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Rangers vs. Penguins Odds & Picks: Does the Underdog Have Value on Friday Night? (Jan. 22)

Rangers vs. Penguins Odds & Picks: Does the Underdog Have Value on Friday Night? (Jan. 22) article feature image

Bruce Bennett, Getty Images. Pictured: Artemi Panarin

  • The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers have both struggled defensively to start the 2021 season.
  • Will Friday's matchup between these two teams bring some chaos?
  • Michael Leboff breaks down Penguins-Rangers and shares his betting pick below.

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins Odds

Rangers Odds +120
Penguins Odds -139
Over/Under 6
Time 7 p.m. ET
TV NHL Network
Odds as of Thursday night and via DraftKings.

Two teams off to wonky starts will meet in Pittsburgh on Friday night as the Penguins host the Rangers in an East Division showdown. After dropping its first two games to the Flyers, Pittsburgh notched back-to-back wins against Washington but needed overtime to get the job done in both.

The Rangers have bookended a shutout win with a pair of losses in which they allowed four goals.

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New York Rangers

The New York Rangers have played to their billing through the first week of the season. The Blueshirts are known for their run-and-gun style and their defensive shortcomings are well documented. Through three games the Rangers are allowing an average of 2.72 expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. While that isn’t the worst mark in the NHL, it is in the bottom five, which is nothing new for the Rangers as they finished with the second-worst xGA/60 in 2019-20.

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.

While defense is a clear weakness for New York, its offensive firepower is a strength. Very few teams can match the talent the Rangers have in their top six. Artemi Panarin is one of the best forwards in the NHL, Mika Zibanejad isn’t too far behind him and Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko gives Dave Quinn an embarrassment of riches to fill out the top of his roster with.

It would probably be a bad idea to take a roster this talented and try to grind out 2-1 or 3-2 wins, but at some point you have to wonder if the Rangers will start to sacrifice some of their offensive flair to help their two goaltenders. Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev are both promising young netminders, but keeping the Rangers in a game can be a challenge when your defense allows a heavy dose of high-quality scoring chances.

Pittsburgh Penguins

I thought the Pittsburgh Penguins were a bit underrated in the preseason and four games won’t change that, but there are some reasons to be concerned about how the Penguins started the season. The most notable red flag is in goal, as Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have both struggled out of the gates.

Pittsburgh was taking a gamble by rolling with the unproven Jarry-DeSmith tandem for an entire season and so far the returns are not great. Jarry has the worst Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) in the NHL at -5.01, and DeSmith isn’t too far behind him at -2.09. Goaltending is incredibly volatile so it wouldn’t be a shock to see Jarry and/or DeSmith re-discover their form quickly, but it’s hard to feel confident in either shot-stopper right now.

While goaltending has certainly played its part, the Penguins defense isn’t without blame for Pittsburgh’s sputtering start. The Pens are allowing a league-high 4.17 goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 and are inside the bottom-10 in both xGA per 60 and high-danger scoring chances allowed per 60 minutes.

Like the Rangers, the Penguins have enough elite scoring talent to make up for defensive shortcomings, but a defense this porous is a bit surprising since the Pens were one of the NHL’s best teams at suppressing scoring chances last season.

Rangers-Penguins Pick

These two teams have allowed a combined 26 goals through seven games this season. Pittsburgh has allowed 4+ goals in three of its four games. New York has hit that mark in two of three. In other words, these teams are a roller coaster and it’s hard to feel confident in either one of them right now.

After opening this game at -162/+133, some money has come in on the Rangers to push them down to +120. If that continues and the Penguins get close to -130, I’d be in. Not only are the Penguins the better overall team, but their goaltending and defense should improve as the season goes on.

I’ll also offer one more bet for those who are aware of Jack Johnson’s journey over the past few seasons. Johnson, who rated out as one of the worst defensemen in the NHL during his tenure with the Penguins, signed a much-derided one-year contract with the Rangers in the offseason. It would be hilarious on many levels if Johnson pops one in against his former team, so I’ll toss some for-fun money on Johnson to score the first goal on Friday night. The odds should be very long.

Pick: Penguins -130 or better

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