cizikas and Pelech were back and Greene and Pageau got to go through a minicamp with their new team. The proof was in the pudding.

Of course, that team also had Devon Toews still on the roster. Toews was the team’s best puck-mover and was strong in all three zones but was traded to Colorado in a cap-crunch move. There’s no way around the fact that the Isles were better with Toews, but there’s a chance that the defense continues to be a strength thanks to the development of Noah Dobson and the swapping of Greene in for Johnny Boychuk, who was clearly struggling in the twilight of his proud career.

New York Rangers

The Rangers are front-loaded pace-pushers who rely on their stars to produce enough to cover up their defensive deficiencies and lack of depth further down the roster. It’s a sensible strategy considering what the Blueshirts are working with at the top of the lineup.

Artemi Panarin is one of the favorites for league MVP. Alexis Lafreniere is the favorite for Rookie of the Year. Mika Zibanejad is a dark horse for MVP. Chris Kreider is a reliable 20-goal scorer. Pavel Buchnevich and Ryan Strome are effective top-sixers. Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, is coming off a rocky rookie campaign, but his ceiling is still plenty high. And then there’s the blueline, which is headlined by two terrific puck-movers on defense in Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo.

The Rangers are going to score a lot. They are also going to take a lot of chances going forward and hope that their young goaltender, Igor Shesterkin, is able to bail them out enough times to get results.

You can expect Shesterkin to be busy throughout the evening as the Rangers allowed 2.74 expected goals against per 60 minutes last season. Only Chicago had a leakier defense by that metric. Goaltending is volatile and projecting how a netminder will play on a nightly basis is a fool’s errand, but Shesterkin was impressive in his first NHL stint with the Rangers in ’19/20, posting a +5.9 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx).

For the Blueshirts, this season will come down to whether they can outscore their flaws. Not only do the Rangers have issues defensively, but the bottom half of their roster figures to be an issue. Expect the Rangers to Jekyll and Hyde their way through the season.

Islanders-Rangers Pick

I am in agreement that this game should be lined pretty tight. You’ve got two very different teams that somehow have ended up with very similar expectations.

One thing I do expect to happen is for the Rangers to take some money as we get closer to puck drop. The Blueshirts are already a classic “public” team, but they also have plenty of hype going into the new campaign because of their Hollywood lineup.

Our projections are right inline with the market and have the Isles as -106 favorites over the Rangers on Thursday night. I tend to agree that the Islanders should be slight favorites, so I’ll wait and see if this number creeps up and they end up as a plus-money underdog.

That said, if you are going to watch this game and are just looking for action, I’d trust the more reliable defense. The Islanders will do everything in their power to turn this game into a rock fight and if they do that, I expect them to come out on top.

Pick: Islanders +100 or better

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