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 five games happening on December 8th. This will include a featured game that should be must-watch hockey. The featured game today is the Buffalo Sabres vs Edmonton Oilers.
Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets
Head-to-Head: Ducks 1 – 1 Jets
This matchup sees two polar opposites play in their last matchup of the season. After a hot start to the year, the Anaheim Ducks have come crashing down. Since November 1st, the Ducks rank in the bottom three of the league in goals-for and a mediocre 14th in goals-against. Star goalie John Gibson propelled the Ducks to a 9-6-0 record in their first 15 games but hasn’t been able to hold the reigns for long. Since game 15, the Ducks have set a record of 3-7-4, effectively placing them second-to-last in the Western Conference. They’re on a tremendous cold streak with no end in sight.
The Winnipeg Jets, on the other hand, have found a way to finally live up to expectations, after a slow start to the year. They’ve set a 10-3-2 record over their last 15 games and have allowed the fewest goals in the league since November 1st. This all comes with seemingly plenty of potential remaining, as the Jets offence has yet to find its groove, ranking 20th in goals-for since November started. All-in-all, Sunday’s matchup sees a red-hot Jets team face-off against the struggling Ducks. While no wins come easy, this matchup may push the line.
Prediction: Jets win 4-1.
San Jose Sharks vs Florida Panthers
Head-to-Head: Sharks 0 – 0 Panthers
The San Jose Sharks are slowly starting to find their footing. They looked blatantly terrible to start the year, going 4-10-1 in their first 15 games. A 9-1-0 hot streak in the middle of November helped turn around that fortune, though, reviving the entirety of the Sharks roster. Yet, they may not be out of the woods just yet. They’re currently on a three-game losing streak that’s seen them be outscored 15-4. This includes a 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
The Sharks will look to forget quickly on Sunday against a fairly middle-of-the-pack Florida Panthers lineup. Despite high hopes coming into the season, Florida hasn’t been able to surpass mediocrity. In their last 10 games, they’ve gone 5-5-0 with an almost even goal differential (38-for, 35-against). These aren’t terrible numbers but they lead onlookers to simply think, “meh”. If the Sharks were going to break their losing streak against any team, the Panthers may be their best bet.
Luckily, San Jose will likely face rookie goaltender Chris Driedger in net. Driedger has looked strong through his two career appearances so far but it is too early on in his career to make any definitive conclusion about his play. The Sharks may be able to take advantage of his inexperience and pull away with Sunday’s game.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2.
New York Rangers vs Vegas Golden Knights
Head-to-Head: Rangers 0 – 1 Golden Knights
The New York Rangers have set a promising 6-3-1 record in their last 10 matchups. This is a promising sign for fans who had high expectations for a team that was fairly rebuilt this summer. It may be a bit of a red herring, though, as the Rangers have still notably struggled to remain consistent. Since November 1st, they rank 10th in the league in goals-for, an admirable placing, but rank 24th in goals-against. Even in their last 10 games, despite their great record, their goal differential is only 28 goals-for and 25 goals-against.
There are clear defensive woes in New York, something that the Vegas Golden Knights took advantage of last week when they beat the Rangers 4-1. The Knights, like the Rangers and Sharks, are finding their footing after a slow start to the year. They boast something that New York and San Jose don’t, though: an elite roster. Vegas has players like Mark Stone, Cody Glass, Marc-Andre Fleury, and many others headlining their lineup. Even when they struggle, they’re a formidable force.
Vegas has set a record of 4-0-1 in their last five games and seem rejuvenated. With such a strong lineup, there seems to be absolutely no betting against them.
Prediction: Golden Knights win 3-0.
Arizona Coyotes vs Chicago Blackhawks
Head-to-Head: Coyotes 0 – 0 Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks have managed to fight their way from “awful” to simply “mediocre” in the last month. While the Blackhawks are a far cry from being playoff-hopefuls, they may find a way to evade a bottom-tier ranking when the season is all said and done. This is largely thanks to their offence, who has finally woken up. Since November, the Hawks rank 11th in goals-for, ahead of teams like the St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs. This has complemented the amazing goaltending duo in Chicago very well, allowing the team to earn the 14th-most points in that span.
It’s this sudden hot-streak that gives the Hawks an upper-hand on Sunday. The Arizona Coyotes have had issues through-and-through lately, ranking 20th in the league in goals-for. Their only saving grace has been their goaltending. Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta have become one of the best goaltending duos in the league and currently boast the best combined save percentage of any team. Seriously, the unsuspecting duo has been the only thing keeping the lackluster Coyotes from total collapse.
The Hawks will face the less of two evils on Sunday, as former Hawk Raanta is expected to start for Arizona. This allows Chicago to avoid the Vezina-calibre play of Kuemper but Raanta is still a dominant force. He’s set a .926 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against-average this year, dazzling stats considering his role as a backup. Chicago’s offence will be put to the test, to say the least. Considering Raanta’s dominant track record so far, the challenge could be too difficult for Chicago.
Prediction: Coyotes win 2-0.
Buffalo Sabres vs Edmonton Oilers
Head-to-Head: Sabres 0 – 0 Oilers
There’s no beating around the bush, it’s almost impossible to bet against the Oilers. While they haven’t dominated outright, and only rank seventh in the league-wide standings, they have the potential to completely embarrass their opponents on any given night. This is thanks to the duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, easily the two greatest hockey players in the world right now. The two rank atop the league in points, with at least seven points between them and the third-place spot. With a healthy supporting cast, featuring James Neal, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Oscar Klefbom, the duo has done enough to take over the game more-often-than-not. The Oilers are a far cry from the best team in the league but seem to be the clear-cut favourite in any games they appear in.
With that said, the Sabres will put up a tremendous fight on Sunday. Buffalo is still plagued with issues and question-marks and can’t consistently find the win-column but there’s something shining with the roster. Last week, Jack Eichel and rookie Victor Olofsson tied for the most points scored across the league, each tallying six in three games. This was more than Draisaitl or McDavid scored in three games of their own last week. The top-six in Buffalo is alive-and-well and poses a serious scoring threat if even slightly ignored.
Goaltender Linus Ullmark is also a noticeable threat in Buffalo. He’s gone 3-1-1 in his last five games, allowing 14 goals and tallying a .921 save percentage. This has been enough to make Ullmark the clear-cut starter for the Sabres, a role that he’s taken in stride so far. While he, or the Sabres top-six, isn’t going to be enough to topple a star-studded Oilers team, it will at least make for a very exciting matchup.
Prediction: Oilers win 5-4.