NHL 2011-12 Opener: Los Angeles Kings vs. New York Rangers

It’s an exciting time to be a hockey fan as the 2011-12 NHL Hockey season officially gets underway this afternoon and evening, starting with a pair of opening games taking place overseas, including our featured NHL match-up of the day between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers. With both teams entering the season after first-round exits from the playoffs this year and making key personnel changes and acquisitions ahead of this year’s campaign, there is no doubt that these two teams will be ones to watch throughout the season, and likely into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in spring of next season.

The New York Rangers bolstered their offensive production by adding the prize of free agency center Brad Richards from the Dallas Stars in the offseason, who will work alongside Marian Gaborik, Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky as the top scorers on the team. There’s no question that expectations will be high for Richards amongst this talented scoring group, so be sure to pay close attention to how the new works with the existing from Day 1 of the season. With the Rangers also holding in their cards one of the top goalies in the league in Henrik Lunqvist, who will start tonight in his native Sweden amongst tons of fanfare, the team is no doubt stacked in many places, however the big concern for New York fans in today’s match-up and throughout the season will be the general state of the defense, which has already taken a hit with the absence of Marc Staal from the lineup. There is a lot of youth and inexperience in the Rangers defensive ranks, and as long as Staal’s veteran presence is out, teams will be able to exploit the defense and make life just a bit tougher for King Henrik early in the season.

Defense perhaps is one area the Los Angeles Kings don’t have too much to worry about, especially after locking in 21 year-old defenseman Drew Doughty into one of the richest contracts for a D-man in the league. Signing an 8-year, 56 million dollar contract last week, the talent pool on the defensive end of the Kings is rich including players like Jack Johnson, Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell, supporting the talented young goalie Jonathan Quick (who also has a solid back-up netminder in Jonathan Bernier). On the offensive end of things the Kings were plenty busy in the offseason as well, sending away top prospect Brayden Schenn and the speedy Wayne Simmonds, but coming away with former Philadelphia Captain Mike Richards, his former teammate Simon Gagne from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Getting Anze Kopitar at full health again is frightening for any opposing defense, and add in a flock of 20-goal scorers including Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll and the Kings look like a serious contender in the NHL this season.

Betting lines for the Los Angeles Kings vs. New York Rangers

Getting down to brass tacks here, we’re taking a trip to the TopBet.com sportsbook for today’s action on this opening NHL game, which features the Los Angeles Kings as -125 favorites to win today’s opening contest. The New York Rangers come in at +105 odds as the underdog, which may be tantalizing for you hockey fans that hedge hockey wagers on goalies (and no doubt NY’s Lundqvist will be on point at home in Sweden today). Expecting a low scoring game with the caliber of netminders on the ice today, the over/under stands at 5 goals, +105 for the under, -125 for the over wager. Los Angeles gives up 1.5 goals at +250 odds while New York takes 1.5 goals at -150.

Our Pick to Win:

In the first NHL match-up of the season, it’s always a tough call to pick a winner as very little precedence has been set for how a given team’s season is going to unfold. However, taking simple queues, such as the state of New York’s defense, the drive of their goaltender back home, or in opposition the Kings daunting defense and potent front-line offense, we’ll make the best bet with the knowledge and resources at hand today. Los Angeles should be able to exploit the Rangers defense tonight to get enough shots on Lundqvist to have a few goals eventually slip past. Meanwhile, the Rangers top line will struggle  a bit with the Kings vaunted defense, but expect to see a goal from either Richards, Gaborik or Boyle today as the stars get into the action right away. I like a tight game in the opener today, with the Kings edging out the Rangers 3-2.

Players to Watch, Los Angeles:

Anze Kopitar, C – Kopitar went down late last season with a brutal broken ankle, and this could be the year the 23-year old breaks out after having played in the league 5 years already. The center of the powerful Kings offense, Kopitar is set to chase the 100-point season this year, as his supporting cast is improved and he’s got one more year of experience under his belt. He’s not only one to watch in this match-up, he’s one to watch all season long.

Mike Richards, C – The former Flyer captain should mesh well in Los Angeles, with a former Flyers coach on the bench, and his former line mate Simon Gagne imported to the team as well. His production in the assists category will be huge for the Kings, who need to improve on getting shots to the net this season with so many great offensive weapons. Look for Richards to make an immediate impact in a Kings jersey this year.

Players to Watch, New York:

Brian Boyle, C – Traditionally the 4th line center, Boyle has been getting more looks at 3rd line left wing and could be in line for another 20 goal season this year.  The big bodied, 6’7″, 250 lb Boyle is also the most physical presence New York has, which could serve them well against a smaller Kings lineup.

Marian Gaborik, RW  – Health concerns are always an issue for Gaborik, but discounting that at the start of the season what is really going to be interesting is to see how the top Rangers’ winger meshes with newly acquired Brad Richards. Richards is an excellent passer who puts up big assist numbers, and the main benefactor could be Gaborik, provided the two can play good hockey together on the 1st line.

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