A general view between the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals during the second period at Verizon Center on October 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

NHL: Capitals, Penguins, or Lightning?

As the 100th NHL season has just kicked off,, here’s a quick look at how the three joint-favorites in the Stanley Cup betting odds are shaping up.

Washington Capitals

Last season, the Capitals achieved a franchise second-highest point percentage (.732), had the league’s top scorer for the last four seasons in three-time MVP Alex Ovechkin, and topped the Metropolitan with 56 wins. They also won the President’s Trophy. Still, it wasn’t enough; if the Capitals are good at anything, it’s not winning the Stanley Cup.

Barring an appearance in the Finals in 1998, in which they lost to the Red Wings, Washington have made the play-offs eight times but never progressed beyond the second round. It’s an almost unbelievable run of bad luck for a team that can field players like Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, Dmitry Orlov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Washington have been quiet in the offseason – retaining Orlov but losing Jason Chimera; adding playmaker Lars Eller as well as Brett Connolly, who has more potential than he has shown so far – and a bit of familiarity in the dressing room might just be what the Capitals need to keep the momentum going into the new season.

It’s do-or-die for the Capitals. Washington have proven they’re one of the best teams in the regular season but that doesn’t really matter if you can’t win the big games – and the likes of Ovechkin and Backstrom won’t be young forever.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay are narrow favorites for the Stanley Cup with Bet365. The Florida-based franchise have become a regular fixture of the post-season in recent years, losing to the Penguins over seven play-off games earlier this year. Like the Capitals, the Lightning’s 2016/17 season represents arguably their best chance in years of taking home the Stanley Cup.

Tampa have one of the deepest squads in the NHL (and a lot of young talent in the wings) but it’s the re-signing of Steven Stamkos, top scorer Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman that’s crucial for their 2016/17 play-off prospects. With Ben Bishop in goal, the Lightning’s core is largely unchanged. 

It’s easy to see another Lightning run in the play-offs but victory could depend on whether there’s enough of a team behind the superstars, in players like Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin.

Pittsburgh Penguins

A curse of statistics is against the defending champs, Pittsburgh, this season: it’s been eleven years since a team claimed back-to-back Stanley Cups. However, Pittsburgh weren’t even in contention in December last year – it took the firing of one Mike (Johnson) and the appearance of another (Sullivan) to rejuvenate the franchise – so Pittsburgh are hardly strangers to long odds.

The Penguins have enviable squad depth – the addition of Thomas DiPauli over the summer has certainly helped at the front – and they might need it; the Pens have some injury concerns in their ranks. Goalie Matt Murray has a broken hand, while both Olli Maatta and Kris Letang have a history of health issues. Trevor Daley also missed part of the Stanley Cup Finals to injury while Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion on Monday evening.

It’s nit-picking obviously; the Pens, with Cup experience behind them, are arguably a safer bet than the Lightning or the Capitals, especially if they can retain some semblance of that ‘HBK line’, the combination of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Kessel at the third line. It provided valuable support for Malkin and Crosby in the play-offs.

Elsewhere in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks, St Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, and San Jose Sharks all provide good value at around 10/1.

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