Welcome back to another round of the Last Word on Hockey NHL Predictions series. Every game day, our team publishes an article (or two) previewing each game on the schedule and giving our prediction. We also feature one game per article that is our featured or must-watch game of the night. Tonight, that’s a playoff rematch between the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets. Read on to see our prediction for that game and many others.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Buffalo Sabres
Head-to-Head: Golden Knights 0 – 0 Sabres
The Vegas Golden Knights third season currently sees them sitting at third in the Pacific Division, holding onto a 24-18-6 record for 54 points. Their last game was a rather disappointing 3-0 shutout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. Marc-Andre Fleury made 19 saves on 22 shots. The Golden Knights are a rather average team offensively and defensively, but sit in playoff position thanks to a weaker Pacific Division. Vegas has lost their past three games and will look to turn it around in upstate New York tonight. All-star Max Pacioretty has been the team’s best player, getting 20 goals and 25 assists for 45 points in 48 games.
While the Buffalo Sabres have again come crashing down after a hot start, they’ve still maintained mediocrity with a 20-19-7 record, good enough for 47 points and fifth place in the Atlantic Division. A 5-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings Sunday saw two-point games from Curtis Lazar and Evan Rodrigues in addition to a 21-save performance from Linus Ullmark. They’ve now won three out of their past five games. The Sabres are around average offensively but struggle in their end. Their best player has without a doubt been 23-year-old centrepiece Jack Eichel, as his 59 points in 45 games put him among the best offensive threats in the league. However, a vengeful Vegas team will get a tough win on the road tonight as they look to snap their three-game skid.
Prediction: Vegas wins 2-1.
New Jersey Devils vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Head-to-Head: Devils 0 – 1 Maple Leafs
While very few NHL predictions tied the New Jersey Devils to a 17-21-7 record as we near the All-Star break, that’s exactly what’s happened. Their 41 points put them in the last place in the Metropolitan Division. Their last game, however, was a 3-1 statement win over the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning, thanks to 26 saves from former Bolt Louis Domingue and two-point games from Andy Greene and Miles Wood. That same day saw the firing of general manager Ray Shero, discussed here. The Devils are truly a poor team at both ends of the ice but have managed to at least hover around .500 nonetheless. They’ve now won two straight games and five out of their last eight. 23-year-old goalie MacKenzie Blackwood, albeit sidelined at the moment, has been their MVP this season with 14 wins, a .905 save percentage, 2.97 goals-against average, and one shutout.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have played their way back into a divisional playoff spot with a 24-16-6 record and 54 points for third place in the Atlantic. Their last game against the Devils was a 5-4 overtime win at the Rock on December 27th, with the winner courtesy of Devils d-man Damon Severson. Ouch. It’s not all bad on the Devils’ end, though, as it was announced today that Morgan Rielly would be out long-term for the Leafs with a fractured foot. While the Leafs are an elite offensive squad, they have some massive struggles in their end of the ice. The Leafs have dropped three straight to even out their record over the past six. On a team full of stars, Auston Matthews has risen above and beyond with 31 goals and 23 assists for 54 points in 46 games.
Look for Toronto to snap their skid at home against a weak Devils team.
Prediction: Toronto wins 4-1.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Head-to-Head: Kings 0 – 0 Lightning
The Los Angeles Kings have struggled as expected but just sit above the last place in the Pacific Division with an 18-25-4 record and 40 points. They were shut out by the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 on Saturday despite a 28-save performance from Jack Campbell. Their poor performance at both ends of the ice has shown lately as they’ve dropped four out of their past five games. At 32-years-old, captain Anze Kopitar still has what it takes in a top-line role, posting 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 points in 47 games.
The Lightning roster has entered hyperspeed mode and has been much more favourable in NHL predictions. They’ve rocketed to a 27-14-4 record for 58 points, slotting them in second place in the Atlantic Division. Their embarrassing 3-1 loss to the Devils put a bit of a wrench in things. But this team has now proven they can fight adversity. They’re a good team defensively, but they’re even better at putting pucks in the net, having won 10 of their past 11 games. Andrei Vasilevskiy has looked like his old self in goal, now boasting a 22-9-2 record to go along with a .915 save percentage, 2.58 goals-against average, and two shutouts.
The Lightning’s full glory should be on display tonight at home against a lowly Kings squad.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins 3-0.
Detroit Red Wings vs. New York Islanders
Head-to-Head: Red Wings 0 – 1 Islanders
Detroit has somehow underachieved this season. They’ve stumbled along to a 12-31-3 record, and their 27 points are worst in the league. Those don’t make for popular numbers in NHL predictions. A 5-1 trouncing by the Sabres Sunday didn’t help their cause, but they did win two straight games before that. Madison Bowey got their lone goal in that contest. They’re arguably the worst team in the league offensively and defensively. Despite some really bad play, goalie Jonathan Bernier has re-established himself as a legitimate option, putting up mediocre numbers on an even worse Wings team.
The New York Islanders‘ lone game against the Red Wings this season was a 4-1 win back on December 2nd. Jordan Eberle had two goals, Anders Lee had a goal and assist, and Semyon Varlamov stopped 30 of 31 shots. While the Islanders are a poor team offensively, they truly have an elite defensive system led by coach Barry Trotz. They’ve only won two out of their past five outings, however. Varlamov’s renaissance year in net has kept this team afloat. He’s managed 15 wins, a .923 save percentage, 2.33 goals-against average, and two shutouts.
This Islanders defence should completely shut down a struggling Detroit offence tonight, leading to another shutout performance.
Prediction: New York wins 3-0.
Minnesota Wild vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Head-to-Head: Wild 0 – 1 Penguins
The Minnesota Wild have lived up to their ‘mediocre’ moniker this season, floating a 20-19-6 record for 46 points and sixth place in the Central Division. Their last game was a 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, continuing a three-game slide. Marcus Foligno scored the lone goal, and Jonas Brodin and Luke Kunin chipped in assists. They tend to struggle in both areas of the ice on most nights. However, their defensive struggles are more due to goaltending than structure. At 35-years-old, Ryan Suter is having another solid campaign. He leads the team with 24 assists, and he’s chipped in six goals for 30 points in 45 games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins continue to perform will, boasting a 28-12-5 record for 61 points and second place in the Metropolitan Division. Their victory against the Wild came back on October 12th, as a crazy 7-4 game saw a three-point game from Sam Lafferty. Pittsburgh is a scary team with momentum, and full health may only boost their Stanley Cup chances. They are truly a strong team on both sides of the puck. They’ve won three in a row and four out of their past six. Despite being expected to miss the rest of the regular season, Jake Guentzel is still the team’s leading goal-scorer with 20 goals and has 43 points in 39 games.
The Penguins will continue steaming ahead tonight with a win at home.
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins 4-3.
Boston Bruins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Head-to-Head: Bruins 0 – 1 Blue Jackets
This is the Last Word on Hockey featured early game of the night.
The Bruins dropped their last game against the Blue Jackets in overtime, 2-1 on January 2nd. David Pastrnak got the Bruins’ only goal and Tuukka Rask made 31 saves. The Bruins have continued the strong two-way play that got them to the Stanley Cup Final last year. They’ve won three straight contests but will be in a tough situation against a streaking Blue Jackets squad. Pastrnak continues to be ‘en Fuego’ for this Bruins team, leading the team with 65 points and 35 goals. He’s only played in 46 games.
Columbus has worked their way right back into the playoff conversation and favorability in NHL predictions. They sit at fifth in the Metropolitan Division with a 22-16-8 record and 52 points. Their aforementioned 3-0 shutout win against Vegas saw a 27-save outing from Elvis Merzlikins and a two-point game from Kevin Stenlund, neither of whom were NHL players last season. A poor team offensively, Columbus has trusted their defence to carry them to victories. They’ve won four of their past six. Defenceman Zach Werenski is having another good campaign, now tied for the team lead in goals with 15 and sitting in third place on the team with 28 points.
Columbus’ momentum should carry into tonight’s game at home, taking down a solid Bruins squad.
Prediction: Columbus wins 3-1.
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