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 Oilers vs Maple Leafs.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Head-to-Head: Blackhawks 0-1 Lightning
Two teams in very different standings positions, but of shockingly similar form as of late, face off for the second time this season at Amalie Arena. Chicago enters the night fairly battered, between injuries to Colin Blackwell and Jonathan Toews, among others. A recent bright spot for the Blackhawks lies in a quiet, but meaningful, set of games for rookie centre Cole Guttman, with five points in his first 13 NHL games, including a goal last night with 45 seconds remaining in regulation against the Panthers, allowing the Blackhawks to secure a point.
Meanwhile, the high-power Lightning has been muffled as of late, breaking a five-game losing streak on Tuesday but following it up with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Golden Knights two nights ago. In terms of players riding hot steaks for the Lightning despite this run, Nikita Kucherov still has six assists in his previous five games, totalling 68 on the season.
With nothing to lose at this juncture of the season, Chicago may take pride in a role of spoiling the ambitions of elite teams, and tonight provides that opportunity. However, they are ultimately likely to be simply overpowered.
Prediction: 4-1 Lightning
Edmonton Oilers vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Head-to-Head: Oilers 1-0 Maple Leafs
The featured game of this NHL predictions slots involves two of the league’s top centers Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews in a Canadian inter-league match-up. Just as in their last game against the Bruins, the Oilers once again face an elite east coast team with a similar offensive inclination and a class ahead on the defensive side of the puck and in net. In Boston, this was uniquely curbed by a rare balanced attack, enabled by a more proactive possession game off the forecheck that did not even require production from Connor McDavid and just a single assist from Leon Draisaitl. Toronto powered over another elite team in the New Jersey Devils themselves three days ago, erasing a late Devils lead and eventually winning in regulation.
Interestingly, injuries to names such as Ryan O’Reilly has complicated the forward lineup to a point leading to Sheldon Keefe to place another recent acquisition in Sam Lafferty as second-line centre, with William Nylander and Calle Jarnkrok on the wings (as of March 10th according to The Morning Puck). Still, the power of the Maple Leafs up top, with Matthews, Nylander, Michael Bunting, Mitchell Marner, and john Tavares, among others, should prove to provide a game defined by cutthroat offensive play. To account for such, our prediction tonight sees a high-scoring tilt decided in overtime.
Prediction: 5-4 Leafs (OT)
New Jersey Devils vs Montreal Canadiens
Head-to-Head: Devils 1-1 Canadiens
The soaring New Jersey Devils collide into the match against the lowly Canadiens (on a five-game losing streak) brought down further by incredibly poor injury luck. For reference, Montreal leads the entire league (for a second season in a row) in man games lost to injury, with recently sustained injuries including Justin Harris and Christian Dvorak, as well as previous injuries to Kirby Dach, Brendan Gallagher, and nine other players on the squad. Montreal has been largely dependent on Nick Suzuki and surges of rookie forward Raphael Harvey-Pinard, with perhaps a case for other production. Ultimately, winning is secondary for the Canadiens at this stage.
For the Devils, the magic number to playoffs sits at nine currently. Wins in seven games, powered by a ridiculous surge of Dawson Mercer (with 18 points in his last 10, including 10 goals) and concurrently excellent play from New Jersey’s fast-paced high-end group will only develop more momentum to reach this number with plenty of season remaining. New Jersey’s only barrier to the Metropolitan Division title is the Carolina Hurricanes, who are just two points ahead but on an incredible form of their own.
New Jersey took the most recent game 5-1. We predict a similar result tonight at the Bell Centre.
Prediction: 4-0 Devils
- Louis Blues vs Columbus Blue Jackets
Head-to-Head: Blues 1-0 Blue Jackets
Next up on NHL predictions pits two lowly teams in an inter-league match-up. Both the Blues and Blue Jackets have been left with little in terms of production, especially after the deadline. Pride and spoils are key to ending the season on a high note for both of these squads; albeit, the latter is not presented tonight. Regardless, despite any defensive calamities or goaltending inconsistencies, high-end talent, while not necessarily in abundance, can still serve an exciting product. Namely, Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine for the home squad, and Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas for the away squad up top.
St. Louis took the first matchup between these two teams in October. For this game, we predict the Jackets find a way to pounce and take it, with great overtime potential.
Prediction: 3-2 Blue Jackets (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights vs Carolina Hurricanes
Head-to-Head: Golden Knights 1-0 Hurricanes
Just 10 days ago, the Golden Knights took down the Hurricanes on home ice despite mustering just 20 shots, with a late game-winning goal coming from the always-undervalued Reilly Smith in the third period. Both teams are atop their respective divisions (the Metropolitan and the Pacific) but separated by two games (Vegas ahead) and five points (Carolina ahead). Regardless, this match-up brings a direct clash of two teams with strangling defensive structures, but different offensive creation methods, which will result in dynamics such as the Golden Knights puck-moving behind the red-line being brought out to face the difficult forecheck of the Hurricanes.
The close nature of this game and the matchups made from within to exploit systematic weaknesses should provide an intriguing matchup tonight. Starting goaltenders are expected to be Adin Hill for Vegas and Frederik Andersen.
Prediction: 3-2 Hurricanes
Winnipeg Jets vs Florida Panthers
Head-to-Head: Jets 0-0 Panthers
Florida, in the second half of their home back-to-back, hosts the Winnipeg Jets. Brandon Montour put home the overtime winner against Chicago, completing a third-period surge. Meanwhile, the Jets most recent game was a frustrating 4-2 loss despite out-chancing the Wild generally. Each game for both of these teams will increase their playoff implications; Florida is two points behind the Penguins for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Jets are holding on to a second wild-card spot by four points on the Calgary Flames.
A trouble the Panthers should expect to face is the goaltending of Connor Hellebucyk, whose goals saved above expected of 21.7 ranks 5th in the league (via MoneyPuck). For the Jets, the two-way masterclass of Matthew Tkachuk alongside the octane of Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Bennett will certainly provide some trouble, generating 4.61 expected goals per 60 minutes (via MoneyPuck).
Given the slight rest the Jets have in what is shaping to be a faster-paced match, we rule against the Panthers in out NHL predictions.
Prediction: 2-1 Jets
Main photo by: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports