The 2021-22 NHL regular season begins Tuesday and barring something unforeseen it will be the first 82-game schedule since the 2018-19 campaign. It’s also the first time the league has 32 teams with expansion Seattle set to go. Here’s a look at the two opening night games.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Full arenas. A full schedule. After what we've been through the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that's enough to get excited about the 2021-22 NHL regular season starting Tuesday. But there's more, writes @cotsonika. Much more.https://t.co/ShV0FkeHQC— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) October 11, 2021
- When: Tuesday, October 12th, 2021. 7:30pm ET
- Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
- TV: ESPN, SN, TVAS
- Radio: WXDX‑FM 105.9 FM (Penguins) // AM 970 WFLA (Lightning)
- Live Stream: NHL Live
- NHL Betting Odds: Tampa Bay Lightning (-1)
Tampa Bay will raise its second straight Stanley Cup banner to the rafters at Amalie Arena. It’s a 7:30 p.m. ET puck drop on ESPN – yep, ESPN is back broadcasting NHL games with NBC getting out of hockey. No team has won three Stanley Cup championships in a row since the New York Islanders won four straight from 1980-83.
The Lightning’s top line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov combined for 68 points during the 2021 playoffs, 33 percent of Tampa Bay’s 206 total points. They are all back – remember, Kucherov didn’t even play last regular season but returned for the playoffs. In his past two regular seasons, the 28-year-old Russian was second to Leon Draisaitl in total points (213) and captured the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2018-19.
The Bolts did lose three good players this offseason in Yanni Gourde (Seattle), Blake Coleman (Calgary) and Barclay Goodrow (NY Rangers).
Pittsburgh probably won’t be very good at least for a while because superstars and future Hall of Famers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both out. Crosby, the two-time Hart Trophy winner, had wrist surgery in early September. He did actually return to practice over the weekend but is not expected to play yet. The 34-year-old center missed just one game during the COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 season, finishing with 24 goals and 38 assists to help lead the Penguins to the East Division title.
Malkin had knee surgery in June and will miss probably half the season. The Russian played only 88 games over the past two years including 33 over a shortened 2020-21 slate. This past season was Malkin’s worst as a pro, as he posted career lows in goals, points and assists with eight, 20 and 28, respectively.
Over the weekend, winger Zach Aston-Reese was taken out of COVID protocol. He still might end up being scratched for the Penguins’ season opener as he works to get back up to speed.
Because the NHL had the unusual realignment last year due to COVID, the Lightning and Penguins didn’t play one another. Pittsburgh has dropped its past five in Tampa.
NHL Betting Pick: Lightning
Seattle Kraken vs. Vegas Golden Knights
- When: Tuesday, October 12th, 2021. 10:00pm ET
- Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
- TV: ESPN, SN, TVAS
- Radio: Sports Radio 950 AM (Kraken) // KKGK 98.9 FM (Golden Knights)
- Live Stream: NHL Live
- NHL Betting Odds: Vegas Golden Knights (-1.5)
It’s the NHL’s newest expansion team in the Seattle Kraken facing the most recent previous expansion team in the Vegas Golden Knights. The puck drops at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN. Vegas of course made the Stanley Cup Final in its first season – Seattle isn’t going to be that good but does appear like it will be pretty competitive.
Maybe Seattle’s biggest move this offseason was signing former Avalanche netminder Philipp Grubauer to a mega free-agent deal. He’s coming off his strongest season by far, posting a 1.95 goals against average and a .922 save percentage with a career-high seven shutouts to go with his 30-9-1 record. Seattle went 4-2 in the preseason. Grubauer pitched a shutout in the finale, a 4-0 win over Vancouver.
Seattle joins the Pacific Division, which Vegas is favored to win. The Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup semifinals last year, losing in an upset to Montreal. Vegas scored on 17.8 percent of its power plays in the regular season and 9.3 percent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2020-21, and went 0-for-15 on the power play in six games against the Canadiens in the semifinals, a big reason the Golden Knights were eliminated.
With goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury traded to Chicago, the top job in net now belongs to Robin Lehner. He didn’t close the preseason well, allowing four goals in Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks. Lehner has been dealing with a minor injury this preseason as well but is expected to be fine to start Tuesday.
NHL Betting Pick: Kraken on puckline