10/06/2011 06:57 PM
Thursday, October 6
What bettors need to know: Thursday's NHL opening night
Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs (-120, 5.5)
THE STORY: Two of hockey's most historic rivals meet to open the season Thursday when the Montreal Canadiens visit the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens are looking to rebound from a disappointing first-round exit at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins last season, while the Maple Leafs hope to reach the postseason for the first time since before the 2004-05 work stoppage. The goaltending matchup will likely be the most intriguing one of the night, with emerging star Carey Price guarding the Montreal net against Toronto's James Reimer. Price played in a club-record 72 games last season but will likely see a diminished workload this year with the acquisition of backup Peter Budaj. Reimer will face immense scrutiny as the Leafs' unquestioned top guy after a sensational rookie campaign.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS
ABOUT THE CANADIENS: Head coach Jacques Martin believes the Canadiens are an improved bunch over the club that placed sixth in the Eastern Conference and nearly knocked off the Bruins in the opening round. He may wind up being correct, but only if Montreal can find a way to score more goals. A full season of F Mike Cammalleri and the acquisition of F Erik Cole over the summer will aid in that regard, but youngsters like Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty will need to be stronger if Montreal hopes to improve on its 23rd-ranked offense.
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS: More roster shuffling has Toronto confident it can end a postseason drought that has now reached six seasons. The arrival of talented but injury-prone center Tim Connolly should help, while Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski are expected to shine in the final years of their respective contracts. Other minor moves (David Steckel, Cody Franson, Matthew Lombardi) should give Toronto the depth it has been lacking in recent seasons.
1. Montreal allowed 29 preseason goals, tied with Florida for the most in the league.
2. Toronto's 22 goals in the exhibition campaign was the most in the Eastern Conference.
* Under is 5-0 in the last five meetings in Toronto.
* Under is 5-1 in the last six meetings.
PREDICTION: Montreal 3, Toronto 2. These two teams always play tight, entertaining games and Thursday's should be no exception. With referees usually calling more penalties early in the season, the Canadiens' historically strong power-play should make the difference in this one.
Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins (-140, 5.5)
THE STORY: It's funny how the NHL season works sometimes. During Thursday's season opener, the host Boston Bruins will hoist their Stanley Cup banner in full view of the Philadelphia Flyers - the team which unceremoniously handed them a historic postseason collapse in 2010 only to be swept aside in the conference semifinals in 2011. In doing so, the Beantown residents skated to their first Stanley Cup title since 1972. Boston has done its fair share of reveling after besting the Vancouver Canucks in June, while Philadelphia has cast aside a couple of proven veterans while finally addressing its goaltending situation. Ilya Bryzgalov will now be between the pipes for Philadelphia, while reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas will man his usual post for Boston. Bruins coach Claude Julien isn't resting on his laurels, however. "The start of this season is a whole new season. It's been a great summer, but now it's time to turn the page and get back to work. What we accomplished last year really doesn't matter this year."
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Versus
ABOUT THE FLYERS: After last year's woe-begotten performance between the pipes, Philadelphia signed free-agent Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal. That was not the only move for the new-look Flyers, who jettisoned former captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles and talented wing Jeff Carter to Columbus. Former league MVP Jaromir Jagr, 39, has fared well in the preseason, but he'll need to prove his worth over the long haul after playing in the Kontinental Hockey League for the past three campaigns.
ABOUT THE BRUINS: While Boston will celebrate the not-too-recent past on Thursday, several faces will be missing. Future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi retired, Michael Ryder is now in Dallas and Marc Savard will not play this season after suffering his second concussion. The Bruins rewarded pesky Brad Marchand for his solid postseason by inking him to a two-year deal this summer. The main core is intact, however, and another run at the Northeast Division title - among loftier goals - is not out of the realm of possibility in 2011-12.
1. With the departures of proven studs, the Flyers are expecting James van Riemsdyk to pick up the slack on the scoreboard. The second overall pick of the 2007 draft, van Riemsdyk was signed to a six-year extension worth $25.5 million in the offseason.
2. Although Thomas was the signature face of the Bruins' triumph last summer, he is expected to share netminding duties with Tuukka Rask this year. Then again, the same was said last year ... and we all saw how that panned out.
* Over is 4-1 in the last five meetings in Boston.
* Flyers are 0-6 in the last six meetings.
PREDICTION: Bruins 4, Flyers 1. With TD Garden whipped into a frenzy, Julien's charges won't suffer any Stanley Cup hangover - well, at least not on the first day. Boston's top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton will fluster the Flyers en route to a convincing victory.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Vancouver Canucks (-160, 5.5)
THE STORY: While publications and video games are predicting a Stanley Cup championship for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, a title will only come to the Steel City if superstar Sidney Crosby is able to return to the lineup and regain his superior form. The captain will begin 2011-12 on injured reserve as Pittsburgh begins the campaign on the road Thursday against the reigning Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks. Sports Illustrated picked the Penguins to win it all this season and EA Sports' "NHL 12" video game had Pittsburgh sweeping Chicago in the Finals during a simulation. But the Pens' real-life hopes are pinned on the health of Crosby, who has been out since Jan. 5 with a concussion. The Canucks had a brilliant 2010-11 campaign, winning the Presidents' Trophy and boasting the Art Ross Trophy winner for a second straight season, but came up one win short of their first Cup as they fell to Boston.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC
ABOUT THE PENGUINS: Crosby is symptom-free and traveling with the team on its season-opening road trip through Western Canada, but the 24-year old has not yet been cleared for contact in practice. Evgeni Malkin is more than ready, however, as he registered three goals and seven points in four preseason games after having his 2010-11 campaign end in early February with a knee injury.
ABOUT THE CANUCKS: Ryan Kesler has made waves by posing nude for ESPN Magazine, but the club is more interested in his return to the ice. The Selke Trophy winner begins the season on the sidelines following offseason hip surgery. Twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who have claimed the last two regular-season scoring titles, will be counted on early with Kesler and Mason Raymond (fractured vertebrae) on the shelf.
1. The Penguins boast what arguably is the best trio of centers in the league in Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal. However, the threesome has been together in the lineup only seven times over Pittsburgh's last 96 games, including the playoffs, and just twice last season.
2. After leading the NHL with 262 goals in 2010-11, Vancouver scored only 17 times in eight preseason contests.
- Pittsburgh is 2-7 in the last nine meetings between the two teams.
- The under is 18-6-2 in Vancouver's last 26 home games.
PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 5, Vancouver 3. Even without Crosby, the Penguins have enough firepower to make Roberto Luongo miserable. The absences of Kesler and Raymond will limit Vancouver's ability to generate scoring chances against Marc-Andre Fleury.
Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs: