My NHL picks got off on the right note in what seemed like an Opening Night gift.
When BetOnline first released its odds for the five NHL Opening Night matchups, the Lightning -1.5 puckline odds were at +140. While we got it yesterday morning at +105, the odds has shifted further to about -106 come puck drop. That gives you an idea of where the money was coming in on this one.
As expected, it wasn’t close. The Lightning scored three goals in the final 10 minutes of the first period and they were well on their way. They would add two more and despite having the shutout broken with under four minutes to play on a Dylan Strome bank shot from behind the goal line, the Bolts cruised to a 5-1 victory over the undermanned Blackhawks.
It was nice to get our season started with a plus-money winner, and we’ll look to keep it going on tonight’s 10-game schedule!
We’ll start with an all-New York matchup as it’s the Islanders vs. Rangers from Madison Square Garden!
Season Record: 1-0
Islanders vs. Rangers Betting Odds
- Islanders (-104)
- Rangers (-106)
- Islanders -1.5 (+240)
- Rangers +1.5 (-285)
- Over 5.5 (-125)
- Under 5.5 (+113)
Islanders vs. Rangers NHL Pick Breakdown
Since Barry Trotz took over prior to the 2018-19 season, the Islanders have been one of the weaker offenses in the league as Trotz immense success behind the New York bench to this point has been built on a defense-first structure. I don’t see that changing a whole lot this season.
Last season, the Islanders ranked 22nd in overall offense and 24th on the man advantage. While splits can be volatile from season to season, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the Islanders were putrid on the road offensively a season ago, tying the L.A. Kings for 27th with just 2.33 goals per game despite a power play that actually ranked 16th.
We’ll monitor splits as this season moves forward, but we won’t hang out hat on them quite yet.
It appears the Islanders more or less deserved their offensive fate last season. They ranked 23rd in expected goals/60 and 16th in scoring chances/60 at 5v5, but perhaps their fourth-ranked high-danger chances for/60 could provide hope for increased production as their 25th-ranked high-danger shooting rate certainly hurt them.
The club indeed has their No. 1 center back for this one in Mathew Barzal after an offseason contract stalemate, and that could be big as they look to matchup up with his high-octane Rangers offense.
Things we love: Barzal breakaway goals pic.twitter.com/Ff9rK2GaAq
— Isles on MSG+2 Tonight (@IslesMSGN) December 1, 2019
As noted, the Islanders’ key to success is on the back end where they have been the third-best defense in the league over the last two seasons. Only the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins have been better, and only slightly.
There’s not much star power on the blueline, but rather a group that works as one. The team was forced to trade away the offensive upside of Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche due to salary cap constraints, and Johnny Boychuk retired due to an eye injury he suffered last season.
Ranking 10th in terms of 5v5 save percentage and high-danger save percentage helps, but it will certainly be interesting to see if the gap between their surface numbers and peripheral figures remains as wide as it was a season ago.
The Islanders allowed Thomas Greiss to walk in free agency knowing that top goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin was on his way after five elite seasons in the KHL.
However, it appears the veteran Semyon Varlamov will get the nod in tonight’s season opener after a little bit of an up-and-down season last year, his first on Long Island.
His year-end result of a 2.62 GAA and .914 Sv% is fine enough, with the latter ranking ninth among the 22 goaltenders who played at least 40 games and 19th among the 45 that played at least 30.
A little better than league average goaltending could get the job done again, but if the Islanders continue to allow scoring chances at the rates the analytics tell us, I’m not sure if Varlamov can survive with the same satisfactory results.
At the end of the day, however, he’s the owner o f a career 2.67 GAA and .915 Sv%, almost identical to his figures last season, so at least the club can more or less know what to expect from the 32-year-old Russian.
If you’re looking as to why the Rangers were making a case as a Wild Card contender before the league’s pause last season, look no further than their offense.
Indeed, the Rangers ranked fifth in overall offense last season and seventh on the power play. It’s largely an identical offense to last season, but simply replace the departed Jesper Fast with 2020 first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere who will make his highly-anticipated NHL debut in this one tonight.
It appears head coach David Quinn is going to spread the wealth — at least to start — as he’s moved Artemi Panarin onto a line with Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko (don’t forget about the 2019 No. 2 overall pick) while putting Mika Zibanejad between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich.
What you’ll get from the Rangers is a steady offensive attack from at least their top nine and perhaps even the fourth line that includes capable offensive producers in the rugged Brendan Lemieux and youngster Brett Howden. Lemieux was drafted No. 31 overall in 2014 and Howden with the 27th pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016.
It’s awfully difficult to see this Rangers offense taking any significant steps back this season.
The question marks for this team certainly reside on the back end where a young, developing defensive corps exists.
Rookie K’Andre Miller impressed so much at the team’s 10-day training camp that he cracked the top six while sophomore Adam Fox looks to build on an excellent rookie season, offensively. Jacob Trouba looks to continue as the leader of the blueline while Tony DeAngelo is also coming off a big year on offense. It’s a group that added veteran Jack Johnson, but he’ll provide experience over anything on the ice
A year of development sure helped, but what won’t help is the abbreviated camp and no exhibition games. We saw plenty of goals scored in last night’s action, and plenty of rust defensively. That could very well be the case again for this inexperienced Rangers blueline.
The arrival of goaltender Igor Shesterkin coincided with improved surface defensive numbers for the the Rangers last season. Except it was not a coincidence.
Like the Islanders’ young Russian goaltender Sorokin, Shesterkin has come into the NHL after years of eye-popping work in the KHL. Shesterkin is the one with at least some NHL experience under his belt as he made 12 starts for the Rangers last season, working to a 2.52 GAA and .932 Sv% in that time. That work came on the heels of a dominant 1.90 GAA and .934 Sv% in 25 games with the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack.
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) February 23, 2020
It appears the 25-year-old is certainly ready to take over as the team’s No. 1 goaltender ahead of fellow young Russian Alexandar Georgiev. While Quinn hasn’t committed to such a deployment of his netminders, you have to believe Shesterkin begins the season as the 1A option, and a season-opening nod is clear evidence of that.
We’ll probably see more of a 60/40 split between the two Russian goaltenders this season, but it certainly appears the Rangers are set in the goaltending department for years to come.
Islanders vs. Rangers NHL Pick
Like we saw with the likes of the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs last night, look for a long-standing rivalry to get kicked off with plenty of entertainment in the battle of New York.
No, the Islanders don’t play an entertaining game and they are one of the better suited opponents to shut down a high-powered Rangers offense that awaits to see what Lafreniere can contribute out of the gate.
That said, while both teams produced poor defensive metrics last season, the Rangers are the team far more capable of taking advantage of scoring chances, and when you blend in the goaltending advantage they appear to have, you have to like the home side here.
We saw plenty of offense last night. There were 7.4 goals scored per game on average across the five Opening Night contests.
While the over isn’t the worst play in the world, I’m not seeing much value in the -125 odds there and frankly, I don’t trust this Islanders team to score much on Shesterkin, even against a suspect Rangers blueline.
Rather, I’ll hop on board with the high-powered Rangers offense if there is some goals to be had as we’ve already witnessed, so give me the blueshirts at -106 on the moneyline.