Today's Free Picks for
Posted May 16, before Game 1.
Series Wager: NY Islanders +125
12:08 PM EST. We’re pretty sure we’re not the only ones that looked at the lines when they came out and thought that Pittsburgh was a “short” favorite. Pittsburgh was elite down the stretch, they have home-ice advantage and they took six of eight games against the Islanders in the season series while the Isles have dropped four of their last five games and have just five wins over their final 14 games.
The Penguins closed the year with a 18-5-2 record over their final 25 games. That was tops in the entire league, tied with Colorado. During that final stretch, the Penguins won 17 games in regulation, posted a +27 goal differential and scored 3.88 goals per game. Those numbers paint a picture of dominance while the Islanders were losing game after game. Current form or recency bias favors Pittsburgh to a massive degree. We once again have to question why Pittsburgh opened as a -125 favorite when teams like Toronto opened at -210 or Carolina at -185 or Colorado at -250? The efficient market is also eating up the Penguins, which is of course no surprise. Who doesn’t like the Penguins?
First, when we see a number that “doesn’t look right”, it raises red flags. Second, it’s not all peaches and cream regarding the Penguins stretch dominance. It’s worth noting that 12 of Pittsburgh’s final 25 games came against the Devils and Sabres. Pittsburgh did indeed win a lot of games down the stretch, but the underlying metrics tell us they were sloppy and beatable and just happened to bury a punch of pucks while the opposition, who had just as many high danger scoring chances, did not. That extreme puck luck may not hold up here. You see, according to MoneyPuck, the Islanders had the highest expected save percentage in the NHL this season. In other words, no team made life easier on their goaltender than the Isles did. That bodes well for Semyon Varlamov who had the third-best save percentage (.930) and sixth-best Goals Saved Above Expectation (+9.55) among goalies who played in at least 10 games in 2021.
Through the first 38 games of the season the Islanders had the fourth-best 5-on-5 goal differential, the third-best expected goals rate and led the NHL in high-danger scoring chance percentage. In other words, the Isles were a force to be reckoned with at even strength most of the year and then their puck luck took a turn for the worse. They scored on just 6.1% of their shots at even strength in their last 17 games. That was the worst mark in the NHL during that stretch, so some positive regression wouldn’t be surprising for a deep offense that had six players that scored at least 12 goals this season. The Islanders are rightly known as a defensive power, but their stinginess often causes folks to overlook a well-balanced, deep forward group that created the sixth-most high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 this season. So, you think the Penguins look like a short favorite? Think again, as they’re in very tough and their dominance was highly luck-driven that did not expose their flawed play. We’re therefore making two bets. Islanders to win Game 1 and Islanders in the Series.
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N.Y. Islanders +125 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.50)