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NHL handicapper Pete Truszkowski gets the NHL restart underway with his picks for Saturday's games

Ladies and gentleman, it is August 1 and hockey is back. Yes, put away your sunglasses, head home from the beach and let’s get ready to watch some NHL hockey in this bizarre world and year we are currently living in.

The NHL kicks off it’s postseason tournament on this Saturday with a solid five-game slate for us to dive into. We’ve got non-stop hockey from noon ET, when the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes face-off in Toronto, until around 1AM EST when the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames start wrapping things up in Edmonton. This is what dreams are made of.

Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers

BET: Over 5.5 Goals @ -113

The Rangers are a trendy pick here, but we are seeing some reverse-line-movement in favor of Carolina, which is something to monitor. Despite this, I feel this series should be a competitive series, and at the moment I don’t feel comfortable making a play on a side just yet.

With that being said, I do love the total here. The Rangers give up the 2nd most expected goals against per game in the league. Carolina scores the 2nd most expected goals per game. The Rangers are also a bottom-5 team in the league in terms of both high-danger chances against as well as scoring chances against. Carolina is a top-5 team in both high-danger chances as well as scoring chances.

You look at these numbers and you might think the play has to be Carolina. We do know the Hurricanes control play in the offensive zone for a lot of the games they play. However, their best defenseman, Dougie Hamilton, has been ruled ‘unfit to play’ for this game. In addition, the Rangers finished 5th this season in goals scored per game. They have MVP candidate Artemi Panarin driving their offense. Panarin put up 95 points in 69 games, good for third best in the league.

In Saturday’s game, I expect Carolina to control play but the Rangers to strike back on the counter attack. I predict a high-scoring game to kick things off for the NHL postseason.

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders

BET: Islanders moneyline @ -110

Note: Pete is a die-hard fan of the NY Islanders. He feels comfortable betting on and against them. If you’re afraid of some type of bias, feel free to lay off.

The Islanders were about to blow it completely if the season was never postponed. The team had lost seven straight games and were struggling mightily to put the puck in the net. If the season wasn’t paused, they would have been in a dog-fight to get into the real playoffs.

That was over four months ago at this point, and that has to be put in the past. Let’s take a look at the season as a whole. Both Florida and the Isles were below average teams when it comes to the analytics. According to NaturalStatTrick, the Isles expected goal percentage was 48.84% while Florida came in at 48.09%. In terms of high quality chances, the Isles are slightly above average, coming in at 50.08%, while Florida was third worst in the league at 45.75%.

These teams separate in the defensive zone and in goal. The Isles will receive Adam Pelech back from an achilles injury which he suffered on January 2. Prior to January 2, the Isles gave up an average of 2.56 goals a game, 5th best in the league. Since his injury, the Isles were giving up 2.99 goals a game, 20th in the league.

Florida’s goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, had a colossal failure of a first season with the team. After signing a huge contract, he was a bottom-tier goalie. He was giving up 13.46 goals above expectation this season according to Evolving-Hockey. For the Isles, Semyon Varlamov was above average, giving up 1.33 goals less than expectation and saving 4.77 goals above average.

I argued with myself whether to even mention the results of the exhibition game these teams played. Florida got shellacked, 5-0, by the Lightning. The Isles played a near-perfect defensive game against the Rangers, beating them, 2-1. The quality of the opponent is different, but one team looked focused and ready to go while the other team got blown out. It was a meaningless game, but these teams have no time to waste.

Early returns as of Friday evening show the Islanders getting 85% of the money despite getting only 42% of the tickets. Sharps like the boys from Long Island.

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames

BET: Flames moneyline @ -120

If you trust in the numbers and you follow the advanced stats, you know where we are going here. Winnipeg is viewed as one of the worst teams in the league that was completely saved by a tremendous goaltending display by Connor Hellebuyck.

Winnipeg finished dead last in the league in terms of their expected goal performance. Yes, they finished worse than Detroit, a team that won just 17 times in 71 games. The Jets opponent, Calgary, was a middle of the pack team, finishing 16th in the same metric. Calgary’s play improved as the season went along due to the dismissal of coach Bill Peters and the hiring of Geoff Ward.

Both teams feature very strong offenses. With names like Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, Tkachuk, Scheifele, Connor, Wheeler, Ehlers and Laine between the two teams, offensive talent isn’t an issue. 

On defense, Winnipeg might have one of the worst units in the league. They lost Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien prior to the season and never did replace them. Thankfully for them, Connor Hellebuyck had an insane season. He saved 19.86 goals above expectation this past season. Second closest? Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper, at less than half, with 8.71.

Hellebuyck is great, but goaltending always struggles in October after a long lay-off. If we expect that to also happen in this tournament, the impact of a great goalie might be diminished. Winnipeg just did not have the puck enough for me to feel confident taking them. Winnipeg appears to be a trendy public dog late on Saturday. You know what they say: public dogs have fleas.


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