NHL Betting: Bet The Tampa Bay Lightning, Fade The New York Islanders
As the NHL season rolls into November, let’s take a look at a couple of teams that may deliver hockey bettors some value as the market tries to make sense of the first few weeks of the year.
Play: Tampa Bay Lightning
Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning put together one of the greatest regular seasons in NHL history. Tampa’s 62 wins set an all-time record, and its 128 point tally ranked fourth in league history. A coronation seemed inevitable on the way to a championship. Instead, the dream that was the regular season gave way to a nightmarish postseason, in which they were incredibly swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets. In response to one of the biggest upsets in the history of postseason hockey, the Lightning have been, well, underwhelming. It’s hard to say if they’re still shell-shocked, or if they’ve just been drawn back in by the chasing pack, but they have not seem motivated to revenge the embarrassment of the last season’s collapse.
Through 13 games, Tampa is 6-5-2, which is clearly a disappointment for fans and the organization itself. That said, they were 9-3-1 at this time last season, which was better to be sure, but a difference of five points is not the end of the world. There are a few reasons to think that the Lightning may catch itself in a bottle, and start to climb back to their place at or near the top of the Eastern Conference.
To begin with, somewhat amazingly, Tampa has played only four of its first 13 games at home. Although they were a staggering 30-9-2 away from home last season, that level of play was almost certain to regress. This year, the Lightning have cobbled together a 4-4-1 record on their travels. Now, a real chance to reset the narrative of their season has arrived. They are in the middle of a full week off, which will allow time for injured superstar Victor Hedman to get back to full strength. They will kick off with two games against Buffalo in Hedman’s native Sweden, before playing nine of 13 at home. In the early running, Tampa has faced the 2nd toughest schedule, and this should be the first time it starts to ease up. While their may be some concerns about the travel abroad, it could also be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Then there’s the play of last year’s Vezina Award-winning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. If there was any player who was going to be most impacted by the loss against the Blue Jackets it was likely to be Vasilevskiy. Indeed, he’s struggled to begin the year, showing a decline in every major statistical category. However, he has shown glimpses in recent games of getting out of the funk, and returning to form. He was particularly spectacular in a recent loss against the Rangers, where he made 38 saves. The fact is there is simply too much talent in this locker room for the Lightning to continue to struggle the way they have. You may want to wait to see how they react to their long trip to Sweden, but there will come a time soon when the Lightning will right the ship. They certainly will not reach the heights of last season, but Tampa is a very good team that should be a fair bit better than .500 by season’s end. November presents a real opportunity for improvement.
Fade: New York Islanders
It’s always hard to bet against coaching magician Barry Trotz, but this Islanders’ run simply cannot last. A 1-0 win at Buffalo on Saturday made it nine wins on the bounce, but was a great illustration of some of the underlying problems. The Islanders only generated 21 shots in the game, and were outshot by the Sabres, who put up 27. They spent more time in the penalty box than Buffalo, but managed to survive. The sole goal, a flukey back-handed effort by Derrick Brassard, was another example of the luck this team is riding. Even Brassard himself acknowledged the good fortune. That they were facing a Sabres team that has now lost four of five, was just icing on the cake.
Hockey is such a game of chemistry and goaltending that it can be tough to bet against a team that is riding high on both. The Islanders have decided to split goaltending duties between two career journeymen, Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov. So far, it’s worked wonders, as both goalies are having the best starts in their career. They are also over-performing their lifetime numbers. While it looks good when the going is good, a two-goalie system gets very complicated when even one of them starts to struggle. It’s hard to see this working so well through a full NHL season.
The Islanders have a woeful Corsi% of 44.9%, good for second-worst in the league. This stat is designed to convey puck control and possession in the opposing zone, and a number this low suggests a regression is inevitable. It tells us that opponents are getting plenty of possession in the Islanders’ zone, and generally speaking that is going to lead to chances and goals. The Islanders also rank third in the NHL in PDO at even strength, a stat that combines a team’s save percentage and its shooting percentage. New York’s 102.9 PDO should also fall before too long. The Islanders’ overall shooting percentage is a lofty 11.1%, second-highest in the NHL. Last season, the Islanders shooting percentage finished at 9.4%, ranking them 15th league-wide. A regression looks likely in this regard as well.
Lastly, we can look at high danger scoring chances. The Islanders, although playing a defensive brand of hockey, have given up 192 high danger chances, ranking them 16th in the NHL. Yet, opponents are only converting 5.9% of those chances, the second-worst mark in the NHL. Yes, some of that is due to the fantastic goaltending of Greiss and Varlamov, but this too appears to be unsustainable.