The 2020-21 season is finally underway. Each day, the team at Last Word on Hockey will break down the games for the day, providing NHL predictions for each of them. The first day of the season features five games. Without further ado, here are your NHL predictions for January 13th.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers
Head-to-Head: Penguins 0 – 0 Flyers
The day kicks off early, with a 4:30 pm ET matchup between one of the fiercest rivalries in hockey. The bout will easily reach the excitement that Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers fans are used to from the rivalry, with both teams expected to fight for the first-place spot in the new East Division.
The Penguins are, well, the Penguins. Their biggest off-season change was moving away from goalie Matt Murray, making Tristan Jarry their new starter. They also brought Kasperi Kapanen back and acquired defencemen Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci. But all of that collected into very few changes for the Penguins in the long run. They still boast an incredible top-six, with promising defence and a goalie that’s been consistently strong. Pittsburgh collected a 40-23-6 record last season, despite never really having all of their pieces available at once. Now, for the first time in a while, Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, and Brian Dumoulin will all take the ice together. That’s simply a recipe for success. Pending any weak-links, the Penguins are the clear favourite in Wednesday’s matchup.
But the Flyers are going to do all they can to counteract that. They similarly had very few notable changes, with Justin Braun‘s summer trade and Erik Gustafsson‘s arrival last Trade Deadline being the only lineup-changing moves. But Philadelphia has been relieved of an injury bug of their own. Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick are both back, after missing significant time. Lindblom only played 30 games last season and Patrick missed the year entirely. Both are clear, confident game-changers who will add a serious punch to a Flyers’ lineup that ranked second in the Metropolitan Division last year. With a seriously-confident Carter Hart in net, the replenished Penguins’ lineup is going to have a lot of work to do to get by their rival.
Prediction: Penguins win 4-3.
Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Head-to-Head: Canadiens 0 – 0 Leafs
The Wednesday Night Rivalries continues with a bout between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. While this likely won’t be as fair-fought as Pittsburgh versus Philadelphia, there are notable things to watch for nonetheless. Both teams have made serious changes to their lineup since last season and are out to prove something this year.
Toronto has seriously upgraded their defence — their Achille’s Heel last season. They brought in terrific talents in T.J. Brodie and Mikko Lehtonen, two names that’ll transform the ability of the team’s blue-line. Zach Bogosian was also added for a bit of insurance and is expected to make the Opening Night lineup over Lehtonen due to a salary cap squeeze. The sentiment of insurance echoes through the entire lineup, with Joe Thornton being signed and placed on the top-line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, creating a trio that very well might dominate the league, simply thanks to Thornton’s passing abilities. Wayne Simmonds and Jimmy Vesey were also brought in and placed in… interesting lineup roles, with the hopes that they can add a spark plug to the team’s offence. All-in-all, it’s a rejuvenated Leafs’ roster that many thinks could rival a Stanley Cup win at the end of the year.
Montreal is failing to get the same high acclaim, though. They’ve made serious changes of their own, swapping Max Domi for Josh Anderson, bringing in Tyler Toffoli, and adding Joel Edmundson and Alexander Romanov on defence. They even seriously upgraded their goaltending duo by trading for Jake Allen, taking a notable load off of Carey Price‘s shoulders. It’s all big-name movement that could make for a very exciting Habs’ lineup. While they don’t have the star power of Toronto, if the lineup clicks… well they could do serious, serious damage to the North Division. Toronto is the favourite but they are starting their season in the face of a massive foe.
Prediction: Leafs win 5-1.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Head-to-Head: Blackhawks 0 – 0 Lightning
The day’s rivalries take a small break for a meeting between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’ll be a special one too, as the Lightning will be raising their Stanley Cup banner. That’s seriously exciting news and, luckily, the Lightning should have a very fun night throughout. It really is the easiest of the NHL predictions to make.
Chicago is… not the same team they were last season. This is saying quite a bit. Over the summer they lost Corey Crawford to free agency and Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach to injury. They managed to add European-import Pius Suter and Carl Soderberg but the latter isn’t expected to make their Day One lineup. The further additions of Lucas Wallmark and Nikita Zaitsev seem to seal the Blackhawks fate. With a goaltending duo that has yet to prove any sort of NHL-worthiness, a centre-depth that’s been devastated, and a bare-bones supporting cast, the Hawks are seemingly destined to be a bottom-dweller this year.
On the other hand, Tampa is furiously on pace to defend their title. While they did lose Nikita Kucherov for the entire season, they’ve still pieced together a seriously scary lineup. Steven Stamkos is back from injury, ready to form a dangerous one-two punch with Brayden Point on the top line. 2019-20 stand-outs Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde are prepared to man the team’s depths, and supports like Alex Killorn and Blake Coleman round things out. It’s a lineup that’s poised to prove they’re Cup winners even without their Hart-winning star. And they’re going to do just that. This game is going to be a blowout to kick off another amazing Tampa season.
Prediction: Lightning win 4-0.
Vancouver Canucks vs Edmonton Oilers
Head-to-Head: Canucks 0 – 0 Oilers
The Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers are going to be fighting a lot this season. Neither are favourites in their Division and will very likely end up rivaling over the final two playoff spots along with the Calgary Flames.
Vancouver is yet another team that’s made notable moves. They lost Toffoli to Montreal, starting goalie to Jacob Markstrom, and Micheal Ferland to a likely career-ending injury. Those are notable losses that weren’t really replaced. Toffoli’s top-six role is now filled by rookie Nils Hoglander, whose expectations remain a bit uncertain. Markstrom has been replaced with Thatcher Demko, who had a solid but inexperienced season last year, and Braden Holtby, who is a shell of what he once was. And Ferland’s bottom-six slot was filled by Vancouver’s iffy youth. While the team is still led by dominant star power, they’ll need to get firing on all cylinders if they want to rival the North Division’s best.
Among that best will, ultimately, be the Oilers. They’ve been under-appreciated over the off-season. But they’re on pace to have a very exciting season. They added incredibly-fitting pieces in Tyson Barrie, Dominik Kahun, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Slater Koekkoek. Instead of shooting for free agent-stars, the Oilers simply gathered incredible complementary pieces. It’s created a terrific lineup that’ll do serious damage this season. While there are still question marks on their blue-line and in net, they have one of the most formidable forward groups in the league. When your team is headlined by stars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, that’s exactly how you should build your team. They’ll have to outscore every opponent this year but they’re built to do just that.
Prediction: Oilers win 3-2.
St. Louis Blues vs Colorado Avalanche
Head-to-Head: Blues 0 – 0 Avalanche
The night ends with a bit more modest of a rivalry. But this will easily develop over the course of the season. The West Division is desolate this year, with the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Vegas Golden Knights nearly guaranteed a playoff spot.
The Blues had their fair share of fireworks this off-season. They ditched one of the best defencemen in the league in Alex Pietrangelo, who instead signed with Vegas. In his place, they signed the strong-but-not-the-same Torey Krug. This adds to their crowded left-defence group but gives Colton Parayko his chance at the #1 defenceman role. Mike Hoffman was also added late in the off-season, helping replace some of the scoring talent lost by Vladimir Tarasenko‘s injury. They also lost Jake Allen, putting full faith in Jordan Binnington as their starter.
It’s created a lot of turbulence in the Blues’ lineup, even if they look formidable. This could be a rocky position to be in against a Colorado Avalanche lineup that’s, quite simply, going to win the Stanley Cup this year. They’re simply too good. They added Brandon Saad to a top-six that was already among the best in the league. They also added Devon Toews, who perfectly compliments Cale Makar‘s style. Conor Timmins is also getting his shot as a result of Bowen Byram’s quarantine and Erik Johnson‘s injury. The team is even further blessed with a now-healthy Mikko Rantanen. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be an Avalanche fan, as the team is flushed out in every single regard. They’re poised for stardom and will kick off the fun against a tough-but-beatable Blues team.
Prediction: Avalanche win 2-1.
That does it for today’s NHL Predictions. Be sure to check back tomorrow for another set of NHL Predictions.