Welcome to NHL Predictions! Each day, Last Word On Hockey will break down every game and give our NHL predictions for each game. In today’s NHL predictions, we’ll cover five of the 10 games happening on December 29th. The other five will be covered here. Each piece will include a featured game that should be must-watch hockey. The featured game for this article is the matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues.
New Jersey Devils vs Ottawa Senators
Head-to-Head: Devils 0 – 1 Senators
One of the first games features two of the worst teams in the league facing off. With both teams already relatively out of playoff contention, the game’s ultimate outcome seems fairly inconsequential. With that said, the Ottawa Senators have remained fairly diligent. While they currently rank seventh in the Atlantic Division and third-to-last in the Eastern Conference, they’ve still had a mediocre last five games. They’ve set a measly 2-1-2 record, bringing their overall December record to 5-3-3. While this isn’t impressive, and certainly isn’t enough to boost them up the standings, it shows that they haven’t completely lost the reigns.
It’s also a testament to Thomas Chabot‘s true impact on the team. While the true impact that just one player can have on his team is very minuscule, one correlation has become clear: the more Chabot plays, the better the Senators perform. Clearly, Senators head coach D.J. Smith has realized this positive correlation. Over the course of the last four games, Chabot has averaged an insane 34:18 in ice time. He’s tallied one point and 11 shots in that span.
In their own last five games, the New Jersey Devils have set a record similar to the Senators, at 2-2-1. Yet, this has been some of the best hockey they’ve played this month, with their overall record in December only coming to 3-7-2. Since trading away star winger Taylor Hall, the team’s hemorrhaging has only worsened. Their issues are on full display and their luck continues to plummet. This seemingly peaked in their last game. A tightly-fought game against the Toronto Maple Leafs ended up going to overtime, only for it to be ended when Devils defenceman Damon Severson ended the game by scoring on his own goal, giving Toronto the win. It was a heartbreaking end to the game and has been replayed on every social media on a seemingly endless loop.
So while the struggling Senators have at least found their footing as of late, albeit on the back of an overworked 22-year-old, the Devils continue to fall further down. Ottawa should easily slip ahead with a win in the fairly insignificant contest.
Prediction: Senators win 2-1.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Columbus Blue Jackets
Head-to-Head: Blackhawks 1 – 0 Blue Jackets
The Chicago Blackhawks have rebounded nicely from a four-game-losing-streak suffered earlier this month and have managed a 4-2-0 record in their last six games. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have led the charge in this rebound, scoring 10 and seven points respectfully over the six-game span. David Kampf and Dominik Kubalik also each have four points in this span despite being fairly overlooked on the Hawks lineup. The admirable play is a sigh of relief for Hawks fans who have gritted their teeth for most of the season. This is especially true with the recent news that both Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan will be missing the rest of the season with injuries.
Yet, despite the Hawks admirable play as of late, they simply do not hold a torch to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus was on a five-game-winning-streak before Friday night’s overtime loss to the Washington Capitals, the top team in the league. Through this six-game span, though, Columbus has recorded a tremendous 20 goals-for and only allowed 10 goals-against. This is the fewest goals-allowed by any team to play at least five games since December 16, when the Blue Jackets started their five-game streak.
To be able to fight the Capitals to overtime is a true accolade at this point in the season, with Washington looking unstoppable. It’s a testament to Columbus’ red-hot nature as of late; a nature that will surely lead them over the Blackhawks in Sunday’s contest.
Prediction: Blue Jackets win 3-1.
New York Islanders vs Minnesota Wild
Head-to-Head: Islanders 0 – 0 Wild
The Minnesota Wild have dropped the jaws of all Western Conference fans. After starting the season as terribly as anticipated, the Wild have completely turned things around. They’ve set a record of 15-6-5 since the start of November; 8-4-1 in December specifically. It’s been a complete shock to many, as the Wild seemed to be all-but-officially in the midst of a healthy rebuild. Instead, they’re only one point behind the Vancouver Canucks for the second Wild Card in the Western Conference.
Of Minnesota’s 19 wins this season, though, they have only scored fewer-than-three goals in one. In six of these wins, Minnesota has scored at least five goals. They’ve based their success off of a very high-tempo, high-scoring style of play. While this has been a great tactic for the Wild thus far, it won’t work against the New York Islanders. New York has continued the precedent they set last season. They’re a defence-first team that looks to wear down their opponents. They ended last season with the fewest goals-against, a title that they also hold this year. As a result, most of their games are fairly low-scoring. Of New York’s 23 wins so far, 10 of them have seen the Islanders score, at most, three goals.
The Wild’s offence has been running rampant lately but will hit a brick wall on Sunday, as they square-off with the best defence in recent memory. New York will look to use their patented skill of wearing down opponents once again, and likely will against a Wild team that’s allowed the fourth-most goals in the league this year.
Prediction: Islanders win 4-1.
Buffalo Sabres vs Boston Bruins
Head-to-Head: Sabres 0 – 2 Bruins
To the surprise of nobody, the Buffalo Sabres are completely out of sorts. With Jeff Skinner now set to miss time, their lineup has once again fallen to disfunction. Head coach Ralph Krueger scrambled to replace Skinner’s void on the team’s second line, eventually calling on Jimmy Vesey to step up. It didn’t work.
On Friday, in the first game of a home and home, the Boston Bruins completely shut down the Sabres offence. This left the tremendously unorganized Sabres defence as the only thing standing in Boston’s way. The potent Bruins offence made quick work of them as well, ultimately winning the game 3-0.
This tale is likely to be almost perfectly repeated in Sunday’s game. Boston’s offence is simply too strong for Buffalo’s bleak defence and goaltending. While the Sabres had a strong showing to start the season, they finally gave in to their woes and fell down the standings. Now, comfortably sat at sixth in the Atlantic Division, Buffalo stands no chance against a Bruins team that could very likely end the season with a Stanley Cup ring.
Prediction: Bruins win 5-0.
Winnipeg Jets vs St. Louis Blues
Head-to-Head: Jets 0 – 1 Blues
This edition of NHL Predictions’ featured game sees the Blues and Jets replay the First Round of the 2019 post-season. The two sides met for the first time this season on Friday. The game was a hard-fought contest that eventually saw the Blues squeaking away with a 5-4 overtime win. It was an exciting game and adds plenty of anticipation to Sunday’s matchup. The Blues had the clear upper-hand for most of the game but Winnipeg’s relentless nature forced overtime. It seemed every time the Blues scored, the Jets were there with an instant response.
This will surely be the situation again in Sunday’s matchup. Both teams play a fast, physical, relentless style of hockey and both seem a little extra determined to make a statement when they face off. It will be a drawn-out and exciting game. Yet, the extra oomph provided by the home crowd will likely be enough for the Blues, who have set a home record of 12-4-3, to pull ahead.
Prediction: Blues win 3-2.