NHL Handicapping: Biggest First-Week Games
by Trevor Whenham - 10/1/2013
After a long offseason, the NHL gets rolling again on Tuesday night — thankfully on time this year after the torture of last year’s prolonged delay. While it is dangerous to base too much on what we see early in the year, there are some games in the first week of action that can give us clues about what to expect in the coming weeks. Here are 10 games that stand out above all others in the first week of the season in terms of both their betting attractiveness and their ability to teach us about one or both teams involved:
Washington at Chicago: the Blackhawks are the defending champions, and on paper they are good enough to win another. Last year they got off to an incredible start to the year that was the foundation of all their success. The last time they won the Cup, though, they were flat the next season as they struggled with a hangover. Have they learned from that? Will they come out flying? Meanwhile, it is very tough right now to know what to expect from the Capitals. Will they be the dominant squad we saw in the second half of last season when they were arguably the top team in the league? Or will they be the team we saw in the first half of the year that would have struggled to beat a girl’s ringette team?
Tampa Bay at Boston: I have high hopes for the Lightning to bounce back strong this year after a weak offseason. It’s a good sign that they didn’t rush superstar rookie Jonathan Drouin to the NHL because they didn’t have to — they have that much talent. Better coaching and better goaltending will lead to better results — and this is a good chance for them to make a statement against a major contender looking to impress a new coach. This is a good test for both teams.
Vancouver at San Jose: These are both second-tier contenders in the West. They are both almost certain playoff teams, but it is hard to know if they can be elite contenders or also-rans. They both have talent, but how they handle the situation is unclear. Vancouver will be particularly interesting to watch early with a new coach and the bizarre Roberto Luongo situation in their rearview mirror.
New Jersey at Pittsburgh: The Penguins should be the best team in the league. They are so good that it shouldn’t be close — at least in the East. They were their own worst enemies in the playoffs last year, though. This is a game they should be able to win with real authority — but only if they want to. I want to see the Penguins angry and fired up. If they are then they will be useful to bettors early — even though they are a very public team. If they come out flat against this flawed New Jersey team, though, then we’ll have to take a step back and evaluate.
New York Islanders at New Jersey: The Islanders are a team that could take a big step forward this year. They have an elite star in John Tavares, and they gained a lot of confidence by giving the Penguins a big playoff test last year. The Devils aren’t great and should be feeling beaten up after playing the Penguins the night before. I want to see the Islanders make a big statement in their season opener here — as a sign that they can be trusted early and often.
Detroit at Boston: This is the third game in four nights for a Detroit team that no one is going to accuse of being young. That’s a big test, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to it. If they show that it doesn’t bother them then they could be dangerous this year — especially given the advantage of easier travel in the East. If they look outclassed by a good Boston team, though, then we might have to be more conservative with them in the short term. The Red Wings are among the hardest teams in the league to predict right now, so this game will give us some much-needed hints.
Ottawa at Toronto: This is the battle of Ontario, and these teams don’t like each other much. Besides the contempt, there is a lot to watch here. Toronto finally made some progress last year — their first in a decade — but we need to get a sense of whether they can maintain the forward motion. Ottawa was surprisingly strong last year, too, but now has to come to terms with playing without eternal star Daniel Alfredsson, who jilted them for the Red Wings in the offseason. In the long term they should be fine without him, but it remains to be seen how they handle his absence in the short term.
Edmonton at Vancouver: This could finally be the year that the Oilers break through and become a serious playoff threat. It’s about time. They should win their opener against Winnipeg, but this will be the real test of their maturing young stars, their new captain — Andrew Ference, who came from Boston in the offseason — and their new coach. If they can make a nice statement in a key conference game — even in a loss provided it is a strong effort — then it could be a good sign of things to come.
Florida at St. Louis: St. Louis has a good shot to be one of the two or three best teams in the tough Western Conference. Florida seems to be all but certain to be one of the two or three worst teams in the NHL. This game will be a good measuring stick for both squads. Is Florida as bad as they seem? Is St. Louis fired up to punish weak squads?
Vancouver at Calgary: The Flames are going to be bad. There is no way around that. After two games on the road, though, this is their home opener, and it comes against their biggest rival recently. They should be fired up and at their best. That means that this game will give us a good indication of just how bad things are going to be for Calgary fans.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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