NHL Predictions: December 21 with the New Jersey Devils vs Florida Panthers

NHL Predictions

Welcome back to another day of NHL Predictions. Each day, Last Word on Hockey takes a look at the games that are happening and gives our predictions for each one, breaking down head-to-head and other factors that may play in. We also have a featured game of the day, which is considered must-watch TV. Today’s featured game is between the New Jersey Devils and the Florida Panthers. Be sure to check out the other NHL Predictions that will be out today.

NHL Predictions: Including New Jersey Devils vs Florida Panthers

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings

Head-to-Head: Lightning 0 – 1 Wings

Tonight marks the second of four matchups between these two squads. Earlier this month, Detroit stole game one of the season series by a 4-2 margin. That victory stands as their most recent win too, as they enter tonight’s game riding a six-game losing streak (0-4-2). That slide dropped them out of the playoff picture.

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Meanwhile, Tampa surged up the standings and ride a five-game winning streak into this matchup. They won 13 of their last 16 games and look like the champion-calibre team they’ve been for the last three seasons. Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 47 points, including ten in his last five games.

Prediction: Lightning win 4-1

Montreal Canadiens vs Colorado Avalanche

Head-to-Head: Canadiens 0 – 0 Avalanche

Montreal looks better than many anticipated they’d be this year, though remain in rebuild mode without playoff expectations. Their young pieces continue developing, as Kirby Dach, Cole Caufield, and Nick Suzuki are on pace to blow away their previous career highs for scoring in a single season. Juraj Slafkovsky continues settling into the NHL game, but the real hole on this team resides in net.

On the other side, the Avs are just getting started. Their record sits at a respectable 17-11-2, but would be a whole lot better if not for their injury woes. Plenty of key contributors remain out of the lineup, but the list continues shrinking. Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Kurtis MacDermid, Shane Bowers, and Artturi Lehkonen all returned from injury in the past weeks. That said, the players still out of the lineup are: Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Josh Manson, Bowen Byram, and Darren Helm.

Those injured players mean a lot to the Avs. They added Denis Malgin via trade to help buoy the group, in hopes that they can bank more wins without their big dogs in the lineup. So far, so good though, as they remained competitive enough to hold down a playoff spot. The fact this team is still playing strong enough hockey to remain in the top half of the league should have everyone’s radars on high. Imagine what they’ll be capable of when they add nearly an entire line (three forwards, two defencemen) to the team, over half of which are elite players. Even with an injury-riddled lineup, though, it’s hard to make NHL predictions betting against Colorado.

Prediction: Avalanche win 5-2

Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks

Head-to-Head: Predators 0 – 0 Blackhawks

The Preds and Hawks play three times this season, this marking the first of those matchups. Neither team looks good, and the NHL predictions going forward don’t change that outlook very much. Chicago sits dead-last in the entire NHL. Nashville sits in the bottom quartile too, though still within earshot of the playoff bubble.

Nashville doesn’t look all that different roster-wise than the product they iced a year ago. That team qualified for the postseason, while this team doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere in 2023. Many fans believed that star defenceman Roman Josi singlehandedly carried the franchise to the playoffs. Looking at his numbers from last year to this year, that certainly looks more plausible today. He still has a very respectable 23 points through 30 games, great for a blueliner. But, after scoring an insane 96 points over 80 contests last year, 23 in 30 actually represents a regression. His advanced metrics look nearly identical when it comes to puck possession, but he’s down an entire point per 60 minutes played this year (from 2.8 last year to 1.8 this year).

Last season, unfortunately for Preds fans, looks like the outlier for Josi’s career. He made a weak Predators team just good enough to squeak into the playoffs before getting swept by the Avs in the first round. This year, he makes a weak Predators team just good enough to have as many wins as they have losses.

Prediction: Blackhawks win 3-2 in OT

New Jersey Devils vs Florida Panthers

Head-to-Head: Devils 0 – 1 Panthers

The Devils continue turning heads league-wide, blowing expectations out of the water. They sit atop the Metropolitan Division, with only the Boston Bruins in front of them out East. Meanwhile, the Panthers continue struggling to meet their own expectations, especially after such a great year last year. Everyone knew the Panthers would be different in 2022-23, but not quite by this margin. They parted ways with two lifelong Panthers in Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. They added unicorn Matthew Tkachuk. And maybe most significantly, they let interim head coach Andrew Brunette leave in favour of hiring Paul Maurice.

That mix of changes has not translated into success, at least as of yet. They are about as mediocre as it gets in the league right now, alternating wins and losses on a nightly basis. They fall outside the playoff picture looking in, somewhere they had no plans of sitting after winning the President’s Trophy last year.

All of that said, they did beat the Devils in New Jersey a few days ago. They also haven’t had a healthy lineup in quite some time, always skating without at least one significant piece. Anthony Duclair has yet to suit up this season, plus Thachuk and Aleksander Barkov each missed games with various injuries, illnesses, and suspensions. Their cap situation has forced the team to play with less than 18 skaters more than a handful of times, too. So, they might just be getting their adversity out of the way early this season. It is too early still to panic, but it is also time for this team to string together some wins.

Prediction: Panthers win 6-5 in OT

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