With a taste of the NHL at our disposal last night, the schedule opens up a bit more tonight with more games on the card. In the games of the night, the Montreal Canadiens gave Mike Babcock his first loss as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs in his first game behind the bench. It wasn’t like the Leafs didn’t play well. Jonathan Bernier let in a soft one to open the scoring early, and the Leafs outshot the Canadiens 37-30. Expectations are low in Toronto this season, as I think it is going to be a year of frustration for some fans. While Babcock can coach all he want and guide the Leafs in the right direction, the fact of the matter is the roster is depleted. When they start to get talent in there all will be well and the mastery of Babcock will shine through. With what they have to work with though, it won’t be a bad season if you look at it that way.
Tonight I handicap a game featuring a familiar face in Toronto. The Penguins opted to take Phil Kessel off their hands which essentially amounted to a bag of pucks in exchange for Kessel. The Leafs just simply wanted him gone out of town and Babcock made sure of it. There are two personalities that would have clashed right away and I think Babcock knew it, too. So off to Pittsburgh Kessel goes, getting a fresh new start after a turbulent career in Toronto. However, there is no disputing that Kessel can’t score the puck. His numbers were down last season, 37 goals in 2013-14 to 25 goals in 2014-15.
The thing that is going to be different for Kessel here with the Penguins is that he isn’t going to have to be the guy. And what I mean by that is he isn’t going to be asked to go and be the primary guy to win games every night. The Penguins already have that with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Pens start the year off out in Dallas, against a Stars team that had offense last season, but couldn’t stop a JR team defensively. They could have been really good, but the defense made sure that didn’t come to fruition. I look to start the NHL season out at 2-0.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Dallas Stars Pick
The Stars did pick some key players up in the offseason, adding to the offense and defense. They took a couple of prized possessions away from the Chicago Blackhawks, bringing Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. Sharp and Oduya shared some great times in Chicago, but they now look to bring the Stars to the next level, which has to have a playoff appearance included in it. The Stars held a top 5 offense last season, they in fact ranked as number 1 in the NHL for a considerable amount of time, but the defense was just so porous. They had one of the largest discrepancies between offensive effectiveness to defensive in the NHL. Oduya will provide a presence on the blue line the Stars haven’t had, but this team is still going to be all about scoring the puck.
As will the Penguins, who bolstered the offense by acquiring Kessel from the Leafs. Say what you want about Kessel, but this is going to be the first time in his career that he is going to be more of a role player. He could still score in Toronto as the go-to offensive threat on the Leafs. Backed by Crosby and Malkin, I see him having a nice season with the Penguins. The new look Penguins’ offense catches a good break by drawing one of the worst defenses in the NHL in game 1. This game appears to have goals written all over it. The OVER 5.5 looks like a good bet to me.
PICK: OVER 5.5 GOALS (-110)