It might be the divisional round in the NFL playoffs, but the NHL takes a backseat to nobody. The hockey begins at noon and we’ll be watching the action unfold until nearly 1AM on the East Coast. Only two games and having to wait until nearly dinner time? Come on NFL. That’s weak.
Well if there’s a noon game we might as well bet it. That’s why they schedule them so early, right? Some people might use the later NFL start to run some errands or do some chores around the house. I say start your sports day early.
New Jersey is not expected to do much this season, coming off a season where they finished in last place in the Metropolitan division. They really didn’t change much as they’re hoping for their young players to take a step forward during their rebuilding process.
On the flip side, Boston won the Presidents Trophy last season for best record during the regular season. Boston had the best defense in the league in terms of expected goals against per 60 minutes last year. Some teams dominate with their offense, but Boston dominates with their defense.
This also isn’t the same Boston team we saw last year. David Pastrnak, one of the most feared goal scorers in the league, will miss the start of the season with an injury. The team also lost their best offensive defenseman to free agency in Torey Krug. This was a team that already wasn’t known for their high flying offense and they’ve lost their best scoring forward and best scoring defenseman for different reasons.
I don’t expect the Devils to have much luck scoring against Boston. Even the good teams in the league struggle to crack the code that is Boston’s defense. New Jersey simply doesn’t have the talent to put up a crooked number against any team in this league, let alone the Bruins.
On the flipside, Boston isn’t a team that blows you away with their offense either and they’re missing two key contributors from last year’s team.
MacKenzie Blackwood has been solid in net for the Devils over the past two seasons when given an opportunity. The Bruins possess arguably the best goaltending duo in the league with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.
Also, this is a noon game early in the season in front of no fans. It’s an elite team against a bad team. The lack of excitement and energy does not help the chances for a high scoring game. Boston will probably sleepwalk through this game, and in the end they’ll do enough to win 2-1.
The Bet: Under 5.5 goals (-105)
Montreal opened the off-season as 50-1 underdogs to win the Stanley Cup. They ended up being a popular bet and their odds were nearly halved by the time the puck dropped.
The Canadiens are a much improved team with some young players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki ready to take the next step. They should be an exciting team to watch moving forward.
Montreal is amongst the best teams in the league when it comes to puck possession and shot quality. Last season, Montreal was top five in the league in all four of shot-attempt rate, high danger chances, expected goal percentage and scoring chances. They averaged 12 high danger chances per game, good for 3rd in the league. Their 2.48 expected goals per 60 minutes was the 5th highest mark in the league.
With the development of Kotkaniemi and Suzuki as well as the additions of players like Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, the hope is that Montreal’s offense does a better job of taking advantage of their puck possession and chances.
On the other side of this matchup, Edmonton has arguably the two best players in the league. Connor McDavid continues to amaze, scoring a hat trick against the Canucks in his last game. Leon Draisaitl won the Hart Trophy last year as the league MVP. While the Oilers aren’t as proficient in generating chances and controlling the play as Montreal is, they’re just as dangerous in a different way. Any time these players are on the ice, they’re one play away from putting the puck in the net.
The big concern for Edmonton at this point is the injury to backup goaltender Mike Smith. Edmonton has almost nobody behind starting goalie Mikko Koskinen now. Koskinen and Smith were expected to work together in a timeshare, effectively splitting the majority of starts. Now, Koskinen will be forced to carry the workload which is something he’s never done.
I think we’ll get goals in this game. Koskinen will likely start for the 3rd time in four days, which is not a recipe for success. Montreal will likely control play, but McDavid and Draisaitl can do their damage on the counter attack or on the powerplay.
Both of Edmonton’s first two games went over the total. Montreal’s first game went over the total. I think that trend will continue.
The Bet: Over 6.5 goals (+105)
Last season, 40 of Vancouver’s 67 games went over the total and that hasn’t changed to start this year as the Canucks scored eight goals and conceded nine in their first two games. I expect this trend to continue for much of the season in Vancouver.
Even though Vancouver will be without JT Miller due to Covid-protocols, they still have plenty of offensive talent. Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes are some of the best young players in the game. The recent acquisition of Nate Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Knights gives the Canucks another premier puckmover on defense.
One big surprise for the Canucks so far through camp and the beginning of the season is rookie Nils Hoglander. Hoglander wasn’t expected to make the team but he finds himself in the Canucks top six, playing on a 2nd line with Horvat and Tanner Pearson. The rookie has already scored his first NHL goal. In two games, the Canucks are playing to a rate of 63.55% expected goals when Hoglander is on the ice. Is this the next Canucks star rookie? They’ve had three straight rookies finish either 1st or 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting.
Braden Holtby will be the biggest question mark of the season for the Canucks. NHL fans will remember him as the goalie who won the Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy just a few short years ago. Well things change quickly in professional sports and Holtby was one of the worst goalies in the league last season. Will he bounce back with the Canucks now that he’s out of Washington?
On the other side of the ice, we have the Calgary Flames. Their opening night display was alarming to say the least. They were thoroughly dominated by a team that spent most of last season getting dominated in the Winnipeg Jets. They only managed to get 34.4% of the high danger chances in their opener.
On the positive side for Calgary, their top line and number one defenseman produced. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Mark Giordano all got on the scoresheet which is big news. In 2018-19, these four led the Flames to the best record in the Western Conference. Last year, all four took a step back in terms of their production and the Flames tumbled down the standings.
I think we have two teams with a lot of offensive talent. I think both teams will have trouble slowing the other team down. Goaltending is a bit of a question mark for both sides. Every game involving a Canadian team has gone over the total so far this season, and I expect that trend to continue here.
The Bet: Over 6 goals (-115)
NHL Expert Picks
Bruins vs. Devils - Under 5.5 goals (-105)
Canadiens vs. Oilers - Over 6.5 goals (+105)
Canucks vs. Flames - Over 6 goals (-115)
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