Important game in the Metropolitan Division on Thursday night as the Pittsburgh Penguins travel to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to take on the scorching hot New York Islanders. The Islanders lost 3 of their first four games this season. They haven’t lost since and a 4-1 win at home against Ottawa last time out ran their winning streak to 10 games. The Pittsburgh Penguins have gone 5-4-1 in their last 10 games losing 2 straight. Their recent term form is more problematic than that–the Penguins have only two wins in their last 7 games. The Penguins are now in fourth place with 17 points while the Islanders are on the verge of running down the Washington Capitals atop the division. New York has 22 points and trail the Caps by 3. Washington has also been playing well winning four straight going 8-1-1 in their last 10.
The Islanders have been doing it with defense. They’ve got the best goals against per game in hockey at 2.14 per contest. Both of their goaltenders have been in excellent form and that has given the Islanders the luxury of splitting time equally between Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss. Greiss is 6-1-0 on the year with a 2.00 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. Varlamov will get the start here and is 5-2-0 with a 2.14 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. Given New York’s impressive defensive form they don’t exactly need to put up huge numbers on offense to be successful. They’re #14 in goals scored per game with 3.07 which is good but not great.
The Penguins are scoring a fair amount of goals with 3.40 per game ranking #9 in the NHL. The defense is in a tie for #9 at 2.60 goals against per game. It’s tough to win only 2 of 7 with top ten rankings in goals for and goals against the Penguins have done it. Special teams have been an issue for Pittsburgh–they’ve got the #24 power play in hockey at 14% though the penalty kill has been solid at #6 killing off 86.5% of man advantage opportunities.
One important component of our handicap is valuation. The Penguins have for years been one of the biggest ‘public’ teams in the NHL and thus are overvalued relative to the betting line on a nightly basis. That’s why their profit/loss in the past three seasons is downright astounding–they’ve lost -29 units overall, -18.8 units in the first half of the season, -12.5 units against divisional opponents and -7.5 units when playing teams with a winning record. The Islanders are at the other end of the spectrum–a decent team that has been (and remains) undervalued. As a result, they’re +14.4 units overall in the past three years, +17.6 units against divisional rivals and +10.1 units against divisional rivals. They have lost -7.6 units against opponents with winning records.
Just don’t see a reason to jump in front of this Islanders freight train at the moment. Isles have beaten Penguins in 6 of the last 8 meetings overall and 4 of 6 at home. Given the near pick’em price here there’s no reason to buck the hottest team in the league.