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 the Buffalo Sabres vs New York Islanders.
Buffalo Sabres vs New York Islanders
Head to Head: Sabres 1-0 Islanders
Our first game of NHL Predictions is a New York State battle. A game that would have been a rather bleak, uninteresting match-up last season is now entirely amplified. The Sabres seeking their first playoff appearance since 2011 and the Islanders looking to maintain their top wild-card spot in an absolute grudge match within the Eastern Conference. Currently, the Islanders hold three extra games on the second-place Penguins and Sabres with four points on the Sabres and a single point on the Penguins. By and large, the Islanders have effectively coped with the Mat Barzal injury, collecting points in eight of ten games, but continuing to primarily rely on goaltender Ilya Sorokin; akin to some of the criticism the Rangers received last season in front of Shesterkin. Still, Horvat’s acquisition has bolstered the offense as advertised, giving the Islanders a necessary 5v5 push required to maintain playoff status.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, time is winding down to solidify a spot, let alone hold one. Buffalo’s remaining schedule sees them pitted against the following playoff teams: the Stars, Rangers (twice), Maple Leafs, Bruins, Devils (twice), and Hurricanes. The already unstable defensive structure will be tested far beyond its limits in this stretch, perhaps being the ultimate demise of the team despite their offensive prowess in multiple spectrums (generation and production). For this game alone, expect a mix of octane and a more rugged battle between the two squads. Based on general form, we expect the Sabres to control 5v5 play but ultimately fall just short due to Sorokin and their defensive struggles.
Prediction: Islanders win 4-3 (OT)
Calgary Flames vs Minnesota Wild
Head to Head: Flames 1-1 Wild
Calgary comes into the day fresh off a win over the Dallas Stars last night, rebounding from a 3-0 loss to the Wild (in what is their most recent game headed into today) on Saturday. On a general basis, frustrations in Calgary have brewed to exceptionally high levels, between the massive gap in Calgary’s chance generation and total production as well as inconsistent goaltending that has culminated in the Flames threatening a playoff miss entirely, despite the isolated strength of the team’s lineup. Currently, the Flames sit five points back of the second wild card (Colorado) with three extra games. With the season now past the deadline, every point the Flames can accumulate in their remaining 18 games will be absolutely vital.
For the Wild, meanwhile, points in their last nine have cemented the Wild into Central Division contention, with the Stars ahead just three points with an extra game on the Wild. Minnesota has seen excellent play primarily from their top line and goaltending in Fillip Gustavsson, who has all but secured the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury. With the form of the Wild warmer headed into the night, as well as the Flames being on the back half of a back-to-back, we have Minnesota taking this one.
Prediction: Wild win 3-1
San Jose Sharks vs Colorado Avalanche
Head to Head: Sharks 0-0 Avalanche
Both teams enter the night off of overtime appearances, with the Sharks holding the more favorable result. Despite their near league-worst record and contention for the first overall pick in the 2023 Entry Draft, this season has served as somewhat of a showcase (or a preview) of the talented youth within the Sharks system. While Eklund was pointless last night, he has still displayed the play-driving ability that will almost certainly empower him in his career. In terms of veterans, Erik Karlsson can become the first defenseman since Brian Leetch to score 100 points if he holds a point-per-game pace in the final 18 games. Overall, the Sharks have been an unexpectedly exciting team to tune into on some nights.
In what appears as a somewhat underwhelming year, the Colorado Avalanche sit second in the Western Wild Card; albeit, with some comfort. The key for the Avalanche is to stay healthy; injuries to several top guys have nearly entirely healed. When healthy, the Avalanche are still one of the NHL’s premier teams, and stability in the lineup will power them back to this status. Considering this, the Sharks serve as an opportunity for the Avalanche to build back toward this play, and we predict they take advantage.
Prediction: Avalanche win 3-0
St. Louis Blues vs Arizona Coyotes
Head to Head: Blues 1-1 Coyotes
With both teams set to easily miss the playoffs, the implications of this game are fairly low. Considering the tanking efforts of the Coyotes, and the Blues decision to sell for stock on the edge, this game really only pushes a team closer to a desired draft selection. However, there are always players to look for and derive excitement from. Players to watch include Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas for the Blues, and Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz for the Coyotes. Schmaltz is particularly interesting for his unrecognized, but stellar, play for the Coyotes this season, as perhaps the only star aside from Keller in the desert.
St. Louis still retained the aforementioned Kyrou and Thomas as well as defender Colton Parayko among others, still provided a decent high-end product ultimately sabatoged by the poor depth structures of the team. Considering this, we have the Blues taking this contest in our penultimate game of NHL predictions.
Prediction: Blues win 4-2
Anaheim Ducks vs Seattle Kraken
Head to Head: Ducks 1-1 Kraken
The final game of the of our NHL Predictions pits a severe Pacific mismatch in Washington. With the Ducks almost outright tanking their season, looking for a high selection in this year’s elite draft class, they appear exponentially smaller to the third-place Kraken gearing up for their potential first playoff appearance of the franchise’s history. However, some bright spots for the Ducks include being winners of four of five and a recent point-per-game run from Cam Fowler in his last 10 games. John Gibson‘s play has ascended to elite heights at points this season; perhaps, Anaheim’s saving grace in games like these.
Meanwhile, the Kraken continue to score at a high rate, recovering from a short skid with a winning streak of their own across the past 10 days. Jordan Eberle currently leads the Kraken in production, sitting at 50 points in 63 games thus far. Jared McCann has been another vital piece for Seattle at the 30 goal mark in 60 games played throughout the season. Considering the mismatch of these two teams, we expect the Kraken to win handily.
Prediction: Kraken win 5-0.
Main Photo by: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports