The Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks struck first in the battle for the North Division on Wednesday night.
In the sprint to the finish that is the NHL’s condensed 56-game season, Toronto and Vancouver both picked up two points in opening-night wins over the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers, respectively.
The significance of every point in the shortened season added to the intensity of last night’s games.
If it’s any indication of what is to come, this year is going to be a lot of fun for hockey fans.
Here is the Morning Coffee for Thursday Jan. 14, 2021.
The Battle For The North
The Maple Leafs rallied twice to beat Montreal 5-4 in overtime.
William Nylander scored two goals with an assist. John Tavares had a goal and two assists. Morgan Rielly scored the overtime winner. Auston Matthews didn’t score on seven shots, but did pick up an assist and 13 faceoff wins.
The fact that Toronto scored five goals is even more impressive considering how good Carey Price looked between the pipes for the Canadiens.
While the final numbers don’t look great, fantasy managers that watched the game won’t be concerned that Price gave up five goals.
Price still made several quality saves and it looked he didn’t even see a couple of the goals he allowed through screens.
The only concern is that he will have to play this Maple Leafs team nine more times this season.
Meanwhile, Josh Anderson scored two goals on seven shots in his debut for Montreal. Anderson skated on a line with Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin and on the Habs’ second power-play unit.
Suzuki scored a goal, while Drouin finished with three assists.
Considering his relatively low rostered percentage in fantasy leagues, Anderson might be worth a look if he’s available in your league.
In the late game, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat powered the Canucks to a 5-3 win over Edmonton.
Boeser scored twice, while Horvat finished with a goal and an assist.
Firing home 2 goals- the eventual winner and the insurance marker- in the 3rd period to help his @Canucks sink the Oilers on Wednesday, Brock Boeser moved his career point total vs EDM into 1st on this list of opponents that he's had the most success against so far in his career pic.twitter.com/8w3Cs728cJ— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) January 14, 2021
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Nils Hoglander scored a goal and was a plus-two skating with Horvat and Tanner Pearson.
The biggest surprise was that Vancouver held Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to one assist and a combined minus-two rating.
Those two teams will go right back to work against one another tonight in Edmonton.
Considering the dynamics of the improvised season structure, it’s going to be very important for the Oilers to avoid a two-game sweep at the hands of the Canucks to start the season.
The fantasy first star of opening night went to Joel Farabee, who had a goal and three assists for the Philadelphia Flyers in a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While the game certainly felt a little slow, which could be expected with the earlier start coming off no preseason, the Flyers line of Farabee, Nolan Patrick and James van Riemsdyk was the difference.
The Flyers host the Penguins again on Friday night.
Farabee has dual-eligibility at both left wing and right wing, so he could be worth a shot if you need help at either spot.
Meanwhile, Steven Stamkos had a goal and two assists for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Leading the charge in a 5-1 win over the Blackhawks by his defending Stanley Cup championship team on Wednesday, @TBLightning captain Steven Stamkos recorded 3 points (a goal and 2 assists) including a power play marker that has moved him into sole possession of 4th on this list pic.twitter.com/DGZ2YJWVCp— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) January 14, 2021
He also finished with five shots on goal and four faceoff wins.
I drafted Stamkos in one of my leagues knowing full well that he should be able to capitalize on Tampa Bay’s favourable schedule as the obvious favourite to win the Central Division.
After an excellent debut, Stamkos will have another opportunity to light up the Blackhawks in the rematch on Friday night.
It was a relatively rough night for goaltenders around the league, but Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 of 23 shots he faced for the win against Chicago.
Vasilevskiy’s talent, combined with a favorable slate of opponents, makes him an easy choice to be the best goalie in fantasy this season.
Blues netminder Jordan Binnington delivered the best fantasy numbers among goaltenders on opening night with 26 saves on 27 shots in a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
A True NBA Blockbuster
While NHL opening night was a lot of fun, the NBA at least briefly stole the spotlight with the blockbuster multi-team deal that resulted in James Harden ending up with the Brooklyn Nets.
Reporting w/ @RamonaShelburne: Brooklyn’s acquiring James Harden in a three-way deal with Cleveland. Caris LeVert, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, four 1st round picks – including Cavs’ 2022 first via Bucks -- and 4 Nets pick swaps to Rockets. Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince to Cavs. https://t.co/qM0ZDH4dH3— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 13, 2021
The three-time scoring champion will rejoin his former OKC teammate Kevin Durant in Brooklyn.
Harden, who has averaged over 30 points per game in each of the past three seasons, is one of three players in NBA history to score 3,000 postseason points but never win a title.
Will that change in Brooklyn?
The Nets already had the second-best odds to reach the NBA Finals out of the Eastern Conference before the trade. Now they are the favourite to emerge from the East at +120, jumping over the Milwaukee Bucks at +300.
While the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are still the favourite to win it all at +240 odds, Brooklyn went from +700 to +300 to win it all.