NHL Playoff Picks
It’s a mixed bag of a Saturday in the NHL as we have an elimination game and a series opener on the same night. Within the American border, the New York Islanders are shipping up to Boston to begin their second round series with the Bruins.
Series Tied 0-0
If you’re a fan of tough, tight, defensive hockey, you should be in for a treat as the New York Islanders head to Boston to begin their second round series.
Boston has been an elite team in this league for over a decade, but it’s never been their offense that has wowed teams. It’s been their team defensive effort as well as goaltender Tuukka Rask that has led them to success.
On the flipside, the New York Islanders have now won five postseason series (including their qualifying round series last year) over the past three years under head coach Barry Trotz. When Trotz came in, he changed the team’s commitment to the defensive side of the game and it immediately paid dividends.
Only the Vegas Golden Knights gave up fewer goals per game during the regular season than the New York Islanders. Boston had the 4th best goals against average in the league themselves. Both teams ranked top ten in terms of expected goals against and high danger chances allowed.
In the first round of these playoffs, Boston allowed just 7.33 high danger chances per game to the Washington Capitals. Washington boasts a ton of high end talent including Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie. For Boston to neutralize that offense is an impressive accomplishment.
A lot will be made about the impact of the “Perfection Line” in this series. Boston’s top line featuring Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is amongst the best units in the league. However, Barry Trotz will likely deploy the defensive pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock against the trio. Pelech and Pulock were one of the best shutdown pairings in the league during the regular season. In the first round of these playoffs, they held Sidney Crosby to just one goal and two points through six games.
The Islanders will need more from their top line if they want to compete in this series. Mat Barzal is the Isles’ most talented forward, but he had just one even strength assist during the six games against the Penguins. Additionally, his line played to a 40% expected goal rate, which isn’t near good enough for the Isles.
Some might see that the Isles scored 21 goals in their win over the Penguins and say that the Islanders offense is performing well. However, I would take those numbers with a grain of salt. Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry was awful in the series and posted a goals saved above expectation mark of nearly -8 goals. An average goaltending performance likely would have made the Isles’ offense look a lot less impressive.
Boston is favorites in game one and it’s hard to disagree with that, even as an Islanders fan. However, the number is slightly inflated. This Islanders team has proved people wrong every step of the way over the past three years. I think they’re worthy of a bet on the moneyline as a value underdog, but that’s not my favorite play in this game.
I think goals will be at a premium. Ilya Sorokin and Tuukka Rask combined for a +6 goals saved above expectation in the first round. Both of their save percentages on unblocked shots at 5-on-5 was nearly 97%. Combine this with both teams' commitment to the defensive side of the game, and I think we see a low scoring affair.
A lot of books are realizing this and listing the total at a flat five goals. However, there are still some sportsbooks where you can find the total listed at 5.5 goals. Obviously, I’d prefer to have the hook, but even at five goals, I think it’s worth a bet. I can see a 2-1 type of game to open this series.
BET: Under 5.5 @ -160