Welcome back to NHL Predictions. Every day Last Word on Hockey brings you a prediction and analysis of every game on the schedule. In the early-games edition of the December 21st NHL Predictions, we’ll cover six games. There will also be a featured game on that is must-watch hockey. Today’s NHL Predictions featured game is the Toronto Maple Leafs vs the Detroit Red Wings.
Be sure to also check out the late-game NHL predictions to stay informed.
Buffalo Sabres vs Los Angeles Kings
Head-to-Head: Sabres 0-0 Kings
Over the last several years, the Buffalo Sabres have made a habit out of starting hot and then imploding. That appeared to be the case again this year as the Sabres won 8 of their first 10 games before enduring a rough stretch. Just as it seemed the status quo would continue, Jack Eichel exploded. Before an injury that kept him out of their last game, Eichel went on a tear with a 17-game point streak. During the streak, Eichel notched 16 goals and 15 assists. The streak allowed Buffalo to climb back into playoff position where they hope to stay. Without Eichel in the lineup, however, the Sabres dropped a 6-1 contest to the Philadelphia Flyers. How long will Eichel be out? Can the Buffalo Sabres keep their heads above water until then?
The Los Angeles Kings are one of the bottom-tier teams in the league. They have a lot to build on, but now is not their time to win games. That being said, the team has gained points in their last six games with three wins and three overtime/shootout losses. As always, the Kings live and die by the production of their cornerstone players, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. If the pair plays well they have the ability to beat any team, but the Sabres should win this game more often than not.
Prediction: Sabres win 4-1
New York Islanders vs Anaheim Ducks
Head-to-Head: Islanders 0-1 Ducks
The New York Islanders have defied expectations to be one of the best teams in the NHL this season. Many predicted a step back for the Islanders, but they’ve continued their brand of low-scoring and low-event hockey. New York allows the fewest goals in the league, giving up just 82 on the season so far. Some of the credit for this goes to goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov, however, it is also important to note the sustained success of all goaltenders under head coach Barry Trotz. Or perhaps more so, Trotz’s long-time coaching-partner Mitch Korn. Korn has been Trotz’s goalie coach since 1998, following Trotz from Nashville to Washington and now in New York. Over that time, Korn has mentored some of the best goalies in the game, and it’s no coincidence that struggling goalies have righted the ship under his guidance.
There’s really no way around it. The Anaheim Ducks are one of the less notable teams in the league. They aren’t particularly good. Their best player is a young goaltender, John Gibson, that doesn’t get any help. Ryan Getzlaf recently played his 1000th game and continues to be an underrated superstar. But on the whole, there isn’t much to talk about here.
The Ducks can’t score, the Islanders are the stingiest team in the league. This one is a low-scoring affair.
Prediction: Islanders win 2-1
Minnesota Wild vs Winnipeg Jets
Head-to-Head: Wild 0-0 Jets
This may be the most important game of the year thus far for the Minnesota Wild. They’ve been exceeding expectations of late, and have the opportunity to inch closer to a struggling Jets team that sits three points above Minnesota in the Central Division rankings. They scored eight goals in their last game, so maybe that’s a sign that their offence is headed in the right direction. They’ll need that to continue in this game as they face off against one of the better goaltenders in the game right now.
That goalie is Connor Hellebuyck. The Winnipeg Jets will go as far as Hellebyuck takes them and are held back when he is not at his best. Case-in-point, the Jets have lost their last two contests while Hellebuyck struggles. The Jets have yet to win a game this season in which Hellebuyck has registered less than a .900 save percentage. While it may seem obvious that a team loses when the goalie struggles, the Jets have a level of talent that should be able to score themselves out of holes. That hasn’t happened yet. Still, their star goalie has struggled lately and could be in line for a bounce-back performance.
Prediction: Jets win 3-1
Edmonton Oilers vs Montreal Canadiens
Head-to-Head: Oilers 0-0 Canadiens
The Edmonton Oilers have just one win in their last six games. They’ve struggled at all levels of the game as they experience issues with both scoring and defending. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are elite talents, but can only do so much. As we approach the trade deadline, General Manager Ken Holland needs to think hard about acquiring some scoring-depth. They shouldn’t risk the future for now, but Edmonton can’t continue to waste having two of the top 10 players in hockey either.
The Montreal Canadiens appear to have righted the ship after a disastrous month of November. Despite a loss to the hapless Detroit Red Wings, The Canadiens notched wins in five of their last six games. Five of these six games were decided by two goals or less. Winning close games is a double-edged sword. Yes, Montreal is winning close games, but that also means they can’t pull away from teams either. Still, Montreal is looking up while the Oilers are trending down.
Prediction: Canadiens win 4-3
Boston Bruins vs Nashville Predators
Head-to-Head: Bruins 0-0 Predators
If you predicted at the beginning of the season that the Stanley Cup match-up would be the Boston Bruins vs the Nashville Predators, you would be perfectly reasonable. The Boston Bruins have delivered on this promise on their way to the second-best record in the league. David Pastrnak leads the league in goal-scoring with 28 tallies. Brad Marchand sits at fourth in the NHL in points with 51. Patrice Bergeron continues to play his brand of 200-foot hockey.
This might be a reactionary take, but that might not be as positive as it sounds. The Boston Bruins are just 3-4-3 in their last ten games. In their last 8 games, they’ve fallen to some of the worst teams in the NHL, with losses to the Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings. All of that said, they are still one of the best teams in the league and are shaping up to be a Stanley Cup Contender.
On the other hand, the Nashville Predators do not look like they’re ready for a championship bid. They’re sixth in the central division and are 5 points out of a playoff position. With all the head-coach firings this year, it’s fair to wonder whether Nashville’s bench boss is next. Nashville may want to hold off on that though. The Predators actually have a plus 8 goal differential and some of the best underlying numbers in the league (8th in Corsi %)
This game could prove to be closer than expected, but the Bruins should still come away victorious.
Prediction: Bruins win 4-2
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Detroit Red Wings
Head-to-Head: Maple Leafs 2-0 Red Wings
The Toronto Maple Leafs have looked like a completely different team under their new head coach, Sheldon Keefe. They’ve dominated the season series against a weak Red Wings team. In the two games they’ve played thus far, the Maple Leafs have outscored Detroit 11-2. On paper, this should be an easy win. That being said, there is one key factor that may influence this game. Toronto will be playing Detroit on the second half of a back-to-back. The Maple Leafs’ struggles on the second half of back-to-backs are well documented as they have just one win in such situations so far this season. Will their fortunes turn around this time?
The Detroit Red Wings are historically bad. Their league-worst -62 goal differential is by far the worst in the league. In fact, it is worse than last year’s mark for lowest goal differential as the Los Angeles Kings finished with a -61 rating. It isn’t even 2020 yet. It’s tough to find many positives for this team. Anthony Mantha is back from an injury. The forward has been one of the few bright spots for the team this year. The Red Wings have a chance to catch the Maple Leafs in a less than ideal situation, but in all likelihood, Toronto is going to cruise to a win in this one.
Prediction: Maple Leafs win 5-2
Thanks for reading NHL Predictions for the early games of December 21. Make sure you check out the late games as well.
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