We’re off to a 1-0 start with a plus-money winner to get our season started on the right note!
I had the Tampa Bay Lightning -1.5 on the puckline at +105, a line that originally started at +140 and shifted all the way to -106 before puck drop. To me, that was a season-opening gift as the defending Cup champs were always going to steamroll an undermanned Chicago Blackhawks team that I figure could end up as the league’s worst defense/goaltending this season.
The Lighting struck for a trio of first-period goals and added two more while a late bank shot cost Andrei Vasilevskiy the shutout, but Tampa cruised to an easy 5-1 win and kicked off our season just the way we wanted to.
Now, well turn our attention to tonight’s 10-game schedule where it’s the Wild vs. Kings in a season-opening tilt from Hollywood!
- Season Record: 1-0
- Units: +1.05
Wild vs. Kings Betting Odds
- Wild (-144)
- Kings (+130)
- Wild -1.5 (+195)
- Kings +1.5 (-225)
- Over 5.5 (+102)
- Under 5.5 (-113)
Wild vs. Kings NHL Pick Breakdown
There was significant turnover on this Wild offense over the offseason and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their surprising 12th-place finish overall and 11th-place finish on the power play.
Specifically, the center ice position took a major hit as general manager Bill Guerin traded Eric Staal to the Buffalo Sabres for Marcus Johansson and allowed long-time captain Mikko Koivu to walk in free agency, eventually signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The result has Nick Bjugstad — an offseason acquisition — as the team’s No. 1 center entering tonight’s contest with Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek and Victor Rask underneath him. Certainly not an area of strength for this Wild team.
Expect much of the scoring to come on the flanks as Zach Parise, Kevin Fiala and Johnsson will be leaned on, but the Wild faithful is most excited about the NHL debut of top prospect Kirill Kaprizov, expected to skate on a line with Parise and Bjugstad.
Kaprizov led the KHL with 33 goals last season with CSKA Moscow and ranked third with 62 points across 57 games. It’s always interesting to see how KHL production translates to the NHL, but there’s likely to be a learning curve for the 23-year-old despite playing pro for the last six seasons in his native Russia.
Here’s a clip of Kirill Kaprizov’s goal in tonight’s scrimmage. The speed. The hands. The finish. pic.twitter.com/ptNqyTrnGF
— Dane Mizutani (@DaneMizutani) January 9, 2021
The Wild can also expect some production from an offensively-talented back end including Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba — all capable of chipping in at the offensive end.
If the Wild are going to make some noise this season, it’s going to be with the defenseman named above along with Jonas Brodin and even Carson Soucy.
Last season, the Wild slipped to a share of 23rd in overall defense. However, a quick look under the good reveals something far different.
When it comes to that top four defense corps, they were the best in the league at what they were paid to do last season. They limited chances better than any other group in the NHL, only to have their goaltending let them down almost single-handedly, although their 25th-ranked penalty kill didn’t help. Still, they received the league’s 22nd-ranked save percentage down 5 on 4 last season.
While it might be difficult to repeat their elite metrics again this season, I’m certainly looking for significantly improved overall defensive results this time around.
Devan Dubnyk’s 3.35 GAA and .890 Sv% from last season both ranked 45th of the 45 NHL goaltenders that appeared in at least 30 games last season. As a result, Guerin dealt Dubnyk to the San Jose Sharks in the offseason and quickly moved in signing veteran Cam Talbot to a three-year deal to lead the goaltending tandem.
Talbot is coming off a .919 regular-season save percentage last season with the Calgary Flames, and also worked to a .924 mark in the postseason across 10 outings. Many will remember him best from his demise with the Edmonton Oilers, but this is a guy sporting a career 2.61 GAA and .915 Sv%. Aside from his final two seasons with the Oilers — including a brief stint with the Philadelphia Flyers — Talbot has posted a save percentage of at least .917 in his other five NHL seasons.
Alex Stalock is injured indefinitely, so the backup role will fall to youngster Kaapo Kahkonen, the owner of a 2.07 GAA and .927 Sv% across 34 American Hockey League games last season and also worked to a solid .913 Sv% in five NHL appearances.
However, the start tonight should absolutely go to Talbot without a back-to-back situation at hand as he looks to impress in his Wild debut.
The Kings will return much of the same offense this season as they finished last year with as they await for the arrival of some high-end prospects over the next few seasons.
The problem is that the Kings ranked 30th with this group last season and 26th on the power play. That comes despite ranking fourth with 33.2 shots per game.
The Kings also ranked seventh in expected goals/60 at 5v5 last season, 17th in scoring chances/60 and 13th in high-danger chances/60. The issue was a 24th-ranked shooting rate on their high-danger chances and a 30th-ranked shooting rate at 5v5 on the whole.
So, it appears the Kings could enjoy some better fortunes on offense this season from a puck-luck standpoint along, but it’s also apparent that the likes of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter are past-their-prime veterans despite Kopitar tallying a team-high 62 points in 70 games last season, 19 points clear of second-play Alex Iafallo.
We’ll see if the Kings can continue to generate opportunties and shots at the rate they did a season ago, and if they can get close, odds are their offense will at least improve, albeit to what extent is unknown.
The Kings finished second-last in the Western Conference last season, but don’t blame their defense.
In fact, the Kings returned as an above-average defense last season, ranking 14th with 2.99 goals against per game, but their 24th-ranked penalty kill certainly set them back.
Kings’ advanced metrics are pretty much right in line with their surface numbers, but I believe it’s an improved group. Drew Doughty recently took offense to his naysayers that are bearish on his game as he enters his 30s, but he remains an extremely effective defenseman at both ends of the ice.
The emergence of 26-year-old Sean Walker is a plus for this defense corps after a steady campaign last year and the Kings acquired veteran two-time Cup champion Olli Maatta in a salary dump from the Chicago Blackhawks. Not a ground-breaking addition, but one that fits in their top four to be sure.
The team will also feature rookie prospects Mikey Anderson and Kale Clague on this year’s blueline.
The problem for tonight, however, is that Walker and fellow top-six defender Kurtis MacDermid have both been listed as unfit to play, but could still play tonight. We’re not likely to hear anything concrete on their status until closer to puck drop, unfortunately. We should probably get use to that as we move through this unique season.
Like Walker and MacDermid, young netminder Cal Petersen is also listed as unfit to play at the moment, so his availability for tonight’s contest is certainly in question.
That said, I would have bet on Jonathan Quick to get the season-opening start in his age-34 campaign.
There’s little doubt Quick’s game has taken a turn for the worst over the last two seasons, posting a ghastly .888 Sv% in the 2018-19 season followed by a .904 mark last season. However, I would consider his splits as well.
Splits carry plenty of variance from year to year, but Quick worked to a stellar 2.30 GAA an .919 Sv% in 23 home games last season but was torched for a 3.38 GAA and .888 Sv% away from the Staples center. He struggled at home two seasons ago, but was still far better than he was on the road.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 1, 2020
Whether the whole no crowd thing affects his numbers or not remains to be seen, but for his career he owns a 2.21 GAA and .915 Sv% at home compared to a 2.60 GAA and .912 Sv% on the road.
Wild vs. Kings NHL Pick
This ‘unfit to play’ designation is going to be a juggling act all season long. While these players are on the list at the moment, they could still be eligible to play as we just aren’t privy to what is going on behind the scenes.
There’s no doubt that without Walker and MacDermid, the Kings’ defense takes a hit. Walker is certainly a top-four defender and MacDermid was comfortably in the team’s top-six in the second half of last season, albeit while averaging just 13:43 of ice time per game. At 26, he was going to get his chance this season.
That said, I’m not sure we can trust this Wild team to score. Judging from last night’s action, the offenses are ahead of the defenses early in the season, but there is just very little down the middle in this forward group. Teams that are weak down the middle generally struggle to score.
On the flip side, I don’t expect the Kings to penetrate this Wild defense, either. While the Wild are playing their first game of the season after a short camp and no exhibition games like everyone else, this top four has been together for years and are certainly more than familiar with one another.
I believe Talbot is in for a productive season behind this group, but I also like Quick’s home splits that have largely followed him through his career to this point.
Only one of the five games would have finished under a 5.5 total last night. That said, six of the 10 games tonight feature 5.5-goal totals. There’s been plenty of offense early, but here are two teams I believe are bound for bottom-10 offensive production, but top-10 defensive production.
Add it up and I’ll take the Under 5.5 in this one tonight.