We knew the start of the NHL season was going to creep up on us, and boy did it ever. Hockey’s back, folks.
We have a pair of games kicking off the 2021-22 NHL season tonight, one of which has the expansion Seattle Kraken playing their inaugural game against the NHL’s second-youngest team in Vegas against the Golden Knights.
That said, we’re focusing on the matchup that will see a banner rise to the ceiling as the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning playing host to the already injury-plagued Pittsburgh Penguins.
Let’s dive into a Penguins vs. Lightning NHL pick and get our season started on the right note!
Penguins vs. Lightning Betting Odds
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
|Penguins||+214||+1.5 (-127)||Over 5.5 (-117)|
|Lightning||-240||-1.5 (+107)||Under 5.5 (+106)|
Largely built on a fiery offensive attack in recent seasons, the 2021-22 version of this group is already starting behind the 8-ball due to some significant injuries up front before the season is even a day old.
While he has been a full participant in practise of late, Sidney Crosby won’t play in tonight’s opener after undergoing offseason wrist surgery. While his return appears imminent and perhaps a week into the season, don’t hold your breath on 2C Evgeni Malkin who underwent knee surgery this summer and is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season, putting his return perhaps somewhere around Christmas.
Remember the saying that the Penguins are in good hands as long as Crosby and Malkin are anchoring the team’s top two lines? Well.. ya, those injuries sting bad at the outset of the season. If they weren’t enough, first-line left winger Jake Guentzel is out for the opener as well due to the league’s health and safety protocol, leaving the club without its top three offensive players for this one tonight. Yikes.
We’ve seen this group battle through poor injury fortune before, and last season they finished second in overall offense at 3.45 goals per game, behind only the Colorado Avalanche (3.52). Their power play operated at a 23.7% clip that ranked fourth league wide.
A look under the hood revealed something less inspiring as the team also ranked 20th in scoring chances for/60, 22nd in high-danger chances for/60 and 22nd again in expected goals for/60 at 5v5, as per Natural Stat Trick. They did, however, rank eighth in 5v5 high-danger shooting percentage and fifth in overall 5v5 shooting percentage to help the offensive cause.
It should be very interesting to see how this watered-down lineup fares in the tonight’s opener.
The story after winning their second Cup in as many years in Tampa was the offseason selloff that forced the team to move out some quality, more expensive pieces to help solve their salary cap issues. We’ve seen winning come at a cost before — the Chicago Blackhawks come to mind first — and it happened again with these Lightning who used that cap loophole to stash Nikita Kucherov on the sideline before returning just in time for Game 1 of the postseason.
The biggest departures would include Yanni Gourde (Kraken expansion draft), Tyler Johnson (trade to Blackhawks), Blake Coleman (free agency – Flames) and Barclay Goodrow (free agency – Rangers). That’s some notable depth lost from an offense that finished last season tied for eighth with 3.21 goals per game and a power play that sat ninth at 22.2%. You can probably chalk up their lower rankings to the lack of Kucherov himself.
That said, while that’s a lot of NHL talent playing elsewhere, these Lightning are going to score some goals. The core is very much intact up front, led by Kucherov as well as Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn. That’s a top six any GM would love to have at his disposal.
NIKITA KUCHEROV WITH 7.8 SECONDS REMAINING! ?
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 10, 2020
We’ll see how the bottom-six fares. Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph are two players set for increased roles as third-line players, but Corey Perry showed he had plenty left in the tank with the Montreal Canadiens last year, Pat Maroon wins the Stanley Cup every season apparently and the club did add a very good veteran, checking center in Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
I don’t think we need to concern ourselves with this group as they’re going to produce.
The Penguins blueline got hit hard with injuries last season, but actually managed to produce quality results, at least from Natural Stat Trick’s underlying data.
The team did well enough overall on the back end to tie the Rangers for 13th while allowing 2.77 goals per game, and that’s with a penalty kill that ranked 27th at just 77.4%. So, in theory, the even-strength defensive play must have been pretty strong, and it appears it was.
At 5v5, the Penguins ranked seventh in scoring chances against/60, 19th in high-danger chances against/60, and 13th in expected goals against/60. Not elite numbers, but for a blueline that was devastated with injuries, you’re probably accepting that if you’re Pittsburgh.
Don’t look now, but the club is already banged up on the back end once again. Michael Matheson will miss tonight’s tilt with a lower-body injury. It’s not a major blow for a back end that still has its top-four intact, and I really do like that group that includes Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Marcus Pettersson and John Marino.
At least in the shortest of terms, I don’t believe the Penguins’ back end is a concern at the moment.
For once, I’m looking at this team’s back end (including goaltending) as the key strength to success. Sure, the forwards are lethal and will score a ton of goals, but with less depth up front it magnifies just how good you need to be defensively.
The Lightning ranked sixth with 2.59 goals against per game last season and killed penalties with the best of em’ at fourth in the league with an 84.2% mark in that department. Teams that are good on special teams win, and that certainly applies to the champs as they were very good on both ends.
The good news when it comes to the blueline is the key cogs remain. The trade-deadline acquisition of David Savard solidified the back end for another lengthy playoff run, and while he signed with his hometown Montreal Canadiens this summer, the club is in great hands with Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev and Erick Cernak leading the charge. He spent last season in Toronto, but Zach Bogosian revitalized his career with the Bolts in the first of two straight Cup wins and signed on again with Tampa this summer.
This back end helped the club rank sixth in terms of expected goals against/60 at 5v5 last season, so your’e certainly dealing with a strong defensive group here.
The Pens got off to a shaky start last season as Tristan Jarry really struggled out of the gate, and to me he is a major x-factor in this team’s level of success this season, not an uncommon theme for many NHL clubs. Good goaltending helps a bunch.
As banged up as this offense is to start, a strong performance for the team’s defense and goaltending seems extra important. Jarry rebounded and managed to finish the season with at least a palatable stat line of a 2.75 GAA and .909 Sv% in 39 appearances, but there’s no doubt Jarry and the team would like to see something similar to the 2.43 GAA and .921 Sv% he put forth during a breakout 2019-20 season.
If Jarry provides average goaltending, the Penguins are going to be in tough in a deep and difficult Metropolitan Division. If Jarry excels, perhaps they’re in business with improved health moving forward.
Having the best goaltender on the planet helps. Argue about it all you want, but this guy is the best in the business in terms of elite numbers and results combined with an ability to be one of the few remaining, true workhorse No. 1 netminders in the league. That list is extremely short these days as Connor Hellebuyck comes to mind as being close to the same tier as the reigning Conn Smythe winner.
Last season, Vasilevskiy started in 42 of the team’s 56 games, posting a 2.21 GAA and .925 Sv% in the process. Remember just how condensed that 2020-21 schedule was as well as he’s playing the majority of those games on short rest. He also posted a healthy five shutouts on the season.
Splits can always vary from year to year, but it’s worth considering that he also posted a 1.75 GAA/.936 SV% and went 18-2-0 at home compared to a 2.63 GAA/.916 Sv% on the road where he went 13-8-1. Those are some notable splits and appear to bode well for this matchup tonight.
- Penguins are 2-5 in their last seven games versus the Eastern Conference
- Over is 4-1 in the Penguins’ last five road games
- Over is 5-2 in the Penguins last seven games as a road underdog
- Lightning are 16-5 in their last 21 games versus the Metropolitan Division
- Lightning are 51-19 in their last 70 home games
- Under is 11-5-3 in the Lightning’s last 19 games
Head to Head
- Tampa Bay is 4-0 in the last four meetings
- Tampa Bay is 5-0 in the last five meetings in Tampa Bay
- Home team is 9-2 in the last 11 meetings
- Over is 15-4-3 in the last 22 meetings in Tampa Bay
Penguins vs. Lightning NHL Pick
This is just a real difficult situation for the visitors tonight.
They’re missing their three best offensive players and a top-five defenseman while on the road taking on the best team in the league over the last two seasons. Tampa went 21-78-0 on home ice last season while the Pens finished 15-12-1 outside of PPG Paints arena.
If you don’t like the Bolts’ depth up front relative to years past, I’m not going to argue with you. Their on-paper bottom-six is not as good as its been of late. That said, they remain elite in the top-six, blueline as a whole and certainly in net with Vasilevskiy whose resume speaks for itself.
It was a tough season for puck line bettors in terms of taking the favorite last year, but my memory serves me correct when I took the Bolts -1.5 in their season opener with the Blackhawks, a 5-1 win f0r Tampa.
The Pens are in some trouble here, so give me the Lightning to win this one by at least a pair of goals at valuable odds.