Welcome back to NHL Predictions, February 22nd 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 22nd featuring the Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche. Be sure and check out the early games of NHL Predictions, too.
Los Angeles Kings vs. St Louis Blues
Head-to-Head: Kings 1-1 Blues
The Los Angeles Kings hold the longest winning streak in the NHL at present with four wins on the trot. This has boosted their points percentage for the season to .531 which is currently fifth-best in the West Division. The Kings certainly have been better than expected but there are two worrying statistics lurking amongst the optimism.
The Kings produce the fewest scoring chances per 60 at even strength and the team has the worst (40.17 percent) high-danger scoring chance share in the league in 2020-21.* It should be pointed out however that during their recent streak Los Angeles has improved dramatically (top five) in high-danger scoring chance share. The sample size is indeed very small but if they have turned a corner in generating better chances, they will continue to be surprisingly competitive.
Meanwhile, one of the best storylines for the Blues this season has been the effectiveness of their second line. Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Jordan Kyrou boast the best expected-goal share percentage (64.51%) on the team. What’s more, Kyrou, who was playing fourth-line minutes last year, is second on the team in goals (seven), assists (10) and points (17). His play has now earned him a place on the top line next to Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron.
However, the St. Louis Blues have struggled with consistency in the results department. They exited their seven-game series with Arizona with seven points while surrendering nine to the Coyotes. And they then traded wins in two close games with the Sharks. What has been hampering their ability to kick on in the division is their lacklustre special teams. The Blues need to focus on staying out of the box as the Kings have been decent on the man advantage (11th in the NHL) while St Louis’ penalty killing has been poor (24th).
Prediction: Blues win 5-3
*Stats taken from CBS’s Pete Blackburn’s Power Rankings
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Head-to-Head: Golden Knights 1-2 Avalanche
These two teams go head-to-head for a fourth consecutive time after a remarkable outdoor showdown at Lake Tahoe which took the entire day on Saturday to conclude after the ice quality deteriorated in the sun.
During this series, the Vegas Golden Knights have been stifled offensively by the Colorado Avalanche. In three games, Vegas has managed to put just five goals past Philipp Grubauer and has gone one for nine on the powerplay. What was particularly noticeable last time out was Vegas’ lack of movement on the man advantage. They had a 5-on-3 down 2-1 in the third at Lake Tahoe and the team looked almost motionless for large sequences, waiting for someone to make a play. Vegas currently ranks 19th in powerplay percentage on the season.
The Colorado Avalanche will be feeling good after their triumph at Lake Tahoe; they are the only team to beat Vegas twice this season in the West Division. The Avs also welcomed back Tyson Jost, Gabriel Landeskog and Samuel Girard, (who scored the opening goal) after they all returned from the COVID protocol. This is the first time in two and a half weeks that not a single member of the Avalanche roster is on the protocol.
The usual suspects are making the Avalanche a delight to watch this season. Nathan MacKinnon clearly didn’t like all of the attention on Connor Mcdavid’s five-point night in Calgary and made a highlight reel of his own. Stripping the puck from Mark Stone, MacKinnon glided the length of the ice, completing a beautiful crossover before burying the perfect shot into the roof of the net to tie the game at 1-1. Elsewhere, Cale Makar‘s footwork, particularly in the offensive zone, continues to create space and shooting lanes as he dukes and jives covering defenders into submission.
Prediction: Golden Knights win 4-3
Anaheim Ducks vs. Arizona Coyotes
Head-to-Head: Ducks 1-1 Coyotes
The Anaheim Ducks have attracted more interest off the ice than on it in recent days; this is why it has been chosen as the feature game for these predictions. On Saturday the Ducks placed their top-six centreman Adam Henrique on waivers. The 31-year-old veteran has three full years at $5.825 million remaining on his contract. Unsurprisingly, no team was willing to take on the full weight of Henrique’s cap-hit and the centre cleared waivers. However, this does indicate that the Ducks may soon be shopping him for offers.
Meanwhile, Anaheim called up their much-anticipated Grade A prospect Trevor Zegras to the roster. The 19-year-old centreman leaves the AHL as the co-leader in scoring with 9 points. He recently won the Most Valuable Player award at the World Junior Championships in January 2021, helping Team USA to a gold medal. This move might just suggest that he is on the verge of making his NHL debut. And this uplifting news is much needed for the Ducks fanbase.
The product on the ice has been tough to watch. The Ducks have played 18 games and scored just once in eight of them; they have scored more than two goals in a game just four times in 2020-21.
Similarly, the Arizona Coyotes have struggled to score themselves of late which has prevented them from staking a serious claim to the final playoff spot in the West. The Yotes have scored just 10 goals in their last five games and took only one point off the Los Angeles Kings in their most recent two-game series at home. Phil Kessel has scored in consecutive games but this was after an 11-game scoring slump. Elsewhere the defence as a whole has scored a mere four goals out of the teams combined 43. The most promising offensive unit for Arizona has been its top line. Nick Schmaltz, Conor Garland and Clayton Keller rank ninth in expected goal share (66.2 percent) in the NHL according to Money Puck. Conor Garland continues to lead the team in goals (seven), points (eight) and assists (15).
Prediction: Coyotes win 3-2
Minnesota Wild vs. San Jose Sharks
Head-to-Head: Wild 1-1 Sharks
The Minnesota Wild will have regained some confidence after their recent series sweep of the Anaheim Ducks. Minnesota outscored Anaheim 8-2 across the two games which was a nice retaliation to their 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Kings last Tuesday.
Joel Eriksson Ek continues to enjoy a breakout season with 10 points in 14 games; his best year in the NHL so far is 29 points in 62 games in 2019-20. He is currently driving play at even strength and ensuring that Minnesota has a considerable edge in chances when he is on the ice. When Eriksson Ek is on the ice, the Wild are outscoring their opponents 13-3 at five on five.
The San Jose Sharks come into this one-off game, having won their first two-game series outright (in terms of points gained) against the St Louis Blues. Although, one of the major concerns for this team at the moment is their inability to close out games. The Sharks have blown a multi-goal lead five times this season, including a 4-1 lead in the third against St. Louis. As a result, they only have two ROWs to show for their efforts and are gifting their rivals easy points.
Prediction: Wild win 5-2
*Stats inspired by CBS’s Pete Blackburn’s Power Rankings