We have a monster slate of NHL games on tap tonight. A night after seeing just one game on the schedule, we have a whopping 13 games of NHL action this evening and plenty of value on the board.
It’s been a bit of an uneven start to the season with my personal picks as I continue to feel out the teams and players in what’s largely been a volatile start to the condensed NHL campaign.
With that in mind, let’s bear down and see if we can get hot moving forward.
We’ll begin tonight’s action with the Islanders vs. Capitals in the first of a two-game set from D.C.!
- Season Record: 6-8
- Units: -2.65
Islanders vs. Capitals Betting Odds
- Islanders (-126)
- Capitals (+114)
- Islanders -1.5 (+195)
- Capitals +1.5 (-225)
- Over 5.5 (+109)
- Under 5.5 (-120)
Islanders vs. Capitals NHL Pick Breakdown
It’s been an ugly start to the season for this Islanders offense, even taking into consideration their defense-first mindset under head coach Barry Trotz.
The Islanders enter this one ranked dead last with just 1.80 goals per game on the season. They’ve scored eight of their nine goals in two of their five games so far, but have also combined for just one goal across the other three. In other words, this offense has been wildly inconsistent in the early going.
Depth scoring has been an issue. The top-line trio of Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle have combined for six of the the team’s nine goals while the Isles have yet to get a goal from their bottom-nine winger group across five games so far this season.
Four of their nine goals have also come via the power play.
That’s not to say they haven’t generated chances at even strength, either. At 5v5 this season, the Islanders rank 14th in scoring chances for/60, 11th in high-danger chances for/60, but 20th in expected goals for/60, as per Natural Stat Trick. A last-ranked high-danger shooting rate at 5v5 and a minuscule 4.95% overall shooting rate at 5v5 has been the main cause of their lack of production to this point.
This certainly appears to be a group due for some positive regression moving forward, even if they will remain one of the weaker offenses in the league again this season.
The Islanders are 3-2-0 on the young season despite boasting the league’s worst offense. Of course, that means the defense has been pretty darn good once again.
Only the Dallas Stars have prevented goals at a rate superior to the Isles’ 1.60/game mark on the season, and Dallas has only played two games. The Islanders already have two shutouts to their credit in five contests and have allowed more than two goals once — a 5-0 loss to the Rangers in their second game of the season.
Since Trotz took over behind the team’s bench, the Islanders rank third while allowing 2.51 goals per game. Only the Stars (2.46) and Boston Bruins (2.48) have been better, and not by much.
The advanced metrics haven’t always supported such stout defensive results, but this year the Islanders rank 11th or better in expected goals against/60, scoring chances against/60 and high-danger chances against/60 at 5v5, so they have certainly been a tough team to penetrate when in the offensive zone.
It appears the Islanders’ low-offensive, stout-defensive ways have returned in spades to begin the season.
Much of the goaltending spotlight entering the season was focused on rookie Ilya Sorokin who was making the jump from the KHL to the NHL after five eye-popping seasons in his native Russia.
That said, it’s been the team’s other Russian netminder that has stolen the show in the early going while Sorokin has struggled through the first two outings of his NHL career.
Indeed, veteran Semyon Varlamov has been outstanding early on, posting a 0.33 GAA and .988 Sv% across three starts, posting two shutouts in the process. His most recent outing included allowing just one goal in a 4-1 win over the Devils on Thursday.
Varlamov has never been considered one of the league’s best goaltenders, but rather a reliable one. The 32-year-old owns a career 2.66 GAA and .916 Sv% between the Washington Capitals, Colorado Avalanche and Islanders after he worked to a 2.62 GAA and .914 Sv% in his first season on Long Island last year.
Sorokin’s time will come as he continues to study under his countrymate, but for now Varlamov enters this one as the hottest goaltender in the NHL.
Of course, the team’s well-documented breach of protocol will cost them a pair of their best forwards in Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov for this one again tonight. The Caps have managed seven goals in their two-game absence so far, but there’s little doubt this is a weakened group without those star-caliber talents.
That said, much of their offensive damage has come on a power play that ranks eighth with a 33.3% clip through six games. They’ve scored eight of their 22 goals this season on the power play.
It’s a good thing because they haven’t been able to generate much of anything at even strength. At 5v5 so far, the Capitals rank last in scoring chances for/60, 28th in high-danger chances for/60 and last in expected goals for/60. They rank fifth in goals for/60 at 5v5, but there is a major gap between their 3.2 mark in that department and their 1.58 in the expected department. A clear indication of regression to come if they don’t start to generate more chances.
Instead, the Caps have benefited from their fourth-ranked shooting rate on high-danger chances at 5v5 and their league-high 12.70% mark overall at 5v5 this season. With a sniper like Ovechkin in the lineup, don’t be surprised to see some serious regression kick in as their 1.051 PDO tells us they have been the second-luckiest 5v5 offense in the NHL this season.
Add in another top-six forward in Tom Wilson being listed as a game-time decision tonight and there doesn’t appear to be much reason to be bullish on this Caps offense at the moment.
Washington is also without a key defender from the protocol fallout as Dmitri Orlov will also miss his third straight contest tonight.
The Caps enter this one ranked 20th while allowing 3.17 goals per game on the season and their penalty killing has done them no favors, sitting 23rd with a 73.9% mark to this point.
It appears they’ve been better as a group than those surface numbers give them credit for. At 5v5, the Capitals rank fifth in scoring chances against/60, 17th in high-danger chances against/60 and 10th in expected goals against/60. These numbers are bit of a mixed bag in a small sample, but they’ve certainly been better at 5v5 than the surface number would show, but their penalty kill continues to struggle and is without a key member of that group in Orlov.
It’s not the deepest of groups, either. There’s reliability in John Carlson, Brendon Dillon and Zdeno Chara, but not so much in Justin Schultz, Jonas Siegenthaler and Trevor van Riemsdyk, at least not from a defensive standpoint. There are certainly far superior groups around the league.
For now, that’s who they have to contain what has been an anemic Islanders offense in the early stages of the 2021 campaign.
Yet another key member missing from the lineup is a fourth Russian in goaltender Ilya Samsonov who like Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Orlov before him, will miss his third consecutive game tonight and at least one more after this one.
Given the heart condition revealed by Henrik Lundqvist late in the offseason and now the absence of Samsonov, the Capitals’ goaltending situation has taken two gut punches so far, but rookie Vitek Vanecek has mitigated the damage.
Vanecek has been better than expected in posting a solid 2.87 GAA and .912 Sv% in four starts as he makes his fourth consecutive start in this one tonight.
A second-round pick in 2014 out of the Czech Republic, Vanecek played 31 games of the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears last season, posting a quality 2.26 GAA and .917 Sv% in that time. He’s worked his way up the organizational ladder since being drafted, but even he couldn’t have expected this much responsibility so quickly into his NHL career, one of that wasn’t expected to start this season.
He’s coming off a hard-fought shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres in which he fended off 45 of 48 shots in regulation and overtime but Jack Eichel’s shootout goal stood as the winner for the Sabres in that one.
We’ll see if he can hold down the fort in what appears to be a more favorable matchup tonight.
Islanders vs. Capitals NHL Pick
There haven’t been many times over the last decade in which you doubt the Capitals’ offensive ability, but this certainly appears to be one of them. They’re without two key weapons, of course, and two key components of that deadly power play unit. If Wilson doesn’t dress for this one, there’s another difference-maker out of the lineup up front.
There’s also plenty of concern on the back end. The Caps were outshot 48-31 against the Sabres their last time out and five of their six defensemen posted Corsi For% under 37%. In other words, not good whatsoever.
They were able to secure a point on the back of Vanecek, and they are in for a major test offensively against an Islanders defense that’s been as advertised this season.
It’s been tough to rely on an Islanders offense of late, but this is a big opportunity for them. The blueline is both shorthanded and weak at the moment. Ripe for the taking, to be exact.
There is a case to be made for the under here, but I’m going to pivot to the Islanders as moneyline favorites at similar odds.