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Wild vs. Kings Odds & Pick: Expect Low-Scoring Affair to Start Season (Thursday, Jan. 14)

Wild vs. Kings Odds & Pick: Expect Low-Scoring Affair to Start Season (Thursday, Jan. 14) article feature image

Harry How/Getty Images. Pictured: Jonathan Quick.

  • The Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings open their seasons with a showdown in L.A. on Thursday night.
  • Both of these teams will be dependent on improved goaltending for success in 2021, so Pete Truszkowski sees value on the game total in Thursday's matchup.
  • Check out Truszkowski's full betting analysis and pick for Wild vs. Kings below.

Wild vs. Kings Odds

Wild Odds -125 [BET NOW]
Kings Odds +105 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 5.5 (+100 / -120) [BET NOW]
Time 10 p.m. ET
TV NHL Center Ice
Odds as of Monday at 5:20 p.m. ET and via BetMGM. Get an INSTANT $500 deposit match at BetMGM today or see more offers and reviews for the best online sportsbooks.

The NHL’s new West Division might as well be two mini-divisions.

We all expect the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Las Vegas Golden Knights to beat up on each other while finishing in the top three in the division. With the new rules guaranteeing the top four teams in each division make the playoffs, the other five teams in the division who are a clear tier (or three) below the top three will be duking it out for a playoff spot. 

The Minnesota Wild are the favorite to claim the fourth spot, but they are a team littered with question marks. The Los Angeles Kings are in the midst of a rebuild after winning two Stanley Cups in the past decade, but they shouldn’t be written off. 

The beauty of this season is that every game will matter in terms of playoff battles and positioning, and even two non-marquee teams like these have a reason to believe they’re playing for something.

It should generate good hockey over the next 115 days. 

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Minnesota Wild

Minnesota is a frustrating team to figure out. When looking at it from an analytical perspective, the Wild were one of the best defensive teams in the league last season, posting a 1.93 expected goals against/60 at 5-on-5. This mark tied them with the Bruins for the lowest in the league.

Despite this, they gave up the eighth most goals per game in the league. 

A lot of this can be explained away by goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s poor performance. Dubnyk, who was traded away in the offseason, posted a lowly .890 save percentage.

The Wild bought in Cam Talbot, who posted a .919 save percentage in 26 games last season for Calgary, in the offseason.

If Minnesota maintains its defensive stinginess from last season and Talbot does what’s expected of him, the Wild will be hard to score on. 

Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.

Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.

xG numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.

Offensively, the problem for the Wild is down the middle. Eric Staal was the top center for Minnesota last year but was traded to Buffalo in the offseason. Mikko Koivu was the team’s captain and while not the contributor he once was, was a solidifying presence down the middle. He has since left the organization. Marco Rossi was a top pick for the Wild this past offseason and was expected to play a role on the team, but he’s out indefinitely with an injury. 

Instead, the Wild must now pivot to Nick Bjugstad as their top center. Bjugstad has just two seasons in his eight-year career in which he’s eclipsed 40 points, and he has a combined 28 points over the past two seasons.

Nick Bonino will anchor the second line and in his 11-year career, he’s cracked 40 points just once. These two would be fine third-line centers, but Minnesota is expecting them to drive their offense.

I have a feeling it’ll be a big issue. 

Kevin Fiala has been a huge find for the Wild after being acquired from the Nashville Predators in 2018, and Kirill Kaprizov is one of the most highly regarded prospects in the sport, which can lend itself to optimism. However, playing on the top line and power play with third-line centers will limit their ceilings tremendously. 

Los Angeles Kings

Los Angeles certainly didn’t play as poorly last season as its record would lead you to believe. Due to poor goaltending and a lack of talent up front, the Kings vastly underperformed their underlying metrics. 

Fortunately, the Kings are probably due for some positive regression if they play the same style they did last season. Unfortunately for them, their issues still exist, which caps their ceiling.

You hate to write off someone with the pedigree of Jonathan Quick, but it sure does appear that carrying the Kings to two Stanley Cup championships in a three-year span early in his career will be his peak.

Over the past two seasons, Quick’s -25.47 goals saved above expectation is the third worst of all NHL goalies during that time frame. Calvin Peterson started playing more frequently down the stretch for L.A. last season, but he’s unavailable for this game due to COVID-19 protocols.

Los Angeles is still built around the same core that led them to the aforementioned championships. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty are still the big names on the team.

Unfortunately, much like Quick, these players’ best days are behind them. Youngsters like Alex Iafallo and Gabriel Vilardi offer hope for the future but at this point are not yet big-time contributors. 

Even with the core of the team on a downward trend, Los Angeles was still over 50% in shot-attempt share, expected goal rate and high-danger chances. Los Angeles was seventh in expected goals/60 minutes at 5-on-5 with 2.42 but in terms of actual production, they were third worst with just 2.06 goals per hour.

Was it a lack of shooting luck or is it a lack of talent? Most likely both. 

Wild vs. Kings Pick

Ultimately, what we have in this game is two teams with underlying metrics that suggest a better team than what we actually saw last season. Better goaltending from both teams is expected this year, but neither side did much to improve their talent situation in terms of skaters.

Los Angeles’ underlying metrics suggest a team that should be, at worst, middle of the pack offensively. Instead, they were bottom three in terms of actual production. While guys like Kopitar, Carter and Brown have had tremendous careers, it’d be foolish to expect an upward trend in their production based on their age and career mileage. 

Minnesota has some exciting pieces in Fiala and Kaprizov, but the lack of center talent on the roster is concerning and will limit the ceilings of the talented wingers. Bjugstad and Bonino are solid third line NHL centers, but in a top-six role with expected power play time, their offensive warts will show. 

Goaltending should be improved from the Wild with the acquisition of Talbot. Even if Quick continues his downward trend in net for Los Angeles, I’m not convinced the Wild have the talent to take advantage. 

I think three goals should be plenty to win this game, so I’m leaning towards the under. We have a consensus total of 5.5 across almost all books. 

Bet: Under 5.5 Goals (-120)

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