Welcome back to NHL Predictions, January 24th edition! Each day, the Last Word on Hockey team will break down every game and give our NHL predictions for each game. This is the early game slate of NHL Predictions for January 24th. Be sure and check out the late games too.
Detroit Red Wings vs Chicago Blackhawks
Head-to-Head: Red Wings 0 – 1 Blackhawks
The day starts off with what might be the most boring matchup the NHL could put on the ice this season… a sad realization for two teams that bore the dynasty title not too long ago. But the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks are just boring now. They’re both bottom-dwellers. Detroit is rapidly fixing up the remnants of a broken lineup, while Chicago’s lineup isn’t done breaking just yet.
In the first meeting of their back-to-back meetings, Chicago dominated everything, on the back of a great performance from rookie goalie Kevin Lankinen. Lankinen went on to get his first NHL win, on the back of 30 saves. His terrific performance helped remove the worry that was plaguing Chicago defensively. And a freak-goal from Patrick Kane seemed to finally gel the team offensively too.
Chicago went on to win the game 4-1, on the back of a high-tempo, coherent offence that they haven’t seen yet this season. They looked great offensively — finally — but still had plenty of lapses defensively. Lankinen’s performance was the foundation of the Hawks first win. If he can repeat the performance, the Hawks will easily win the second matchup. If Lankinen’s first win was just beginners luck, the Chicago defensive performance is lackadaisical enough to ruin things entirely.
Personally, I’m betting on the latter. The mediocre Red Wings will keep things meager but Chicago’s over-reliance on one player is a recipe for failure.
Prediction: Red Wings win 2-1.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Calgary Flames
Head-to-Head: Leafs 0 – 0 Flames
Toronto is back to being, well, Toronto. Their lineup is incredible on paper but riddled with confusion and self-doubt. Stars like Frederik Andersen and Morgan Rielly are struggling to make dominant impacts right away. The newly-refined defence has failed to look entirely put-together. Cap-strained roster moves, early injuries, and inconsistent goaltending has opened the door for players like Jack Campbell, Zach Bogosian, and a variety of forwards.
But Calgary has been on a steady rise. Their first game was a tough-fought loss to the Winnipeg Jets but they managed to rebound against a seriously-struggling Vancouver Canucks lineup. They beat Vancouver twice, both times by three goals, which earned them a hefty amount of confidence. Johnny Gaudreau seems to be back to his normal ways, rounding out an offence that’s clicking in every way. And Jacob Markstrom has held strong in net, helping round everything out.
But there’s one kicker. Toronto is without Joe Thornton, Nicholas Robertson, and Auston Matthews. Those are three major blows to their lineup that will drastically change their game. Calgary has held strong at even-strength, pounced on special-teams, and should be able to topple a damaged Toronto lineup.
Prediction: Flames win 4-2.
Vegas Golden Knights vs Arizona Coyotes
Head-to-Head: Golden Knights 2 – 1 Coyotes
It’s hard to make up what’s going on between the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes. The two teams have faced each other three times in the last six days. In the first two games, Vegas managed two confident wins (by scores of 4-2 and 5-2). But then Arizona bounced back with a confident 5-2 win of their own in the third game.
So things are far from clear. Vegas’ top-lines has clicked perfectly through the start of the season, with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone leading the way for the lineup. But that really wasn’t the case in their last game. A failure to score from the top-six, and a disjointed power-play, led to a Vegas team that looked a bit out of sorts.
Arizona was a completely different story. They’ve had their ups-and-downs to start the year but pulled everything together in the latest matchup. A few lineup changes were enough to make the entire lineup click. Darcy Kuemper also had a strong night in net but it was really the perfect cohesion of the lineup in front of him that led to such a dramatic turnaround.
It’s this heat that Arizona will need to keep up. Vegas struggled in the last game but they’re still very much a team to fear. Arizona can’t afford to miss a beat. But there’s also some untapped opportunity left in the ‘Yotes lineup. Most notably is rookie defenceman Victor Soderstrom, who didn’t make any sort of lasting impression in last game; his NHL debut. But Soderstrom is a seriously talented player. If he can shake off the nerves, and Arizona can continue their tight-bond, can they topple Vegas yet again?
Prediction: Coyotes win 5-4.
New York Islanders vs New Jersey Devils
Head-to-Head: Islanders 1 – 0 Devils
The New York Islanders beat out the New Jersey Devils in their last meeting by an emphatic 4-1 score. It was a strong showing that really highlighted why one of these teams is in playoff contention and the other is simply trying to not rank in the bottom-five of the NHL this season.
But despite the dramatic win, and the now 3-1-0 record, there are still some questions to ask about the Islanders. They’ve had some phenomenal performances so far. Most notably, their top-line has been among the best in the NHL and Semyon Varlamov is yet again showing his worth as a great starter. But the consistency of the positions has been up for debate. Star goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin had a less-than-desirable NHL debut, which has really tempered expectations in the eyes of some Islanders fans. Others are worried about Barzal’s up-and-down play through the start of the year. At times he’s clearly worth the $7 million the team gave him this summer. But other times, that star-power fades away and he simply becomes support to Jordan Eberle. It’s a weird problem that lends itself to a lot of long-term doubt.
And there’s not much room for that doubt against a New Jersey team that’s been weirdly strong. Jack Hughes has very clearly found his stride. Sure, there are still bugs to be worked out, but he’s made it very clear that he is worth the First Overall pick the team spent on him in the 2019 NHL Draft. Other young standouts Miles Wood and Yegor Sharangovich are also keeping New Jersey in a realm of… possibility.
That’s not to say they’re a strong team, though. Outside of Hughes’ influence, New Jersey has really failed to come to life just yet. Their star goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood is out on Covid protocol and Nico Hischier is on injured reserve. So for a team that’s failed to strike the match yet, they have very few things keeping them afloat. This is the easiest of today’s NHL predictions. The Islanders are the better team. They’ll win.
Prediction: Islanders win 4-0.
Buffalo Sabres vs Washington Capitals
Head-to-Head: Sabres 0 – 3 Capitals
Ah… Buffalo. As many things have changed in the last year, one thing has stayed the same: the Buffalo Sabres are an absolute mess. But it’s at least a bit more convoluted this time around.
The Sabres have actually, surprisingly, been good defensively. Their issue has instead been converting offensive chances. Despite having Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, Sam Reinhart, and Jeff Skinner, the team simply can’t score. Rasmus Dahlin‘s awful play has also dragged things down but is at least being held up a tad by the improvement of Rasmus Ristolainen (yes, you read that correctly).
There’s just so much doubt riddling Buffalo. They’ve thrived at limiting chances, converting from defence to offence, and building off of high-momentum. But they are struggling to convert their chances.
Luckily for Buffalo, the Washington Capitals are bare-bones right now. They lost most of their Russian players to a Covid mishap, which left the team dry in the most recent outing. While Washington was still able to rally enough talent for a shootout win, they were clearly not the same team. The window of opportunity is just-open-enough for Buffalo. The Sabres desperately need the win against a high-profile Capitals lineup to help mount forward momentum. With some slight changes, they can do just that.
Prediction: Sabres win 3-2.
That does it for January 24th’s Early Games set of NHL Predictions! Make sure to check out the Late Games set and tune in tomorrow for a new set of NHL Predictions!