Welcome back, folks!
Once again, yours truly is here with you to deliver daily NHL picks (and DFS advice) throughout the NHL season, and it’s going to be a dandy one at that.
The abbreviated, intra-division schedule is sure to deliver some heated content and take rivalries to a whole new level, but new ones will also be born, if only for one season. I don’t anticipate much time being required to fire up rivalries, both old and new.
With that in mind, let’s tackle our first game of the season as we look to get things started on the right note! Additionally, be sure to follow me on Twitter @BKemp17 as I’ll be following updates to keep you informed on information relevant to my picks.
Let’s get things started with the Blackhawks vs. Lightning in a Central division matchup from Tampa Bay!
Blackhawks vs. Lightning Betting Odds
- Blackhawks (+212)
- Lightning (-238)
- Blackhawks +1.5 (-125)
- Lightning -1.5 (+105)
- Over 6.5 (+107)
- Under 6.5 (-118)
Blackhawks vs. Lightning NHL Pick Breakdown
There are two major injury-related storylines for both of these clubs heading into the season, but it appears only one has the depth to overcome such adversity, and it’s not the road team.
No. 1 center and cultural leader Jonathan Toews is out indefinitely with an undisclosed illness, projected second-line center Kirby Dach is out for the season after surgery to repair a broken wrist suffered in a World Junior exhibition game and 22-year-old Alex Nylander joins Dach on the season-ending sidelines after undergoing knee surgery.
That’s three of the team’s top nine out of the lineup while the center ice position took a massive blow with Toews and Dach out, but this was a big developmental season for Nylander as he looked to solidify himself as a top-six option for this team moving forward.
The Blackhawks ranked smack-dab in the middle of the league in tying for 15th on offense last season, but they did fare a little better in terms of the advanced metrics.
The Blackhawks tied for 11th in expected goals for/60 and 10th in scoring chances for/60 at 5v5, as per Natural Stat Trick, but their 29th-ranked power play didn’t help matters and it’s unlike the team’s bottom-six or defense corps will be able to chip in enough offensively to make up for the loss of the key cogs up front.
Given the anticipated drop in offensive production, it will be imperative for this team to improve on the back end, drastically.
Like their offense, their overall defense ranked in the middle of the pack in share of 16th with the Calgary Flames, but Chicago also benefited from a .913 Sv% from their goaltending that put them in a four-way tie for fourth in the league.
It’s a defense that added the physical presence of Nikita Zadorov at the expense of power forward Brandon Saad in a deal with the Colorado Avalanche, however they also shipped out Olli Maatta in a salary-related dump to the L.A. Kings.
Otherwise, Duncan Keith returns for his age-37 season, the oft-injured Calvin De Haan sits behind him on the left-side depth chart and the offensively-gifted Adam Boqvist will look for another developmental step forward at the age of just 20.
That said, there’s just little reason to believe this group is any better than a team that not only ranked last in advanced metrics, but also last while allowing 35.1 shots per game a season ago.
I’ll go ahead and predict that the Malcolm Subban/Collin Delia goaltending tandem will be under siege for often than not this season.
The Central Division doesn’t feature many high-powered offenses, but their prospects for success aren’t exactly bright in this matchup with the league’s top offense from each of the last two seasons.
While not confirmed as tonight’s starter, it should be Subban’s crease to kick off the season, and he’ll certainly look for a bounce back season after struggling to a 3.18 GAA and .890 Sv% in 20 appearance last season with the Vegas Golden Knights. Subban was traded to Chicago in the Robin Lehner deal at the trade deadline, but played all of 1:10 with his new team given the shortened season.
That said, Subban struggled behind a far superior defense last season and his 2.97 GAA and .899 Sv5 in 66 career NHL games doesn’t exactly bode well for the 2012 24th overall pick (Bruins) moving forward. Subban also worked to a 2.93 GAA and .902 Sv% in 21 games with the Knights two seasons back.
A shortened season could become long in a hurry for the 27-year-old.
As noted, the Lightning have been the cream of the offensive crop in the league two years running, but the keyest of cogs is out for at least the entire regular season as Nikita Kucherov has undergone hip surgery.
Of course, Kucherov paced the league with 128 points two seasons ago and only Edmonton’s Connor McDavid has more points over the last three seasons than that man. On many teams, his absence would be a major body blow.
I don’t see that on this Lightning team, however. You don’t get to the top of the league in offense without excellent depth, and that’s just what the Lighting boast more than any other offense in the league. After superstars such as Brayden Point and the returning Steven Stamkos, the Bolts will get offense from Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn and Blake Coleman. We’ll see how Tyler Johnson works into the picture as he was placed on waivers once again on Tuesday.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) September 24, 2020
They’ll also get significant offense from the back end with Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev leading the way in that department.
In other words, don’t be writing this Bolts offense off quite yet.
Not only did Tampa Bay rank first in offense last season, but they were one of the few teams to finish in the top 10 in both offense and defense after tying for seventh in the latter.
It’s a defense that waived goodbye to Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian — both of whom enjoyed major bounce backs during last year’s Cup-winning run — but led by Hedman and Sergachev, the blueline will be just fine.
Veteran Ryan McDonagh remains effective and the evolving Eric Cernak should take another step forward this season. It appears Callan Foote — the team’s 2017 first-round pick, is also going to begin the season in the team’s top-six after two full seasons of development at the AHL level.
While it’s a Lightning blueline that saw some turnover, the core remains in tact and should certainly get off to a fine start against a severely weakened Blackhawks offense in this one.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy this season, and for good reason.
He scuffled early on last season, but finished strong and wound up posting a 2.56 GAA and .917 Sv% across 52 outings. Should he net the Vezina, it would mark his second in three seasons after posting a 2.40 GAA and .925 Sv% and a league-best 39 wins in the 2018-19 season.
In a division that doesn’t sport many quality offenses, there’s a real good opportunity for the 26-year-old to finish above his peers once again.
If there are new rivalries to be formed, look no further than the Central. It’s mix of three previous divisions and there is plenty of unfamiliarity within the group, and while Vasilevskiy has seen Chicago just four times in his career, he’s dominated them to the tune of a 1.99 GAA and .941 Sv% in that time, winning all four matchups against offenses far superior to this one we’ll witness tonight.
Add it up and this is a nice season-opening matchup for the Vezina front-runner.
Blackhawks vs. Lightning NHL Pick
When BetOnline first released odds for the five season-opening matchups taking place tonight, there was one pick that stood about the rest: Lightning -1.5 on the puckline.
The only different between now and then is that the odds have shifted all the way from +140 to +105 on the play as money began to pour in on the Bolts taking it to the Blackhawks in this one.
I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I’m wildly bearish on this Blackhawks team. Even before the injuries, their blueline and goaltending duo form one of the worst groups in the league, and that doesn’t exactly bode well for a season-opening tilt against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
I’m well aware of Kucherov’s impact on steering the Lightning to first-place finishes on offense the last two seasons, but on the whole these two groups are on separate planets despite the presence of Patrick Kane on the Hawks’ top line.
The offense is far superior, but perhaps the biggest difference between the two clubs is in goal as Vasilevskiy’s resume trounces that of Subban. Add in the group in front of him and the back ends are not to be compared.
I expect the ice to be tilted severely towards the Blackhawks’ crease and I’m more than confident in opening up the season with a Tampa Bay -1.5 puckline pick at valuable +105 odds.