What is new for the 2021 NHL season?
Following a fantastic 2019-20 Stanley Cup playoff run, which ended three and half months ago, NHL action returns tonight. With a normal 82-game schedule planned for the 2021-22 season, each team is slated to play 56 games this year. The conference setup has been eliminated and the four divisions have been realigned based on geographic location. The regular season is scheduled to end on May 8 and playoffs are slated to begin on May 11.
There is a lot to like about the 2021 NHL set up. Many long-standing rivalries remain in place and the short season projects to be a playoff-style sprint from start to finish. League realignment is pictured below and teams will play all games within their division. Central, East and West teams are based in the United States and will play each other eight times. The North Division is home to the seven Canadian teams and they will play each other either nine or 10 times.
Based on the final regular season standings, the top four teams in each division will advance to the playoffs. Set up as best-of-seven series, the first two rounds will determine the four division champions. Those teams will then be seeded based on their regular season point totals for the semifinal and Stanley Cup final rounds. Prior to the postseason, NHL fans can wager on the 868 game schedule that will play out over 116 consecutive days. Let’s get to opening night action.
Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs
Original Six teams begin their season when Montreal visits Toronto in North Division action. Puck drop is slated for 7:00 p.m. ET on January 13, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario. Renewing the oldest NHL rivalry, which dates back to 1917, this is the first of ten meetings. Following seven straight wins by the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens have won the last four games in this series. That includes a 6-5 (SO) win in Toronto plus 5-2 and 2-1 (OT) victories at home last season.
These teams have played several close contests over the past two seasons as five of the last seven meetings went into overtime. High scoring games have also been common as seven or more goals were scored in five of those contests. Both teams opened last season with four of their first six games resulting in seven or more goals. Defense normally takes time to catch up to offense early in each new NHL season. I feel that will be the case in this contest and my play is on the OVER here.
Pick: Game Total OVER 6.5 goals at DraftKings
Bet on the NHL all season at DraftKings Sportsbook
Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay opens their season as defending Stanley Cup champions and host Chicago for a Central Division battle. Game time is 8:00 p.m. ET at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The Lightning are on a 8-1 winning streak against the Blackhawks and this is the first of eight meetings. Prior to that, Chicago won five of seven including a 4-2 series win during the 2015 Stanley Cup final. Last season the Lightning won 4-2 in Chicago and the Blackhawks won 5-2 in Tampa Bay.
Apart from Nikita Kucherov, who is out for the season following hip surgery, the Tampa Bay core is in place. That includes Steven Stamkos who played just one playoff game last year. Chicago opens their season without Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Kirby Dach who are key players on injured reserve. Andrei Vasilevskiy gives the Bolts an edge in goal over Malcolm Subban who is making his first start for the Hawks. Lay the puck line odds and bet on the Lightning.
Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning -1.5 (+112) at DraftKings
Leans on remaining NHL 2021 opening night action
- Pittsburgh at Philadelphia 5:30 p.m. ET: Flyers (-117) moneyline
- Vancouver at Edmonton 10:00 p.m. ET: Game Total OVER 6 goals (-124)
- St. Louis at Colorado 10:30 p.m. ET: Avalanche (-148) moneyline
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