The NHL is back and in full swing as an early central division collision between the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues headlines the show. There are 11 playoff teams from last season that are in action and will be looking to get their seasons started off on the right foot.
Lock Pick 1: St. Louis Blues vs. Winnipeg Jets
Pick: St. Louis Blues
Last season the Winnipeg Jets exploded onto the scene eclipsing a franchise record for points with 114. It was Winnipeg’s first playoff appearance since the 2014-15 season.
Their St. Louis counterparts tonight, missed the playoffs last season for the first time since the 2010-11, and it was heartbreakingly. St. Louis lost a win and get in game on the last day of the regular season against a youthful Avalanche squad.
Retooling The Blues
After a disappointing end to last season, the Blues went back and completely reloaded their roster for the upcoming season.
One of the more significant moves of the Blues offseason was adding centermen Ryan O’Reilly, who is considered to be one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. The Blues will be hoping that O’Reilly can help bolster a penalty kill that finished 18th overall last season.
St. Louis also added backup goalie Chad Johnson to help motivate Jake Allen to get back to his high-level play. There was a significant disparity between Allen’s 2016-17 stats and his 2017-18 statistics. In 2016 Allen finished with a 33-20-5 record, giving up 2.42 goals against per game and a .915 save percentage. In 2017 his numbers dropped to 27-25-3, with a 2.75 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.
A lot of St. Louis’ success this season will hinge on the play of Jake Allen, but Head Coach Mike Yeo and the rest of the Blues are confident that he can get back to his dominant ways.
Turning On The Jets
Winnipeg is coming off of their best season in franchise history, and a lot of their offseason was spent trying to keep their core roster intact and rightfully so. The Jets roster is built to win now, and that is precisely what they will do this season.
A mixture of old and young core players is what makes the Winnipeg Jets an exciting team to watch. Last season the Jets saw a career year out of veteran forward Blake Wheeler, and they also saw a goal explosion from young superstar goal scorer Patrik Laine.
Headed into 2018 the Jets are going to be expecting much of the same from their team this season, and anything short of a Stanley Cup Final will be considered a bust.
This opening night central division collision is sure to be one of the most exciting games of the night. The new look Blues have a lot to play for this season, but the rest of the players that were there last season still remember the sour taste that was left in their mouth after losing last season.
Add in that the game is in St. Louis the Blues should be able to hang on and win game one of what should be a very entertaining series between Winnipeg and St. Louis.
Lock Pick 2: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Ottawa Senators
This game is a battle of two teams that spent all of last year at the bottom of the league. Heading into the new year it is looking like the Senators will see the same fate, but Chicago is hoping that they can get back to playing competitive hockey.
Getting Back To Success
Before last season the Blackhawks had not missed the playoffs since the 2007-08 season and had three Stanley Cup wins in that time. It would be easy to write Chicago off for this season entirely, but they still have a lot of the key players from their dominant teams.
Last year, the Hawks lost goalie Corey Crawford to a concussion on December 23, and he has not played in a game yet. Crawford is slowly getting back to healthy, but he still will not be back for a few weeks.
In his absence, Chicago had struggled mightily, so in the offseason, they went out and grabbed veteran goaltender Cam Ward. Ward is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner for the Carolina Hurricanes and is an excellent backup goalie option for Chicago. Ward should be able to hold the net down until Crawford is ready to go and the Hawks should be better with him in net for the time being.
After shipping off Erik Karlsson, it is looking like the Senators are going to be in for another long season. They have some decent young pieces, but nothing that catches the eye out on the ice.
Chicago will be looking to get back to their winning ways. After a rough 2017 season, Chicago is hungry and ready to go for 2018. A matchup against the Senators is just what this team needed to get the ball rolling on the new campaign.
Upset Pick: Buffalo Sabres vs. Boston Bruins
Pick: Buffalo Sabres
It is tough not to be intrigued by the Buffalo Sabres this upcoming season. Jack Eichel will be making his debut as captain of the Buffalo Sabres and the coveted number one overall pick Rasmus Darlin will be making his NHL debut.
Buffalo has a great matchup to start the season. Although the Boston Bruins are considered to be one of the top teams in the NHL, they are coming off a game last night against the Washington Capitals. With fresh legs and the anticipation to start the season, I expect the Sabres to come out fast and physical allowing them to steal one from the Bruins.