NHL Picks: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals Predictions
After a weird wild Saturday night across the NHL, the league has a more manageable two game slate for us on Sunday. We have a 12PM game to get the sports day going before the NFL games off and then we have a night cap in Florida. Let’s dive into both games and explore possible ways to make a profit.
It might be weird to say about a team entering just their third game of the season, but I think we’re going to figure out a lot about this Pittsburgh Penguins team in Sunday’s matinee.
The Penguins lost both of their first two games against the Philadelphia Flyers and the final scores weren’t particularly close. The Flyers outscored the Penguins 11-5 over the two game mini-series.
Thankfully for Pittsburgh, the underlying metrics are promising. Through two games, the Penguins actually edged the Flyers in terms of expected goals by a tally of 2.59 to 2.22. While such a small differential over two games seems inconsequential, it’s important to put into context that they weren’t blown out in both games. They played relatively even hockey but things did not go their way in the special teams and goaltending department.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the goaltending was a question mark coming into the season and Tristan Jarry has done nothing but add more question marks to the question. Jarry gave up six goals in the opener and then gave up 3 goals on 6 shots before getting pulled in game two. Through two games, he possesses an ugly .727 save percentage and 7.57 goals against average.
Pittsburgh traded Matt Murray away to the Senators in the offseason after Murray struggled the previous two seasons. Murray has two Stanley Cups on his resume which made it a difficult decision for the organization. There was hope that Jarry could take over the reigns but since January 1st of 2020, he has the lowest save percentage of qualified goalies.
The Penguins will likely turn to his backup Casey DeSmith in this contest, so the goaltending situation is something to monitor closely for Pittsburgh.
On the flipside, Washington has won two games but they haven’t looked particularly impressive in the process. This is basically the opposite of what has happened in Pittsburgh.
Through two games against the Buffalo Sabres, the Capitals had a negative expected goal differential. They received great goaltending from backup goalie Vitek Vanecek on Friday night to steal a game they probably deserved to lose.
Washington will always outperform their metrics due to the amount of high-end talent on the roster. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, TJ Oshie, Jakub Vrana and John Carlson can all flip the game with one rush.
In this game, I’m giving the Penguins another chance. I think we’ll see a desperate Penguins team who realizes that they can’t survive a slow start. Washington might be feeling a little full after their 2-0 start.
If Pittsburgh continues to falter, it’s a situation worth monitoring as this talented team will provide opportunities to bet against them throughout the season. But for Sunday afternoon, I still believe in the talent and pedigree of this team to get their season on track.
The Pick: Penguins ML (-110)
The Florida Panthers will play their first game of the season on Sunday night against a Chicago Blackhawks team that comes in with an 0-2 record. While the Blackhawks are not expected to be a good team this season, it’s important to note that their first two games were against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blackhawks were outscored by a combined score of 10-3 in their two games against the Lightning, conceding five goals in both games.
The biggest question mark for the Blackhawks this season will come in between the pipes. Robin Lehner was traded to Vegas late last season and then Corey Crawford left the organization before ultimately retiring. Chicago now turns their crease over to a pair of unknowns in Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia.
The two goalies both have gotten one start thus far this season, and neither went particularly well, as both were beaten five times. Granted, facing the Lightning is not a fun way to get settled into the hockey season. With that being said, Subban had a goals saved above expectation of -1.85 in his start, while Delia was not much better at -1.77.
Chicago’s goaltending will be under extra scrutiny because of the state of their team defense. No team gave up more expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 last season than the Blackhawks with 2.63. Duncan Keith has long been the anchor on the blueline for the Blackhawks, but Keith is now 37 years old with a lot of long playoff runs on his tires.
Offensively, the Blackhawks are dangerous when Patrick Kane is on the ice who is still one of the better players in the sport. Kane is joined by some exciting young talent like Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they’ll be without captain Jonathan Toews who will miss an extended period of time due to an unknown medical issue.
Florida comes into this season in a position they’ve often been in the past few years. People definitely aren’t sold on the Panthers, but there’s something about the team that leads people to believe this year might be the year they are good. With the Central Division being a bit wide open, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Panthers can make the playoffs this season.
Florida’s biggest issue for the past few years has been their goaltending. They thought they solved their issue when they signed two time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven year contract in 2019, but Bobrovsky was a bottom ten goaltender in his first season with the club last year.
Bobrovsky will not be ready for the start of the season due to an injury, so the Panthers will turn to backup goalie Chris Driedger in this game. Driedger performed very well in limited duty last year for the team, but the sample size was small.
Offensively, the Panthers lost over 50 goals when Evgenii Dadonov signed with the Senators and Mike Hoffman joined the Blues. However, they’ve done a decent job in replacing that production by trading for Patric Hornqvist from the Penguins and signing Anthony Duclair. Offense has never been an issue for Florida and these changes don’t do much to change that.
Last year, the Panthers were a top six team in terms of goals per game and they were a bottom three team in goals against per game. Chicago was the worst defensive team in the league according to the analytics.
Florida will be starting their backup goaltender and Chicago’s goaltending is filled with question marks. I think you know where I’m going here.
I think we’ll see some goals on Sunday night.
The Pick: Over 6.5 goals (-120)
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Penguins ML (-110)
Over 6.5 goals (-120)
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Our expert handicapper Pete Truszkowski is a die-hard Islanders fan but doesn't let it bias him. He was born and raised on Long Island and he's been betting on hockey for a decade. Don't miss out on his picks.