Welcome back, NHL fans… hopefully, at least. Tentatively, we’re back from the league’s COVID slash holiday break with a three-game slate after Columbus vs. Chicago was already postponed. Here’s a quick snapshot of how the league stacks up as we hit the final two-thirds of the season.
The top 12 teams from Tampa Bay to St. Louis are all separated by a mere five points – incredible. Only two points separate the best five teams, and all five teams are in the Eastern Conference; three are from the incredibly-stacked Metropolitan Division. It’s going to be a wild ride these next few weeks as the COVID situation takes shape and the contenders continue to separate from the pretenders.
There are few options on the board, but I’ve managed to find two best bets for Tuesday’s return to the ice.
Last Tuesday, I learned my lesson – fading the Lightning isn’t always a good idea. I went to bed with the Golden Knights dominating play and leading the game 3-1. I woke up to a losing ticket and a 4-3 Tampa Bay victory in the desert. Point taken, Tampa.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I’m on the Lightning out of the break to take care of the lowly Canadiens in regulation in a rematch of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. Not much needs to be said about how good the Lightning are and how brutal Montreal has been. Tampa Bay has the most points in the NHL with 44, and the Canadiens have the second-fewest with just 17. The Lightning have won eight of their last 10; the Canadiens have lost eight of their previous 10. In short – things are going well in Florida, but not so well north of the border.
— Mari (Christmas) Faiello 🎄 (@faiello_mari) December 27, 2021
I like Tampa to take care of business in regulation for a couple of reasons. The first is the easy one – Jon Cooper doesn’t mess around. We’ve seen him pull his goaltender with eight minutes to go in regulation, we’ve seen him put five forwards out on the ice in a tie game late, we’ve seen him double and triple-shift his best players in the third period; he’s a two-time Cup-winning coach, and he knows what buttons he needs to press to get his team to the finish line. Extra hockey, especially against the worst team in the conference, isn’t optimal for the long-term trajectory for his club. He won’t let his team mess around and allow Montreal to hang in a game they have no business in.
And secondly, Montreal doesn’t stick around in games long enough to be competitive in the third period, let alone force overtime. Their goal differential is an abysmal -42, 31st in the league, and 17 goals worse than the 30th-place Blackhawks. The only team with a worse differential is Arizona. Montreal has also only been to overtime four times all season. It isn’t easy to earn the extra session when you’re allowing almost four goals a game and just barely scoring two.
The Canadiens are ninth-worst in scoring chances allowed. They’ve allowed the second-most high danger chances and have the second-worst high danger save percentage in the NHL. Good luck against the firepower of the Lightning. Montreal also added five players to their COVID list on Monday morning and has just nine regulars available on Tuesday. Expect a ton of depth and AHL skaters for the Habs. Play Tampa on the 60-minute line down to -160.
These two teams don’t exactly scream “goals” historically because they’ve both sent out some of the best goaltending the league’s had to offer in recent memory. But like it was early in the season when goals were being scored in bunches, I expect the long layoff to have the same effect on Tuesday.
The Knights were rolling into the holiday pause. Even in their most recent loss to the Lightning, Vegas controlled nearly the entirety of that game and scored three goals which seemed like it was going to be enough to win. Vegas got much healthier right around Thanksgiving, and perhaps not coincidentally, the puck started finding the back of the net with regularity. In their last 11 games, Vegas is averaging 4.3 goals per game – most in the league in that time, and it hasn’t been against inferior competition. They piled five goals on John Gibson, five more on Braden Holtby, six on Cam Talbot, five on Mackenzie Blackwood, four on Ilya Sorokin, and three on Andrei Vasilevskiy. Now, enter the Kings, who’ve been good in terms of goaltending this year, but it’s been a bumpy ride lately.
Los Angeles has only allowed 79 goals in 30 games, a top 10 mark this year across the NHL. However, since Thanksgiving, the cage has looked a lot bigger for Kings’ opponents. In the last 15 games, LA has given up 3.0 goals per game. Compare that to their first 15, where they allowed just 2.3 per game. Taking a deeper look at their schedule, the uptick in goals allowed has come from the schedule toughening up, which indicates we may be in for a bit of a spike in goals again against a red-hot Knights team.
Neither team’s goaltending duos excel in stopping key chances, either. The Kings’ netminders are sixth-worst in scoring chance save percentage, and the Golden Knights’ goaltenders are third-worst in high danger save percentage. There will be plenty of scoring opportunities with so many fresh legs on the ice, so look for a lot of these to slip through.
I like this bet down to -120, but if you’d instead get a feel for this one before jumping in on an over, you can also wait to play this one live.
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