Welcome back to NHL Predictions, February 27th 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 February 27th featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Edmonton Oilers. Be sure and check out the late-game slate of NHL Predictions, too.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Buffalo Sabres
Head-to-Head: Flyers 1-1 Sabres
The Philadelphia Flyers need to stay out of the box in this matchup. They currently boast the second-worst goals-against and the fourth-worst expected goals-against per 60 on the penalty kill. Over the month of February, they have conceded eight times in 20 attempts on the PK. (This isn’t ideal when you are going up against the most prolific power play in the league.)
Although, what will please Flyers fans is the triumphant return of their talismanic captain. On Thursday, Claude Giroux pocketed three assists against the New York Rangers in his first game back from a two-week COVID absence. Philadelphia is 4-0-0 this season when both Giroux and Sean Couturier are in the lineup.
Meanwhile, the Sabres must have swindled lady luck pretty badly at some point (perhaps around 10 years ago). This season, an absolutely abysmal team shooting percentage (5.32 percent – 31st) at five on five is brewing a nasty storm in Buffalo. Jack Eichel has scored just once on 33 shots. Meanwhile, Taylor Hall and Jeff Skinner haven’t scored a five-on-five goal between them despite a combined 59 shots.
Trouble in Buffalo
No matter what you think of his bloated contract, Skinner has always produced at even strength in his career. However, he has been scratched for three games in a row now by coach Ralph Krueger. There are also trade rumours swirling around a disgruntled Jack Eichel, who missed Thursday’s loss to the Devils with a lower-body injury. Needless to say, the team is in disarray at the moment.
But if the Sabres manage to field a full roster, there is a strong possibility that positive regression will catch up with this team. These guys haven’t forgotten how to score; right now, they are just caught on the wrong side of the random chaos that is a bouncing puck. Their shooting numbers won’t stay that low all season. But morale is likely to play a part in this team’s performance at this stage and that is seemingly bottoming out.
Prediction: Flyers win 4-3
Washington Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils
Head-to-Head: Capitals 1-0 Devils
The Capitals have been outperforming their metrics at present and sneaking by while not being very impressive statistically. An example of this is the fact that they are 20th in expected goal share (49.63% at five on five) while ranking 9th in actual goal share. This has a chance to regress as the disparity suggests that their scoring success has been luckier than it is sustainable.
In terms of the Capitals’ roster, Alex Ovechkin will be a game-time decision tonight. He took a maintenance day yesterday and did not practice. He is currently third on the team in scoring with six goals in 15 games. The first line, in general, has been rolling for Washington. Together they have produced 22 of the teams’ 64 goals.
The New Jersey Devils have enjoyed a week of firsts: P.K. Subban, Jesper Bratt, Nikita Gusev and Nico Hischier all potted their first tallies of the season during the team’s last four games. But when it comes to Nico Hischier, it isn’t necessarily just the goals that the Devils have missed. (The Devils’ captain has only played four games this season due to the COVID-19 protocol.)
Hischier represents game control for New Jersey. This is well exemplified when we look at faceoffs. Of players on the Devils who have taken at least 50 faceoffs, Hischier leads the team with a 61.5 percent success rate; he was second on the team last year with 51.2 percent.
Prediction: Devils win 4-3
Calgary Flames vs. Ottawa Senators
Head-to-Head: Flames 0-1 Senators
Calgary was embarrassed by the Ottawa Senators 6-1 in their last encounter just two days ago. What was particularly noticeable about the Senators’ even-strength onslaught was that the goals were scored predominantly on the Flames’ third line and second defensive pair. Dillon Dube. Mikael Backlund, Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson were all on the ice for four of the six goals; it will be interesting to see if Flames’ coach Geoff Ward responds with any tactical line-juggling tonight.
Jacob Markstrom has already been ruled out for today’s game so it will likely be David Rittich in goal for the Flames.
Meanwhile, the Senators continue to create existential crises across Canada. They have five wins in their last seven and have caused another Leafs Nation meltdown (It was 5-1), beaten the Canadiens twice who fired coach Claude Julien in the aftermath and now have Calgary circling the drain of relevancy too.
The Sens are letting the kids cook! Their top six point-producers have an average age of 22.33 (and it would be younger if 27-year-old Connor Brown wasn’t padding it out). Brady Tkachuk continues to lead this team impressively (eight goals and 15 points) and love has got to be given to Drake Batherson too. He looks great in a top-six role and has goals in four straight games.
Prediction: Flames win 5-3
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Nashville Predators
Head-to-Head: Blue Jackets 1-3 Predators
The Blue Jackets were first in the league at suppressing shot quality in all situations last season. However, they’ve regressed to the middle of the pack through 20 games this year (13th at 2.51 expected goals against per 60). As a result, their goaltending has been exposed as a point of concern. Out of the 47 goaltenders who have played at least seven games this season, Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins rank 35th and 41st respectively in save percentage above expected.
Nashville dropped another game against the Detroit Red Wings this week, falling 5-2 on Thursday and slipping into the doldrums of the league. Their current 0.421 win percentage is fifth-worst in the NHL.
Recently, coach John Hynes has been riding Pekka Rinne in goal but he has been erratic, to say the least. While he stole game one against Detroit, he followed it up by gifting the Red Wings game two with a pair of blundering errors. Perhaps it is time Nashville tries to evaluate what they have in Juuse Saros. He is, after all, the man of the near-future.
The one good bit of news is that the Predators players on the trade block performed well last time out. Fellow Finns, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula scored the Predators only goals which won’t do any harm to their market value.
Prediction: Blue Jackets win 4-2
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders
Head-to-Head: Penguins 3-1 Islanders
The Penguins have begun to right the ship. They have won five of their last seven games and have seen an uptick in goaltending which has hauled them into playoff contention.
However, sadly, Pittsburgh lost second-line winger Jason Zucker this week indefinitely to a lower-body injury. It seems as though Zach Aston-Reese will fill the void in the top-six for the Penguins. Aston-Reese has only played seven games (three goals and four points) this season after missing the start of the year with shoulder surgery.
He is an excellent two-way forward and does all of the little things which make a line tick. He should complement Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin well. In 2019-20, Zach Aston-Reese was third among Penguins forwards for expected goal share with at least 100 minutes on the ice.
Elsewhere, the Islanders have continued to produce a devout shutdown-style of hockey this season. They are averaging 2.05 goals against per 60 and rank 4th in expected goals against at five on five.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello got a lot of flak to start the year due to the self-inflicted cap constraints, which led him to trade Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche. However, managing to sign Mathew Barzal to a bridge deal and swooping in on Jean-Gabriel Pageau at last season’s trade deadline deserves serious praise. Barzal has levelled up this season (seven goals and 17 points) and Pageau is scoring freely too (eight goals), while also providing a scoring threat on the PK (two SHGs).
Prediction: Islanders win 4-1
Dallas Stars vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Head-to-Head: Stars 0-0 Lightning
Since Dallas’ 4-0-0 start, they have played 11 games and lost nine of them. The main issue with the Stars’ roster right now is their offensive shot quality (23rd in expected goals for) and finishing (26th in shooting percentage). However, that tends to happen when you are without players like Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and now Roope Hintz.
Joe Pavelski is one of 13 players in the league to reach double figures in goals (10); the next best scorer on the Stars has four.
On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Lightning come into this matchup with three wins on the bounce against the Carolina Hurricanes. Their third line, in particular, has been a wrecking ball this season. Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Yanni Gourde are outscoring opponents 8-2 and have an eye-watering expected goal share of 72.66%.
Unsurprisingly, Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to stand out as the undisputed standard for the league in goaltending. He is first in save percentage above expected with 1.892 percent. Next, closest is Jake Allen with 1.504 percent above expected (save percentage).
Prediction: Lightning wins 3-1
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Edmonton Oilers
Head-to-Head: Leafs 2-2 Oilers
The Leafs have had little issues with scoring given the behemoth contributions from Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner (20 even-strength goals between them). However, this doesn’t change the fact that depth scoring at five on five may eventually become an issue. So far, John Tavares and William Nylander‘s contributions on the ice amount to the Leafs going 11-11 in goals scored versus conceded; needless to say, that needs to improve. If the secondary scoring issue persists, it may create louder murmurings about Toronto window shopping Nashville Predators forwards like Filip Forsberg or Mikael Granlund.
Edmonton needs to be wary of the high danger scoring chances they’re giving up. The Oilers concede the seventh-most high danger chances in the league and are creating less of their own. Obviously, the boon of having two of the best scorers in the league means that they will back themselves in a track meet. However, it doesn’t seem wise to go toe-to-toe against the best in the division with a leaky defence.
Prediction: Leafs win 5-4
That does it for today’s NHL Predictions but please also check out the late games too! NHL Predictions is a daily series with breakdowns and analysis from every game in the National Hockey League.