NHL Odds & Picks: Our 4 Favorite Opening Night Bets (Wednesday, Jan. 13)
Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Jordan Binnington
The 2021 NHL Season gets underway on Wednesday night with five games, starting at 5:30 p.m. ET with Flyers-Penguins and going deep into the evening with two games starting at 10 p.m. ET or later.
It’s a wonderful slate of games to whet the whistle and our NHL writers are happy to share their four favorite bets with you, dear reader.
Bring on the chaos.
Jeremy Pond: Canadiens-Maple Leafs Under 6.5 (-118)
- Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
- Time: 7 p.m. ET
Life in the all-Canadian North Division commences with a heavyweight showdown between Montreal and Toronto.
This really is a make-or-break season for the Maple Leafs, who were eliminated in last season’s playoffs by Columbus. It was just another early exit for the storied franchise, which hasn’t won a postseason series dating back to 2004.
On the flip side, you have an improved Canadiens outfit hoping to build on a playoff effort that saw it bounce Pittsburgh in the qualifying round before falling to Philadelphia in six games.
Despite the fact Toronto boasts one of the NHL’s high-powered offenses, I peg this one being tight. Montreal has one of the best goaltenders in Carey Price, who looks to bounce back from a subpar campaign by his standards. Price led the league in minutes played (3,440), but had just a .908 save percentage in 58 games in the regular season, so he will be out to prove that his sparkling performance in The Bubble was a sign that he is “back.”
Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, who has a 7-3-2 record and .923 save percentage lifetime against the Canadiens, is in a contract year, which means you have driven goaltenders entering important campaigns on personal levels.
That said, I am backing the defenses to shine and will play the total staying under the number at a fair price. Combine the fact the under hit in six of Toronto’s last eight contests with Montreal’s last seven games seeing the under finish 5-1-1, and I like my chances.
Sam Hitchcock: Blackhawks-Lightning Under 6.5 (-121)
- Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
When trying to hit an under for total goals, feeling confident that the teams won’t play overtime is a good starting point. There is not a lot of separation in the all-Canadian grudge-match between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens—which is one of two Wednesday matchups with a total goals game line of 6.5. In the case of Montreal and Toronto, overtime seems very plausible.
Through this lens, the other 6.5 total goals game line, featuring the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks, is a refreshing change. The moneyline for the Lightning is -225 on DraftKings. But even if the score is closer than expected, there are several reasons to believe the total goals will not reach seven.
First, Nikita Kucherov won’t be playing. That is a biggie. Kucherov is a former Hart Trophy winner. He led the Lightning in goals last season. The right wing is a crucial presence on the right flank of the power play.
The first line is going to be reimagined with Brayden Point centering Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat. While that line should control play against Chicago, it is an intense concentration of forward talent on the first line, and the drop-off will potentially be significant.
With Tyler Johnson missing opening night as he passes through waivers, Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli are expected to play with Alex Volkov. Volkov has exhibited nothing in his short time in the NHL to suggest he can produce at a top-six or top-nine forward level. Through nine games, he has zero goals and one assist.
Volkov had a second-worst expected goals percentage of any player on the Lightning last season, besting only Luke Witkowski. On a team that controlled shot attempts so effectively, Volkov ranked in the lower rung for how the Lightning fared with him on the ice. His promotion to second line is reason for skepticism about scoring chances coming in bunches from the Cirelli line.
Also, there is the lacuna between the Yanni Gourde line during the regular season and the trio who played like vipers in the playoffs. Focusing on Gourde as an example is instructive.
In the regular season, Gourde struggled, posting only 10 goals in 70 games. His shooting percentage was nine. In the playoffs, playing center with Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow as his wings, Gourde notched seven goals and had a shooting percentage a few tenths below 13.
But wait! The Blackhawks’ defense is a tire fire. Your concerns about Tampa Bay’s secondary scoring will not come home to roost against a team whose normal posture was chasing the puck.
Nevertheless, can the Blackhawks score against the Lightning? Tampa Bay showcased an elite team defense all season, with their expected goals per 60 minutes dropping from 2.07 during the regular season to 1.81 in the playoffs.
With almost everyone back on the blue line, and Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal, bettors can stomach Tampa Bay tallying four or five if they hold Chicago to one.
At 6.5 total goals, bettors can afford a garbage-time goal and still win if this game finishes 4-2. Even though -121 on DraftKings is higher than I would prefer, I still love this bet.
Pete Truszkowski: Oilers-Canucks Over 6 (+100)
- Odds available at BetMGM [Bet Now]
- Time: 10 p.m. ET
Most people are expecting the All-Canadian North Division to be wide open. Not just in terms of the race to win it, but also in terms of the style of play. On Wednesday, we’ll get a glimpse of two exciting young teams with an insane amount of scoring talent.
Both Vancouver and Edmonton scored more than 3 goals per game in 2019/20. However, they both also allowed more than 3 goals per contest. It’s no wonder that these two teams were both kind to over bettors in 2019/20.
Edmonton has arguably the two most prolific forwards in the league with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but Vancouver boasts some incredible talent, too. The Canucks have had a player finishing in the top-two of Calder voting in each of the last three seasons with Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
Things aren’t as eye-popping in goal, though. Vancouver’s stalwart starter from last season, Jacob Markstrom, left for Calgary and the Canucks replaced him with Braden Holtby. Casual sports fans might remember Holtby winning a Vezina and Stanley Cup in recent years, but last year he was the second-worst goalie in the league in terms of goals saved above average. On the other side, Mikko Koskinen has been solid but unspectacular for the Oilers.
There’s also the fact that in a normal season, the first month (October usually) is the highest scoring month of the season. Games in October have averaged over six goals per game for three straight seasons. In October 2019, teams averaged 3.12 goals per game, well over the total season average of 3.02. Scoring has also gone up in the league for four straight seasons. It’s fair to assume this trend has to do with teams getting their legs going and perfecting their defensive systems rather than the temperature outdoors which means we can expect early season games to be higher scoring than average.
Rooting for some of the most talented players in the league to produce offense sounds like an ideal way to spend an evening. With these two teams, I expect offense and I think both teams will score at least three goals which means the over should hit.
Michael Leboff: Blues (+125) vs. Avalanche
- Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
- Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
The St. Louis Blues are here to slow down the Colorado Avalanche. Well, every team that plays the Avs will be there to slow ’em down, but the Blues at least have a chance to pull it off.
The Blues are masters at suppressing, suffocating and stymieing the opposition. The Blues ranked first in shot attempts allowed, third in goals allowed and seventh in expected goals allowed at 5-on-5 in 2019/20.
It’s fair to wonder if the Blues’ defensive numbers will take a hit without Alex Pietrangelo, but I’m not overly concerned. St. Louis ably replaced its former captain with another stellar rearguard, Torey Krug, so crisis averted. With Krug, Colton Parayko, Vince Dunn and Marco Scandella, the Blues still have one of the best bluelines in the NHL and they get a lot of help from the forwards, who could be the best two-way group in the NHL.
The question with St. Louis will be whether or not it can score enough, but I am not that concerned. Playing top-notch defense and getting solid goaltending — staples of the Blues’ identity — takes pressure off the scorers.
That said, the Notes will need to improve going forward if they want to be considered one of the league’s heavyweights. As a team, the Blues only ranked 24th in expected goals created and 16th in goals scored at even strength.
I do have confidence that this team will get better offensively, though. Even though most people associate Ryan O’Reilly with the Selke Trophy, he’s also an elite playmaker in the offensive zone and should have a lot of success playing with pure goal-scorer Mike Hoffman, who will keep Vladimir Tarasenko’s seat warm until the Russian talisman is back and healthy.
None of O’Reilly, Hoffman, Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, Robert Thomas and David Perron may be what people think of when they picture “game-breaking talent,” but there aren’t many teams that have as complete a top-six as the Blues, plus Krug, Dunn and Faulk will all pitch in offensively from the back end.
This game will likely come down to whether or not the Blues can muddy up the waters, turn this game into a half-court battle, and keep the Avalanche from breaking through the neutral zone with speed. Turning this game into a 50/50 battle would be a big success for the Blues and I am confident that they can achieve that feat.
At -152, the odds imply that the Avalanche win this game about 60.3% of the time. I think that number is already a splash high in a matchup against another cup contender, but I am hoping the Avs get bet up before this game. Our projections make this line Colorado -114, so St. Louis has some value at +125.
If there was an antidote to the Colorado Avalanche, it would be these St. Louis Blues.