It will be yellow-on-yellow violence in this year’s Stanley Cup final with the Nashville Predators facing the Pittsburgh Penguins. The defending cup champs from Pittsburgh narrowly squeaked past this year’s playoff darlings, the Ottawa Senators, in double OT Thursday to give them a shot at back-to-back Stanley Cups.
But repeating isn’t easy. The last team to win back-to-back cups was the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and ’98. Can the Pens break the drought? Let’s take a numbers-guided deep dive into the 2017 Stanley Cup matchup and find the best value for all you bettors out there.
That’s the outstanding save percentage for Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne in the playoffs (28 goals on 474 shots). He’s led the Preds to a 12-4 record this postseason and has been the difference maker on most nights. Rinne started the playoffs with two straight shutouts, and helped his team sweep the heavily favored Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round. In the second round against the Blues, Nashville gave up just 11 goals in six games. That number jumped to 15 in the conference finals against the Ducks, but that was largely due to one off night (a 5-3 Anaheim win in Game 2).
Rinne only had a .918 save percentage in the regular season. Do you believe in the clutch gene?
That’s the similarly outstanding save percentage for Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray. But he was injured to start the playoffs and has only appeared in five games. So keep in mind that we’re dealing with a small sample size, and it’s a huge jump from his .923 regular season mark.
That’s the number of times the Preds have faced elimination. After sweeping the Hawks, they ousted the Blues and Ducks in six games apiece, despite not having home-ice advantage in any series to date.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has been pushed to seven games in each of their last two series, topping the Capitals in DC and then downing the Senators at home.
That’s how many injuries both teams have had to deal with. Pittsburgh not only lost Murray for a bit, but has played the entire playoffs without top d-man Kris Letang, and also lost man-games to Sidney Crosby, Justin Schultz, Carl Hagelin, Conor Sheary, Patric Hornqvist, Olli Maatta, and Trevor Daley.
Nashville has also had its fair share of injuries, the biggest being Ryan Johansen, who’s done for the year. Veteran center Mike Fisher has also missed time, but is now back practicing.
That’s the number of points NHL playoff leader Evgeni Malkin has put up in 19 games (seven goals, 17 assists). Crosby is second with 20 (seven goals, 13 assists). Inarguably the best one-two punch up the middle in the NHL, Crosby and Malkin have the Pens leading the playoffs at 3.05 goals-per-game. But the offense is heavily dependent on that duo (and Phil Kessel). They have fewer double-digit scorers (five) than Nashville (seven), despite playing three more games and scoring 11 more goals.
The Preds’ offense is a little less potent (2.94 GPG) and more spread out. Filip Forsberg has been lights out for the Preds, with 15 points (eight goals and seven assists). Defenseman Ryan Ellis is the next highest at 11 (excluding Johansen’s 13). They have seven players with double-digit point totals.
That’s the sizable difference in power-play percentage between the teams. Pittsburgh’s big guns have the team scoring at a 25% clip with the man advantage (14 for 56). Nashville is 7-47 or just 14.9%.
That’s the rather small difference in penalty-kill percentage between the teams. Both are killing at a solid rate, with the Preds at 88.1%, and the Penguins at 85.5%.
That’s how many of the head coaches in this series are American, for the first time ever in the cup finals. That’s apropos of nothing. I just thought it was interesting.
That’s the edge the Pens hold in the face-off circle through three rounds (51% versus 50%). But that could change with Johansen, the Preds’ top face-off man, out.
That’s the edge the Preds hold in Corsi (an advanced metric which gauges how well teams control the play). Advanced metrics aren’t the best predictor in small samples, like best-of-seven series, but this difference isn’t negligible. Nashville was top-ten in Corsi, while Pittsburgh was right in the middle of the league. Letting your opponent control the play will bite you in the long run.
That’s the teams’ head to head record this season. The Preds won in Nashville 5-1 in October; Pittsburgh won 4-2 at home in January.
Those are the odds for the Predators to win the series heading into Game 1. The Penguins are at -155. Those numbers equate to a 42.6% win-probability for Nashville and a 60.8% win-probability for Pittsburgh. Ergo, bettors should only ride with Pittsburgh if they think the Pens win this series seven out of ten times.
If you think it’s more of a coin flip, the value is on Nashville.
Based on the numbers above, in particular how well Rinne has been playing, Nashville’s ability to dictate play, and their balanced scoring, Nashville (+135) is the play here. With the longshot being the better option, you should consider betting at Bovada. They often have good odds on underdogs.