Tuesday NHL Playoffs Odds & Picks: 3 Over/Under Bets for Islanders vs. Lightning Game 5 (Sept. 15)
Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders.
- Game 5 for Lightning vs. Islanders should be a scrappy affair. With the Isles' backs against the proverbial wall, you can bet on a tight match on Tuesday night.
- Sam Hitchcock analyzes the game total and each team's total to deliver the three over/under bets he's making for tonight's matchup.
Elimination games are a stress test. With one more loss, all of the hard work the New York Islanders put into this season will perish and they will be exiled from the bubble.
But the Islanders’ ability to author their fate, to obtain a victory and put the pressure back on the Tampa Bay Lightning, is why Game 5 will be must-see television. The fragility — or durability — of both teams will be evident by the end of the night.
From a gambling perspective, I see the Islanders clamping down and trying to win this game 2-1. Whether they succeed is another matter, but here’s how I plan to wager on tonight’s matchup.
Under 5.5 Total Goals (-141)
With the Islanders on the brink, coach Barry Trotz needs to be zealous about giving his best players more ice time and exploiting matchups. While Mathew Barzal has seen his ice time increase, Trotz has generally been indifferent to the fact that he has just one reliable defensive pairing, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. Simply put: Pelech and Pulock need to play close to half the game.
In the series, Pelech and Pulock have played nearly 41 minutes of 5-on-5 time and have an expected goals rate of 49.36% while allowing four more shots than the Islanders have generated. While these are mediocre metrics, there is a lacuna between this top defensive pairing and the Islanders’ second and third pairs.
For example, the second pair of Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews has an expected goals of 28.12% and has allowed 11 more shots against them when they are on the ice. The Islanders are hemorrhaging high-danger chances while producing few when Mayfield and Toews are running the defense at 5-on-5. Yet Toews played over 17 minutes in Game 4, and 18 or more minutes in the previous three. Mayfield’s time on ice is similar despite both defensemen being disasters.
Trotz needs to lean on his best defensemen more. Pulock played 21:13 in Game 4 and Adam Pelech played 23:14. In Game 3, Pulock played less than 20 minutes and in Games 1, 2, and 3, Pelech also played less than 20 minutes.
Facing elimination, Trotz would be wise to have at least one of those defensemen on the ice when the Lightning have the Nikita Kucherov or Yanni Gourde line out there. Coach Jon Cooper will have the last change in Game 5, but Trotz should be eager to try to match his best defensemen against the Lightning’s best scoring threats.
Trotz also hasn’t fully taken advantage of the underwhelming play of the Lightning’s putative second line. In three games, Anthony Cirelli, with Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson as his wings, have had more shots and shot attempts generated against them than they have produced. They have manufactured zero 5-on-5 goals while allowing one.
Admittedly, the Cirelli line has a 62.58 expected goals, but it is allowing more high-danger chances than it is obtaining. The sample sizes are tiny, but the Barzal line has excelled against the Cirelli line while the Brock Nelson line has been bludgeoned. Trotz should utilize the possible mismatch in New York’s favor.
Even though the above tactics sound good in theory, certain realities that surface in playoff hockey may be inescapable. In this series, Vasilevskiy has a Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) of 5.01 while Semyon Varlamov has a GSAx of -0.49.
In the 14 games prior to this series, Varlamov had a GSAx of 2.31. I think the Islanders’ goaltender will have his best showing in Game 5, which should lead to a tight-checking, low-scoring goaltender showdown. But Vasilevskiy’s dominant play should have bettors feeling emboldened about taking the under 5.5 goals.
Under 1.5 goals for the Islanders (+185)
With four games played against the Lightning, the Islanders haven’t solved the problem of their breakout or how to ford the neutral zone. This should make bettors bearish on the prospects of New York scoring two or more goals, with the caveat that special teams can always intervene.
There is great value here when you understand how difficult it is for the Islanders to plant their flag in the offensive zone.
There are basically two routes for the Islanders to establish cycling in the offensive zone. The first is to have a player propped up in the neutral zone as the defensemen hits him for a tip dump-in. The Islanders’ third and fourth lines did this effectively in Game 4.
The second strategy is the area pass. The Islanders’ attempts to direct pass or funnel the puck up the boards on breakouts couldn’t be going worse. Both have ended up catalyzing offensive zone time for the Bolts. Efforts to carry the puck through the neutral zone have been decisively thwarted by Tampa Bay.
But the area pass creates a race between an Islanders forward and the Lightning defensemen and has Tampa Bay racing back to its goal instead of advancing toward New York’s. Choosing which defensemen to try this against is important — avoid Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev — but most importantly it is a roadmap for the Islanders to leave their zone, potentially collect possession, and work the cycle on the other end.
By and large, the Islanders have failed to make the Lightning defensemen wary of encroaching deeper and deeper into their offensive zone. Another way to get the Lightning defensemen to worry is having New York’s forwards sporadically flying the zone and trying to attack Tampa Bay through the middle.
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The Lightning are so comfortable in the offensive zone that NBC Sports analyst Eddie Olczyk shared an anecdote about how coach Cooper told him the Lightning are happy to spread the Islanders out in their own end because then they can’t pack the middle.
The way to get Cooper to stop crowing to the media about his team’s offensive-zone strategy is to force those Tampa Bay defensemen who are split so far wide to be concerned that they are going to get burned through the middle of the ice. (Barzal had a breakaway earlier in this series when he sprinted through the middle.) True, flying the zone involves risk because one Islanders skater is being effectively removed from the play, but the current posture isn’t working. Creativity beckons.
I’m wagering on the Islanders not pivoting. Instead of utilizing area passes and all four lines using tip dump-ins, they will still try to carry the puck through the middle of the ice and will look toward the boards or direct passes to exit their end. Even though data from four games suggest this doesn’t work.
Under 2.5 goals for the Lightning (+138)
Game 4 was lost by the Islanders in the neutral zone. The Lightning’s second and third goals resulted from attacks off the rush because of the Islanders’ failures in that middle area.
On the Ondrej Palat goal, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey went chasing after Kevin Shattenkirk and Victor Hedman, who passed the puck to each other behind the blue line in their own zone. When the Islanders forwards did this, that opened up the entire lower half of the neutral zone for Kucherov, who easily received a pass from Hedman and quickly ferried the puck through the middle for the entry, which led to a goal.
The gap between Beauvillier and Bailey and their teammates is significant. Brock Nelson had linked onto Brayden Point and was following him as he ambled toward the blue line, and both Islanders defensemen sank back on their gaps, perched along the far blue line.
Compare that poor defensive structure in the neutral zone with Point’s goal in the third period of Game 4. Barzal tried to carry the puck into the neutral zone but was denied by Palat. This forced Barzal to improvise and whip an indirect pass off the glass, hoping it would find a teammate.
But both Lightning defensemen had gapped up on Barzal’s linemates, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee. It was Tampa Bay’s Zach Bogosian who retrieved the errant pass and chucked it back into the neutral zone where three Lightning forwards lay waiting to quickly counterattack.
The Islanders need their defensemen stepping up in the neutral zone and their top-six forwards need to provide coverage underneath. This is a fixable problem, so I like the Lightning under 2.5 goals, especially at +138. The Islanders’ neutral zone shell should mirror the Lightning’s. If it does, offense will be hard to come by.
In Game 4, the Point line had far too many easy entries because the Islanders’ forwards were not pestering the Bolts in transition defense and New York’s defensemen were cowed into backpedaling by the speed of the attack.
Coach Trotz is hailed as a defensive genius. I think there will be great specificity in the Islanders’ neutral zone play and more smothering gaps in Game 5. I could see this being a dull contest with minimal offensive chances, but if bettors are wise to that, it could be profitable.