Penguins vs Panthers – NHL Pick for October 20th
Most teams in the NHL have yet to play even a tenth of their schedule. With that in mind, it’s easy to say the sample size is far too small to make any conclusions. That certainly is the case but unless you’re betting futures, short-term trends are your friends.
We continue to see teams we thought were Cup contenders to slide while there have been tons of surprises. The Los Angeles Kings used a 3rd-period barrage to send the Canadiens packing. Now LA is still undefeated in regulation. Keep in mind they missed the playoffs just a year ago.
For Montreal, a legit favorite in the East, they are off to a terrible 1-5-1 start. Such is the case early in any professional sports season but we can use that to our advantage. The underdogs continue to surprise in the opening weeks and that means value, value, value.
Speed and offense are dominating the NHL in 2017-18. A prime example is the league-leading 6-1-0 Toronto Maple Leafs. Their trio of sophomores of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander are filling the net up at a tremendous pace.
Teams will likely adjust defensively and the offensive numbers across the league will likely go down but for now, we need to ride the wave. It’s a bit of light night with just 6 games on the ice but still lots of opportunities to make some cash. Let’s break it down!
- Pittsburgh Penguins (-120) at Florida Panthers (EVEN)
Our feature game could be a wide-open affair. Vegas sure thinks so, giving it an over/under of 6. That number isn’t used very often for a hockey game.
That isn’t a surprise when you have the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel on the ice. Yes, unfortunately for Florida those top talents all reside on the Penguins.
Nonetheless, the Panthers were a playoff team just 2 years ago winning the Atlantic Division with 103 points. After a disappointing season last year this is the type of test they need to pass to show they are back to being a threat.
The Penguins are the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions. They are the team to beat night in and night out. The team itself is pretty similar to the one that won it all the last two years.
Of course, they have the aforementioned stars in Crosby, Malkin and Kessel. Matt Murray is backstopping the club for the third straight season. It’s the small pieces that make the difference for the Pens. The likes of Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Connor Sheary are what allow this team to keep the big priced players around and remain successful.
The Panthers hope that last season was just a hiccup in their inevitable rise to the top of the NHL. After winning the Atlantic in 2015-16 they racked up just 83 points last year good for 5th in the division. They too return much of the same squad from the last two years.
Likely the biggest subtraction is Jonathan Marchessault. He was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft and was a nice piece for Florida. The biggest issue remains in goal with the aging Roberto Luongo and the perennial backup James Reimer manning the net.
The Penguins were the league’s best offensive team last year. They are continuing that type of production again this season. Their 3.6 goals a game is ranked 7th in the NHL. They averaged about the same amount last season and were tops in the league and I expect them to be right there again. Offense has been buzzing across the NHL and when it slows down Pittsburgh’s probably won’t.
Sidney Crosby is off to a decent start. He has 4 goals and 9 points through 7 games. Evgeni Malkin is right behind him with 8 points. The biggest boost to the lineup has to be Bryan Rust. He tallied just 28 points last year. He is now on the top line with Crosby and already has 8 points in 2017-18.
Florida’s offense has been pretty solid itself this year. They are ranked 10th in the league with 3.4 goals a game. That number is far higher than their production last season so I expect it to fall. Their top point producers are Evgeni Dadonov, Nick Bjustad and Jonathan Huberdeau with 5 points.
Pittsburgh has 7 players with 5 or more points on the season. What it shows is Florida lacks a true offensive stud. Vincent Trochek and Aleksander Barkov were the top-2 point-getters last season and they have 4 and 3 points this year respectively. With the loss of Marchessault who was their 3rd point producer in 2016-17, they’ll need those two to pick up the slack.
Pittsburgh was one of the worst defensive clubs last season. This year they are right there again. They are giving up 4.1 goals a game good for 30th in the league. They definitely play with defense second on the mind but it has worked for them. Kris Letang is back after suffering a major injury late last season. He is a -4 with just 4 points this year. He is the leader on the backend and will need to improve. When Letang went down Justin Schultz stepped up. He ended last year with 51 points and a solid +27 rating. He’s off to a slow start but is expected to be a key cog this season.
The Panthers are not much better on the defensive side of the puck this year. They are 29th in the league surrendering 4.0 goals a game. They need former 1st overall pick, Aaron Ekblad, to be big this season. When they won the division, he had 36 points and was a +18. Last year when they stumbled, he had just 21 points and was a dismal -23. Veteran Keith Yandle is there for support and led the team last season in minutes. However, this defensive unit is Ekblad’s to run and he needs to be better.
When Vegas selected Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray became the undisputed number one goalie in Pittsburgh. He has led them to two Cups and is just 23 so that is no surprise. However, Antti Niemi is now the backup so he has less support. He owns a less than stellar 3.41 GAA but is 4-0-1 this season. In the end, the stats won’t be pretty as Pittsburgh plays little defense. All Murray has to do is stop one more than the other guy and he’ll have done his job. Thus far he’s been able to do that.
Roberto Luongo and James Reimer are likely going to split time in goal unless someone runs away with the job. Luongo is tabbed for Friday so we will look at his stats. He too owns a 3.41 GAA but the difference is he’s 1-2-0. His career GAA is 2.50 but he’s not the goalie he once was at 38 years old.
- Sidney Crosby v. Jonathan Huberdeau
It’s a bit unfair to pit these two against each other but Huberdeau is the only player on Florida who could threaten a point per game production. He missed more than half of the year last season but has the potential to put up 65-75 points in a campaign. Crosby had 44 goals last year and looks to repeat as the Rocket Richard winner. Alex Ovechkin’s hot start may light a fire under the 3-time Stanley Cup Champion.
I just can’t see the Panthers keeping up with Pittsburgh. I do think this will be a high scoring affair just not in Florida’s favor.