Welcome back to NHL Predictions, February 15th 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 late game slate of NHL Predictions for February 15th. Be sure and check out the early games of NHL Predictions too.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings
Head-to-Head: Blackhawks 2-0 Red Wings
The Chicago Blackhawks have quietly accumulated points this season after a chastening 0-3-1 start. They were outscored 20-9 in those first four outings, but since then, they have been playing in much closer games. Chicago has gone 7-2-3 since their Floridian road trip to begin the year. Their five losses in that span have all been by a single goal. Although, the team is likely due for some regression. Their goaltending has been rolling at .930+ for three weeks and their season power play stat of 34.69% success rate, if it were to continue, would be an NHL record; no team has cracked 30 percent in a season since the late seventies.
In terms of scoring accolades amongst the Blackhawks, Patrick Kane has seven multi-point games this season and three in his last four outings. His linemates are also rolling. Alex DeBrincat has six goals and 10 points in his last six games and 24-year old rookie Pius Suter has benefitted from time on the first line. He has six goals in 16 games and has emerged as an unlikely candidate in the Calder race.
On the other hand, Detroit has seen a vast improvement in their play at even strength over the last two weeks which culminated in Saturday night’s statistical domination of the Predators in Nashville. In their last eight games, the Detroit Red Wings have had the edge in expected goal share (53.9%) at five on five and their rate of actual goals produced at even strength versus goals conceded has also been good (2.34 plays 1.87). All they need now is an improvement in the special teams’ department which is holding them back (30th on the PP, 27th on the PK).
Mantha Trade Rumors Over
The most promising news for Detroit is that it seems the wild trade speculation over Anthony Mantha’s recent healthy scratch is a thing of the past. The 26-year old right-winger looked like the most dangerous player on the ice on Saturday. Mantha finished the game with a rip-roaring snipe that exploded past Saros to wrap up the Red Wings victory late in the third period. He has five goals and nine points in 15 games.
Prediction: Blackhawks win 4-1
Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
Head-to-Head: Predators 0-2 Stars
The Nashville Predators are the latest franchise in the NHL to experience an existential crisis based on their current form (2-6-0 in their last eight). After being outplayed for six games by Tampa Bay and Florida, they were then humbled at home by one of the worst teams in the league, the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night. The Smashville faithful are calling for everyone’s heads at present; a blow it up and start again coup, which has already mobilized a large corps of the fan base.
On the ice, the Predators’ biggest struggle of late is putting the puck on the net. They went through two 10+ minute stretches without registering a shot on goal against the Red Wings on Saturday. While they are fifth in the league when it comes to shot attempts, they are 14th in shots on goal per 60 and 22nd in both expected goal share and high danger chances produced rate. In other words, they are shooting from everywhere but not getting good looks or pulling the trigger in the right areas.
Dallas Stars’ slump
Meanwhile, Dallas is going through a struggle of its own. While Predators’ fans will still remember the Stars’ seven-goal romp in their season opener, it probably seems like a distant memory as far as Dallas is concerned.
The Dallas Stars have won just one game in their last eight attempts (1-3-4). And when you put into context the upheaval caused by Anton Khudobin’s recent misdemeanour which resulted in the starting goaltender being benched for two games, one would assume that goaltending would be playing a part in Dallas’ downturn. However backup Jake Oettinger has played well in goal (.918 last week).
In fact, it has been the penalty kill that has plagued the Stars. Dallas has conceded nine power-play goals in eight games and is in the top third in the league for giving up high danger chances on the kill. Luckily for them, Nashville will not pose the same threat on the man advantage as Chicago or Carolina did.
Prediction: Stars win 5-2
Winnipeg Jets vs. Edmonton Oilers
Head-to-Head: Jets 1-1 Oilers
The Winnipeg Jets enter their second series with the Edmonton Oilers after a two-game stretch which they would probably like a do-over on. Despite splitting the series with Ottawa, the Jets were totally outplayed in the game they won, and then lost in the dying seconds of game two on a Brady Tkachuk redirect.
Unfortunately, the Jets also suffered a roster casualty last weekend. Newly-acquired centreman Pierre-Luc Dubois was declared out with a lower-body injury before Saturday’s game against Ottawa after a surprising announcement by Head Coach Paul Maurice. Dubois is now considered day-to-day and will likely miss a few more games.
In terms of team make-up, the Jets will be returning to a roster comprised of 12 forwards and six defencemen after a trial run of 11 forwards and seven defencemen for the Ottawa series. The tactic was a strange one given that Winnipeg’s main weakness is their defence.
Edmonton’s 1-2 offensive punch continues to dominate the North Division. Connor McDavid has nine goals and 28 points while Leon Draisaitl has eight goals and 26 points. Both players have played 16 games. However, what will concern Edmonton is that the team comes to a standstill with their best players off the ice. The Oilers have managed only 10 goals (out of 55) without either Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid on the ice. The team’s expected goal share without the pair is a dreadful 29.8%.
In other news, last week, Mike Smith returned to the Oilers’ line-up and has claimed wins in both of his starts on the season.
Prediction: Jets win 4-3
Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks
Head-to-Head: Flames 3-1 Canucks
Tonight is game two of the four-game series between these Western Canada rivals. Last time out Calgary lost their first game of the season series against the Canucks, 3-1 and will be looking to bounce back. Unfortunately, they will have to do it without third-line centre Mikael Backlund, who left the last game with a lower-body injury. He is listed as day-to-day. This is a major blow given that the Flames’ third line had been producing of late; they have 11 points in the last four games.
Elsewhere, Sam Bennett has scored two goals since returning to the Flames’ lineup. The 24-year-old centre was a healthy scratch for Calgary’s game on February 4th against the Jets after his agent announced that he has asked for a trade. Finally, Jacob Markstrom continues to be lights out in Alberta. He is rocking a .925 save percentage and ranks seventh in save percentage above expected according to moneypuck.com. While Vancouver dominated the first period in game one, Markstrom gave the Flames a chance to win; something which the Canucks have been missing between the pipes all year.
Vancouver’s torrid start
The Vancouver Canucks snapped a torrid six-game winless stretch on Saturday against the Calgary Flames. So far, most things that could have gone wrong for the Canucks this season has gone wrong. Their two best young players (Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson) have had horrendous starts to the season, every major free agent departure for the Canucks has performed incredibly against them (Tyler Toffoli and Jacob Markstrom) and their defence has been downright horrible.
Vancouver has been outscored 64-37 in games not involving the Ottawa Senators, the worst team in the league standings. Quinn Hughes currently ranks 491st among 499 skaters for expected goals against per 60 at five on five and 429th in expected goal share. Meanwhile, Elias Pettersson is 15th out of 19 skaters on the Canucks for expected goals per 60 at five on five.
However, the one bright spark for the Canucks is that despite his struggles, Quinn Hughes is still creating opportunities for his team as demonstrated by the turnover he caused to score Vancouver’s opener last time out. Hughes has 18 points on the season but needs to sure up defensively if Vancouver is to recover from their surprisingly poor start.
Prediction: Flames win 5-4
*All stats are for players registering at least 100 minutes on the ice this season.
Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks
Head-to-Head: Ducks 1-1 Sharks
It looks as though the Anaheim Ducks will continue to lean on their goaltending for any sort of success this season. In 15 games so far, they have scored more than two goals on just four occasions and two of those were with the help of empty-net goals. While John Gibson (.923 this season in 12 games) should of course be celebrated as one of the great goaltenders of this era, his high-calibre play is currently preventing this Ducks team from bottoming out and collecting a high pick in this summer’s draft.
Although, at the other end of the ice, there is another spot of production that will please the Ducks franchise. Max Comtois currently leads the team in both goals (six) and points (eight). The 22-year-old left-winger is in his third season and is part of a small youth core that the Ducks are cultivating within the NHL this season.
San Jose Back Home
Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks surrendered three powerplay goals in their last game, a 3-1 loss against the Vegas Golden Knights. This was effectively San Jose’s home opener as they returned to California for the first time this season; Santa Clara County lifted its ban on contact sports in late January. The Sharks will play the rest of their home games without fan support in the building.
This matchup represents the opposite of a track meet. Both teams are in the bottom third of the league for expected goals at even strength and on the power play. The statistics would suggest that we are in for a dull one; and normally, in a close game, it is the goaltending that comes out on top. In this case, we have one of the best goalie tandems in the league facing one of the worst.
Prediction: Ducks win 2-1
That does it for February 15th’s Late Games set of NHL Predictions! Make sure to tune in tomorrow for a new set of NHL Predictions!