NHL Picks: Penguins Keep Winning Streak Alive By Beating Islanders

Doug Upstone

Saturday, April 2, 2016 11:00 AM GMT

Saturday, Apr. 2, 2016 11:00 AM GMT

With the NHL season dwindling to single digits for days, for those attempting to have a winning season with their NHL picks, time to make one final push before the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The same is also true for the teams competing to make the postseason or improve their positioning in the standings. This will definitely be the case for a couple of Eastern Conference clubs from the Metropolitan Division.

Other than Washington, the next three teams in the division are separated by three points, with Pittsburgh (44-33 SU) in second place with 96, the New York Islanders (42-34 SU) at 93 and the Rangers in between with 95. The Penguins and Islanders clash today at 1:05 Eastern and with the way the point totals look, obviously the stakes are quite high. The team in Brooklyn has one potential advantage, having played one fewer time then both their opponents, which only matters if they win and draw even closer.

What is the right choice for NHL picks, let's look at both clubs and determine.

 

Pittsburgh Will Need to Be Road Warriors
If playing your best going into the postseason means something, Pittsburgh is in great shape. The Penguins have won 10 of 11, including their last five straight. They have also faced plenty of quality opponents and certainly been up to the challenge, taking down the Rangers (twice), Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit, Nashville and the team they are playing today, the Isles.

If you have been following even remotely, you know Sidney Crosby has been the catalyst. Crosby, even by his lofty standards has been incredible since the calendar turned to 2016 and has zoomed all the way to third in the league in scoring with 80 points. However, he's hardly done it alone. Even if you include the 3-0 shutout loss which is the middle of this torrid stretch, Pittsburgh is still averaging almost unthinkable four goals a game. The contributions are coming from all over the ice, from defenseman like Kris Letang, to forwards like Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz. Plus, this is all being accomplished without Evgeni Malkin sidelined with injury.

The Penguins are not just an offense crew, though they are ranked fourth in scoring, as they are sixth in fewest goals allowed and are a stellar seventh in penalty killing.

Starting today, four of the Pens remaining five contests are on the road and if they expect to stay in second place, they will need to bump up 19-14-3 away record.

 

Islanders Have To Keep Up Offensive Pressure
Playing mostly road games over a 16-day stretch in March, New York almost fell out of playoff contention, being on the short end of the scoreboard seven of nine times. A combination of so-so defense coupled with dissonant defense, left the Isles scrambling.

Being able to sweep home and home with Carolina turned New York around and they also added a victory at the Barclays Center over Columbus, to make it three in a row and really tighten up the race.

While the goaltending and defense continue to be unstable (16 goals surrendered in past four outings), New York's 10th rated offense has averaged 3.5 goals per contest in their last four encounters. The offense gives the Islanders the best shot a win, as goalies Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak has been like an old pair socks, full of holes.

New York has to do a better job in the 5 on 5 battles, because if they can take a lead in this contest under those circumstances, they are wholly confident they can contain Pitt's power play, ranking second in penalty killing at 88.5 percent.

 

What to Expect and Winner
The NHL odds opened with Pittsburgh as -115 road favorite and the total a super heavy Un5.5 (-145). The home team has won all three times this season. One can make a case for New York, who is outstanding 14-3 in their new home against winning teams and Pittsburgh is 2-7 after a triumph by three or more goals.

Nevertheless, the Penguins are more solid on both ends of the ice and just the fact they are this large a favorite in Brooklyn explains what the sportsbooks are thinking. With Crosby and company 16-4 against opponents permitting 29.5 or more shots on goal in the second half of the season, I will side with them.

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Free NHL Pick:  Pittsburgh  -119
Best Line Offered:  at Heritage

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