NHL best bets and expert picks
It was a strong 2-1 start to the season last night and man, it feels great watching meaningful hockey again.
The NHL has six games on the slate tonight, with a lot of its stars in action.
Last night was a fantastic kick-off to the 2023-24 NHL season, so let’s see how some of the other teams follow it up tonight. Connor Bedard cashed his shots on goal prop in the first period, helping the Blackhawks steal one on the road in Pittsburgh, but it’s a short rest for Chicago as they face off in Boston tonight against the defending President’s Trophy winners.
We get double the pleasure and double the fun this evening as there are twice as many games as opposed to last night, including some of the game’s brightest stars like Connor McDavid, Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Cole Caufield, and many more.
Connor Bedard’s NHL debut is going to be a night that he remembers as he helped his team come from behind and defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins by the score of 4-2. Despite not being able to find the back of the net, Bedard had a ton of positives in his first game in the Blackhawks crest, and tonight, he will be playing in his first career back-to-back. If last night was any sign of what we can expect from the 18-year-old, he is going to shoot the puck a lot.
Last night, Bedard led his team in multiple offensive categories, but the ones that stand out most are the following: shots, shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances. He had a total of five shots on goal last night and his prop tonight is set the same as it was in his first game (2.5).
The Boston Bruins are a solid defensive team, so getting shots on goal might be a tad more difficult tonight than it was against the Penguins. With that said, it’s evident that Bedard has no fear of letting it rip. I don’t typically like betting on teams or players in the latter half of a back-to-back, but if the line is going to remain at 2.5 for Bedard’s shot props, I’m going to keep hammering it, regardless of the juice. If you’re including the preseason, Bedard has hit this number in four out of his first five games in the Blackhawks sweater.
Chicago should be feeling good going into Boston and Bedard will get some quality chances yet again.
Bet: Connor Bedard Over 2.5 Shots On Goal -180 (play to -200)
The Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators will be one of the most underrated matchups of the evening, but I am thrilled that these two teams are kicking off the slate. The Canes were the second-best defensive team in the NHL last season, and they have been a tough team to play against since Rod Brind’Amour took on the head coaching duties in 2018. Carolina defends incredibly well not only in general but especially on home ice and in first periods, which means they are going to make things difficult early on for the Ottawa Senators, who are set to have a big year.
Keeping the puck out of the net is an area that DJ Smith and the Senators will try to tighten up a bit this year, especially now that they are relying on Joonas Korpisalo to hold down the crease. Korpisalo is a fine goaltender, but he was stuck on a weak Columbus team before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings, where he appeared in 11 games last year. In those 11 games, he had a strong showing, skating to a .921 save percentage and a 2.13 goals against average. Korpisalo can really give the Senators a boost.
The Hurricanes offense doesn’t scare me all that much. Last season they finished with the 15th most productive offense (3.20 goals per game), while the Senators were just a little behind them at 18th (3.16).
The Canes are a defensively-minded team, especially in the opening 20 minutes as they look to set the tone for the full 60. The first period of a season opener has a ton of nerves as a player, especially on the road at PNC Arena, which is one of the most difficult road environments in the NHL. Last season, the Canes had the most first-period Unders hit on home ice out of any team in the league, and that’s a trend I think will continue this season.
Carolina should dominate the play for the opening 20 minutes, but I am hoping the new and improved Senators’ blue line and goaltending can slow them down. As for the Senators, I don’t expect them to drive the play or get many high-danger chances early on, so this first-period Under should be safe.
Bet: Hurricanes/Senators Under 1.5 1P +110 (play to +100)
The Winnipeg Jets must be feeling good after locking up their starting netminder (Connor Hellebuyck) and first-line center (Mark Scheifele) this past week. On the flipside, the Calgary Flames had a disaster of a season last year, resulting in the firing of their head coach, Darryl Sutter. Ryan Huska is the new bench boss for this Flames group and tonight will be his first experience as an NHL head coach, which isn’t the most comforting feeling.
Despite losing Blake Wheeler and Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Jets still have some offensive firepower in Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nino Niederreiter and Josh Morrissey on the backend. All four of these players pose a threat to the Flames goaltender, Jakob Markstrom, who may have been the biggest disappointment of the entire 2022-23 season.
Markstrom was a Vezina Trophy finalist for Calgary in 2021-22, boasting a .922 save percentage and a 2.22 goals against average, while also earning 37 wins. He did not look like that same guy last year as he fell down to a .892 save percentage with a 2.92 goals against average, only skating to 23 victories. Markstrom wasn’t the only disappointing player for the Flames last year. Jonathan Huberdeau went from putting up 115 points in 2021-22 with the Florida Panthers to just 55 points with the Flames. Not to mention, they lost their leading scorer from last year, Tyler Toffoli.
With Markstrom’s expectations being a bit more unknown, the Jets have the clear goaltending edge hear with Hellebuyck in the blue paint. He has been the backbone of this team for quite some time now, and he is coming off of a monster season. He skated to the fourth-best goals saved above expected in the NHL (+30.8) while earning a .920 save percentage and a 2.49 goals against average.
Winnipeg’s vibes heading into the season are at a high knowing that Hellebuyck and Scheifele are sticking around. I am more than comfortable backing this team poised to make the playoffs against Huska in his debut as a head coach of a team with more uncertainties.
Bet: Winnipeg Jets ML +114 (play to +104)
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are back and hungrier to get the job done in the 2023-24 season. These two are the reasons why the Edmonton Oilers are the scariest offensive team in the NHL, and it helps their case that they are going up against a weak defensive opponent to kick off their season.
The Vancouver Canucks were a complete mess last season, I’m confident that they will have a strong bounce-back year in Rick Tocchet’s first full season behind the bench, but the Oilers are probably their worst possible opponent for a home opener. Last season, the Canucks finished with the league’s eighth-worst goals against (3.61), and they finished toward the bottom of the league in high-danger chances against per 60 minutes (11.54) at 5-on-5. The Oilers finished with the fourth most high-danger chances for per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (12.61), so I expect Edmonton to drive the play for most of this game.
But let’s talk about the first period. The Oilers were the fourth-best team in the first period last season, winning the opening 20 minutes in 50% of their games. In the three meetings that they had against the Canucks last year, they won two out of the three first periods that they played. In fact, in the only meeting in Vancouver between the two teams last season, the Oilers outscored the Canucks 2-0 in the opening frame. The Canucks only won 26 out of the 82 first periods that they took part in, so I like the Oilers edge here out of the gate.
The Oilers were the best offensive team last season, and I expect them to be the best yet again this season. Let’s see how quickly they attack once the puck is dropped, I don’t think Thatcher Demko and the Canucks blue line will be able to slow them down much in the first period.
Bet: Edmonton Oilers -0.5 in the 1st Period +145 (play to +135)
2023-24 record: 2-1-0 (+0.82 units)