NHL Odds, Picks and Predictions: Blackhawks vs. Lightning (Wednesday, Jan. 14)
Getty Images. Pictured: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Anthony Cirelli
- The Tampa Bay Lightning are big favorites to beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Opening Night.
- Despite the fact that Chicago may be one of the worst teams in the NHL, Pete Truszkowski thinks this number is too high.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Odds
|Blackhawks Odds||+190 [BET NOW]|
|Lightning Odds||-225 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||6.5 (+100/-120) [BET NOW]|
|Time||8 p.m. ET|
The NHL season finally gets underway on Wednesday night and the primetime game features the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning facing off against the suddenly-rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks. The odds certainly reflect the disparity between these two teams’ current state, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be found.
Tampa Bay is coming off winning the Stanley Cup just four months ago and most oddsmakers expect them to valiantly defend their championship. Chicago has won three Stanley Cups of their own in the past 11 years, but the glory days are long gone in the Windy City.
No average person will look at this matchup and look to bet against the Stanley Cup Champion, but successful NHL bettors aren’t average people. Are we gonna grit out teeth and close our eyes on opening night?
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay is pretty good.
After a record-setting regular season in 2018-19, the Lightning were quickly eliminated in the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was an embarrassing result for the Bolts and they seemed to take it personally. Ultimately, they got the last laugh as they won the Stanley Cup in 2020.
It wasn’t smoke and mirrors either. The Lightning are that good. Last season, the Lightning were third-best in the league with at 53.73% expected goals rate and were also top-five in terms of shot attempt share, scoring chances and high danger chances.
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.
When one thinks of the Lightning, they immediately think about their offense and for good reason. When healthy, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos is one of the most elite trios the league has ever seen. Most would consider all three forwards top 20-talents in the NHL. Unfortunately, Kucherov will miss most, if not all, of the regular season due to hip surgery.
Tampa’s prolific offense often overshadows its defense and goaltending. Fans have the tendency to think this team wins their games by out-scoring its opponents, which the truth is that the Bolts are certainly capable of winning multiple ways. The Lightning were the fourth-best team in the league in terms of expected goals against and high-danger scoring chances allowed per 60 minutes.
Victor Hedman garners the most attention on the Lightning blue-line, and for good reason. The massive Swede can effectively neutralize an entire line while driving offensive zone time for his own team. Hedman was a monster in the playoffs, shutting down the likes of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Mat Barzal, Anders Lee, Tyler Seguin and Jaime Benn. Joining Hedman on the blue-line are Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev, both of whom would be considered top-pair players on most other teams.
The Bolts also have one of the best goaltenders in the league, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy each of the last three years, including winning the award in 2019. His .919 career save percentage shows that he’s as reliable as they come.
Tampa Bay can outscore you, they can defend with the best of them and they have one of the league’s best goalies. There’s a reason they left last season’s Bubble with the Stanley Cup.
This has the potential to be a real ugly season for the Blackhawks.
Chicago struggled last season but still made the NHL playoffs due to the expanded field. The main reason the Blackhawks were even in a position to sneak into The Bubble was because of their goaltending. For most of the season, Chicago had arguably one of the best duos in the league with Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford. Things are very different this campaign as Lehner has been traded and Crawford retired. That leaves the Blackhawks with the inexperienced goaltending duo of Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia.
Subban is already 27, meaning the hype and potential for the former first-round draft pick is an afterthought. He has yet to play over 22 games in an NHL season and has never posted a save percentage better than .910. Delia has played in 18 NHL games since 2017, posting a 3.65 goals against average and .906 save percentage.
Neither of these goalies inspire confidence when looking at their resume. Subban has the benefit of a higher pedigree and more NHL experience, so we expect he’ll get the start on opening night.
The reason the shaky goaltending is so frightening is that Chicago was the worst defensive team in the league last season. No team gave up more scoring chances, high-danger chances or expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5v5 than the Blackhawks. Lehner and Crawford often bailed them out, but it’s hard to see Subban or Delia doing that based on what we’ve seen of them.
The good news is that Chicago’s offense was still in the top half of the league in terms of generating high-danger chances, expected goals and scoring chances. Patrick Kane is still one of the best players in the sport. Younger players like Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome offer upside for the Blackhawks offensively.
Expect high scoring games in Chicago this season, with the offense not being able to outscore their defensive and goaltending issues most nights.
Lightning vs. Blackhawks Best Bet
I understand that Tampa Bay will win this game most of the time. I understand that there is a very good chance that Chicago may be down 3-0 in this game before the first commercial break.
However, laying -225 on opening night in a wonky year with a shortened training camp, no pre-season and limited fans is a recipe for disaster. The defending Stanley Cup Champion has lost its opening game the next season in four of the last six years. One of the two winners required overtime. The other winner enjoyed a 7-0 dominant victory.
Can this be another one of those 7-0 laughers? Of course. However there is enough talent on the Blackhawks team where I will bet them at these odds every single time.
I can understand someone saying to themselves “it’s way too early in the hockey season for me to do this to myself.” If you’re that person who just doesn’t want to bet on the worst defensive team in the league against the Stanley Cup Champions on opening night, I can’t blame you. In your situation, I’d look towards the over because I can see Tampa Bay scoring six by themselves if they are on their game.
The Bet: Blackhawks +185 or better