NHL Odds, Preview, Prediction: Rangers vs. Lightning (Dec. 31)
Elsa/Getty Images. Pictured: New York Rangers standout Artemi Panarin, left, celebrates with teammates.
Rangers vs. Lightning Odds
|Time||7 p.m. ET|
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It’s the final game of 2021 for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers. Two Eastern Conference powerhouses will be going after it Friday in Tampa Bay. Both are coming off losses to the Florida Panthers and will be looking to end the year on the right foot.
New York has been a top team in the East for most of the season, but even before the break, it has been fairly mediocre. The Rangers have gone 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, losing four out of their last five outings, so they hope to get back in the win column.
After its win against Montreal, Tampa Bay seemed to pick up right where it left off, but then COVID-19 hit the club and it led to a beating in Thursday’s 9-3 blowout loss to Florida.
The two-time defending champions have gone 8-2 in their last 10 and have had their way against anyone that has been put in their path, but moving forward will be tricky without key contributors.
New York Rangers
They’re building a quality team in Manhattan, as the Rangers have made a substantial improvement from last year. While their last 10 games have been average, the talent is impossible to ignore. Led by superstar Artemi Panarin, the Rangers are also backed by Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, Chris Kreider and Mike Zibanejad with one of the deepest teams in the league.
Even with all the talent that they have, you’d expect the Rangers to be one of the better teams at driving play. However, they’re in the bottom 10 in expected goals per 60 minutes with a 2.1 xGF and rank 18th in high danger chances created.
Where New York gets most of its offense is on the power play. With an elite playmaker like Panarin and a net presence in Kreider, it’s a deadly combination when the team has the man advantage.
Another major factor that has allowed the Rangers to succeed is their goaltending. Russian sensation Igor Shesterkin has taken the league by storm, posting a .934 SV% and a sixth-best 13.5 GSAx (Goals Saved Above Expected) this season.
Fellow net-minder Alexandar Georgiev is in COVID-19 protocol, so Keith Kinkaid will be the backup in this spot. However, I see no reason why Shesterkin won’t take the crease against this formidable opponent.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay has an embarrassment of riches. Loaded from top to bottom, it’s truly amazing what it has been able to achieve in the salary cap era. Captain Steven Stamkos is having an incredible year, followed by a supporting cast of Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat.
However, the Lightning will be missing Anthony Cirelli, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brian Elliott, Mikhail Sergachev and Cal Foote to health and safety protocol, so the reigning champs will be facing their first bit of adversity in quite a while.
Similar to last year, but superstar Nikita Kucherov has been injured and Tampa Bay has shown it can be dominant without him. The Lightning are a top-10 team in 5-on-5 generating play with a 2.59 xGF per 60 and create the third most high danger chances.
What’s interesting is that after a historic playoffs on the power play, they’re mediocre (by their standards) on special teams, scoring at a 17.9% rate. The loss of Kucherov might not hurt even strength, but it’s felt on the power play.
With Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott out with COVID-19, only one word can describe Tampa’s goaltending situation: brutal. Max Legace has experience, but he’s not a world beater and a big difference from the former Conn Smythe winning Vasilevskiy.
It will be either Legace or rookie Hugo Alnefelt, who came in relief during last night’s beatdown. Assuming Legace is playing, he’ll be coming in with a .828 SV% and a -1.2 GSAx in two starts.
Lightning vs. Rangers Pick
In a regular setting, I’d probably pick Tampa Bay to win, but this isn’t an ordinary situation. With the firepower that the Rangers have, it will be hard for either Legace or Alnefelt to contain them.
The Lightning are very short-handed, and despite the talent they do have, it won’t be enough when their goaltending is significantly downgraded.
Pick: New. York (+130)