The NHL’s 2021-22 regular season begins on Tuesday night with the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning raising another banner to the rafters ahead of their matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins – who are without injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The second game Tuesday features the debut of the expansion Seattle Kraken at the Vegas Golden Knights, who were the most recent expansion club. Both games are on ESPN – which is back to showing hockey this season. It’s time we take a closer look so you can get ready to bet against their NHL odds.
Analysis & Predictions 2021-22 NHL Season
Seattle’s primary goaltender is Philipp Grubauer. It was a shock that Colorado let Grubauer walk and didn’t re-sign him. He picked the right time to have the best season of his nine-year career last year as he led the league in shutouts with seven. He was second in wins (30) and goals-against average (1.95) and eighth in save percentage (.923). Grubauer was a Vezina Trophy finalist and backstopped the Avalanche to the Presidents’ Trophy.
The head coach of the Kraken is Dave Hakstol. The 52-year-old was an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs the past two seasons. Prior to that, he coached the Philadelphia Flyers for parts of four seasons from 2015-18, getting fired 31 games into the 2018-19 season. Hakstol went 134-101-42 with the Flyers and led them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice, losing in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2016 and 2018.
Seattle will be without one of its better players to start the season in Yanni Gourde. He was selected from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the expansion draft and had shoulder surgery in July.
In a surprise this offseason, Vegas traded future Hall of Famer goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks. Fleury was voted the winner of the Vezina Trophy after the 36-year-old was 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and six shutouts in 36 games. He was 9-7 with a 2.04 GAA and .918 save percentage in 16 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to help the Golden Knights reach the NHL Semifinals, which they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in six games. Fleury is third in NHL history in wins with 492 but Vegas instead chose to turn to Robin Lehner in net as this year’s No. 1.
You may remember recently that Lehner made national news when he accused NHL teams of medical malpractice, including offering benzodiazepines and Ambien to players without prescription. Lehner, 30, tweeted that benzodiazepines and Ambien are regularly given to players for travel and that “many teams without prescription just hand it out.” The goalie said the Golden Knights were not one of those teams.
Will Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin for their regular-season opener Wednesday vs. the New York Rangers. Ovechkin was not on the ice for practice on Sunday and is being considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury he suffered against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday in exhibition action. Ovechkin signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Capitals in the off-season and is expected to chase Wayne Gretzky’s record 894 goals over the duration of the contract. The 36-year-old is 164 goals behind.
The Caps for sure will be without excellent center Nicolas Backstrom as he’s rehabbing from a hip injury. Last season, Backstrom led Washington and was 20th in the NHL with 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) in 55 regular-season games but was held to one assist in five games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Capitals were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the first round.
Selected by Washington with the No. 4 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, Backstrom leads the League with 722 assists in 1,011 regular-season games since making his debut at the start of the 2007-08 season, and his 980 points rank fifth in the NHL over that span behind Ovechkin (1,122), Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (1,103), Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (1,088), and Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (1,019).
The Blackhawks open the season Wednesday at Colorado and should have captain and franchise icon Jonathan Toews in the lineup. The 33-year-old center did not play last season because of chronic immune response syndrome but has been playing this preseason. His last game that counted came Aug. 18, 2020, when he scored in a 4-3 loss to the Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round. That loss eliminated Chicago in the best-of-7 series. Toews scored 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) in 70 regular-season games and nine points (five goals, four assists) in nine Stanley Cup Playoff games in 2019-20.
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