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 the six games happening on January 12th. Each piece will include a featured game that should be must-watch hockey. The featured game for this article is the matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers.
Nashville Predators vs Winnipeg Jets
Head-to-Head: Predators 0 – 1 Jets
The Nashville Predators are in the midst of a confusing, but full-on, collapse right now. They’ve gone 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, a far cry from the dominance fans expected from the team coming into the season. This poor play forced general manager David Poile to impulsively fire head coach Peter Laviolette. The firing seemingly won’t be enough to turn things around, though, as many star players have simply failed to perform for Nashville this year.
The Winnipeg Jets are in the same boat as Nashville. They’ve gone 4-4-2 in their last 10 and are unsuccessfully trying to find scraps of the team they were last year. While there have been few talks of Winnipeg dismissing their head coach, something needs to change for the team. They currently sit just outside of the playoff picture, losing the second Wild Card thanks to one fewer regulation win than the Vancouver Canucks. Sunday’s bout will be a meeting of the Western Conference’s most mediocre teams and will surely be closely fought as a result.
The Jets offence will be the difference-maker. The group of forwards features four players with 40-or-more points, and one with 37, effectively creating a very daunting group. Yet, the Jets have netted three-or-fewer goals in five of their last 10 outings, with three of those being losses. If they want to pull ahead on Sunday, their offence will need to be firing on all cylinders.
Prediction: Jets win 5-3.
Buffalo Sabres vs Detroit Red Wings
Head-to-Head: Sabres 1 – 0 Red Wings
The Buffalo Sabres are in a dark place. They have gone 3-8-1 in their last 12 games, as their team slowly disintegrates. There have been a few bright spots, at least, with Jack Eichel remaining tremendous, netting 56 points in 43 games. Victor Olofsson and Sam Reinhart have also performed well, with 35 points each in 42 and 44 games respectfully. That seems to be where the positives end, though, as only two other Sabres players have even netted over 20 points.
Luckily, the Sabres will have easy pickings on Sunday. The Detroit Red Wings pose nearly no threat. They have allowed the most goals-against and scored the fewest goals-for, remaining the only team without 100 goals scored. The Wings expected starter on Sunday, Jimmy Howard, only makes things bleaker for Detroit. He has set a .884 save percentage and 4.04 goals-against-average this season, on track to a 2-14-1 record. This will make the test for the already impressive Eichel and Reinhart even easier. They’re sure to topple a ruthlessly poor Detroit team.
Prediction: Sabres win 3-1.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Arizona Coyotes
Head-to-Head: Penguins 1 – 0 Coyotes
The Pittsburgh Penguins are red-hot. They’ve gone 13-3-1 in their last 17 games. This includes a 3-1-1 record in their last five games, all of which they’ve played without leading-scorer Jake Guentzel. Guentzel fell to a long-term injury on December 30th, becoming the fifth Penguins player to be out with injury right now. Among this list is Sidney Crosby, who hasn’t played since early-November. Despite missing their two stars, Pittsburgh hasn’t lost a step.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Coyotes are crumbling under the weight of injuries to both of their NHL goalies. After a Vezina-calibre start to the year, Darcy Kuemper fell to injury in mid-December. Since Kuemper’s injury, the Coyotes have gone 5-5-0. While this isn’t a terrible record, it’s been poor enough to cause worry in what is a very-tight Pacific Division race. Arizona now has only one point holding them in the top-three of their Division, and are three points removed from being out of the playoff picture entirely.
This has Coyotes fans biting-their-nails with each game the team plays, something that only intensified in their latest outing where Antti Raanta left with an injury of his own. This injury will now have the Coyotes leaning on a set of AHL goaltending, instead of the league-best duo of Kuemper and Raanta. Against a red-hot, seemingly unstoppable, Penguins team, the Coyotes are sure to fall under the weight of poor goaltending.
Prediction: Penguins win 4-0.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Florida Panthers
Head-to-Head: Leafs 0 – 0 Panthers
The Leafs are arguably the best team in the league right now. They’ve won 11 of their last 15 games, setting an 11-2-2 record, outscoring opponents 67 to 44 in that span. They are finally looking like their true-selves, after a shaky start to the year. In this 15-game span, four different Leafs players have netted more than 15 points. This includes Auston Matthews (23 points) and Mitch Marner (24), who both rank in the top five of the league in scoring since December 7th, the start of this 15-game stretch. It’s been a dazzling stretch for the team as their offence has sprung to life.
This 15-game stretch saw Toronto topple defensive-specialists like the New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues, and Carolina Hurricanes, scoring at least three goals in all three outings. On Sunday, they’ll go up against the effective opposite in the Florida Panthers. Florida has allowed the ninth-most goals this year. So while they won’t have much luck in stopping the dominant Leafs offence, they may be in a good place to match them. While Toronto has scored the second-most goals this year, Florida is close behind with the fifth-most. Sunday’s match will be a slug-fest, with Toronto’s superior defence looking to make a few extra stops to help break Toronto’s two-game losing streak.
Prediction: Leafs win 7-5.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils
Head-to-Head: Lightning 1 – 0 Devils
The Tampa Bay Lightning extended their win streak to 10 games on Saturday with a thin toppling of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bolts only won 1-0, thanks to Pat Maroon‘s lone goal in the second period and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s terrific performance. It was a hard-fought battle that narrowly saw Tampa lose their win streak. It also gave a good look into the smoke-and-mirrors that plague their streak. During their 10-game streak, Tampa has faced the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, and twice the Montreal Canadiens; all tremendously struggling teams. A rejuvenated Lightning team made easy work of these teams but struggled to dominate against a fellow playoff contender.
Still, Tampa has been tremendous. During their 10-game streak, they’ve set a goal differential of 43 goals-for to only 17 goals-against, a jaw-dropping stat. Their offence has been tremendous and has been backed by even better defence. This should be more than enough to top the New Jersey Devils, who remain one of the league’s bottom-feeders. This is despite a dazzling performance on Saturday, where they topped the league-leading Washington Capitals 5-1. Still, New Jersey hasn’t done enough to warrant a fans’ confidence heading into the matchup against the red-hot Lightning. They’ll put up a fight but there seems to be no stopping Tampa right now.
Prediction: Lightning win 4-3.
Vancouver Canucks vs Minnesota Wild
Head-to-Head: Canucks 0 – 0 Wild
The Vancouver Canucks topped the Sabres on Saturday, effectively reviving a winning kick that left them in a recent trip to Florida. After a seven-game win streak, the Canucks dropped the ball as they started their road trip facing the Lightning and Panthers. They lost both games, 9-2 and 5-2 respectfully. This humbled the team after what was a dramatic win-streak; something that allowed them to topple Buffalo 6-3 on Saturday. They’re now level-headed once again and will look to continue on a fresh win-streak against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.
The Wild have fallen from grace as of late. After fighting for a playoff spot for most of the year, they’ve gone 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. This has dropped them to six points out of the second Western Conference Wild Card, something that is currently held by the Canucks. They have struggled to get much of anything going and will likely fail to pose much of a threat against Vancouver. Since the start of December, the Canucks have scored the 10th-most goals in the league; truly embracing the potency they boast. This offence will face a Wild defence that has allowed the 12th-most goals in that same span. The writing seems to be on the wall: a hot Canucks team should have no issue toppling a Minnesota lineup that is on the decline.
Prediction: Canucks win 5-3.