Welcome back to NHL Predictions, January 31st 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 31st. Be sure and check out the late games too.
New Jersey Devils vs Buffalo Sabres
Head-to-Head: Devils 0-1 Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres picked up a 4-3 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils Sunday at The Rock. These teams will do it again with Buffalo coming in with a 3-0-2 mark in its last five. Taylor Hall picked up a pair of assists and got shootout winner for the Sabres. Linus Ullmark made 31 saves in the game, so Carter Hutton will get the second start on the back-to-back, in all likelihood. Buffalo continues to flirt with the East Division playoff spots early in the season. It’s still early, but it’s a promising start for a team with the longest current post-season drought.
New Jersey is dealing with the lack of Mackenzie Blackwood in net and no Nico Hischier on offence, which hurts this young team. Scott Wedgewood is having to shoulder the load in net for the Devils, but Eric Comrie could make an appearance with the back-to-back schedule. Aaron Dell is still in COVID-19 quarantine after being claimed from the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is a talented, but young team doing fine considering the circumstances. New Jersey is going to need to find a way to stay in games with untested players.
Buffalo has gotten points in their last five and Hall and Jack Eichel are looking solid together.
Prediction: Sabres win 4-2.
Dallas Stars vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Head-to-Head: Stars 0-1 Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes ended the Dallas Stars unbeaten run with a 4-1 win on Saturday. However, the Canes had goalie Petr Mrazek leave the game with an apparent injury. Vincent Trocheck scored twice in the first period and added an assist. James Reimer filled in and made 10 saves for the win thanks to a stout Canes’ defence. Reimer should get the start in net barring any last-minute change by coach Rod Brind’Amour.
Joe Pavelski spoiled the shutout bid and Jake Oettinger spelled Anton Khudobin after his shaky first period. Stars’ coach Rick Bowness could play it two ways with his goalie situation. He could reward Oettinger with a start, or try to have Khudobin bounce back after an early hook. Dallas was on a four-game winning streak to start their delayed campaign.
It’ll come down to which backup goalie plays better and Reimer has the upper-hand in experience.
Prediction: Hurricanes win 3-2 in overtime.
Florida Panthers vs. Detroit Red Wings
Head-to-Head: Panthers 1-0 Red Wings
Aleksi Heponiemi ended the game with his first career NHL goal in the Florida Panthers 3-2 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings. Florida and Detroit started the game with a pair of goals each, but the offence dried up in the last two periods. Sergei Bobrovsky settled in to stop the last 15 shots he faced to pick up the win. Chris Driedger will likely get the call with two games happening in two days. He’s made the case for more time with a 1-0-1 mark, 1.92 goals-against-average and .934 save percentage. Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe have been two key new acquisitions that have fit in well and have given the Panthers a hot start.
Detroit had shown some early promise with wins early in the season, but have hit the skids after losing to the Chicago Blackhawks twice. The Wings played well in stretches on Saturday before losing in overtime. Valtteri Filppula has scored in two straight games for Detroit and Jonathan Bernier may finally return from injury. The Red Wings would likely have given Calvin Pickard the start if Bernier can’t go after Thomas Greiss played Saturday night.
Both teams are near the bottom of the penalty kill, but the Panthers are stingy with only 11 goals against. Florida’s defence should be ready for a team struggling at 2-5-2.
Prediction: Panthers win 4-1.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Head-to-Head: Blue Jackets 1-0 Blackhawks
The Columbus Blue Jackets got a big 31-save effort from Joonas Korpisalo in Friday’s 2-1 win over Chicago. Columbus will be looking to go for its third straight win after an Eric Robinson goal in the second period. The Blue Jackets could go back to Korpisalo in net or they may have Elvis Merzlikins, who head coach John Tortorella praised as part of the great goalie tandem. Newly acquired forward Patrik Laine won’t be in the lineup as he passes COVID protocols. However, Alexandre Texier and Oliver Bjorkstrand have done the lifting on offence.
However, this game is in limbo after the Blackhawks closed practice on Saturday with Ryan Carpenter and Nicolas Beaudin in protocol. That makes five Blackhawks in protocol at this time, which shortens their bench and experience. Alex DeBrincat, Adam Boqvist and Lucas Wallmark are also in the COVID-19 protocol. Kevin Lankinen has played well in losses to Columbus and the Nashville Predators, but Malcolm Subban could be given the call to get Lankinen some rest.
Chicago will need their power play to keep firing to stay in this game. However, missing five players will hurt the Hawks chances of getting points this weekend.
Prediction: Blue Jackets win 4-2.