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Panthers to beat Canadiens

Montreal is winless coming out of the break, which is starting with a challenging road trip through the American Southeast. With losses to Tampa Bay and Carolina, the Habs are starting 2022 against the Florida Panthers, which has been among the NHL’s best teams all season.

On top of that, the Canadiens are still missing a number of regulars due to injury or COVID-19 protocols which has severely impacted the team’s depth. Florida, meanwhile, has pretty much its full roster available and has stormed back from the extended season pause.

The Panthers have won each of their first two games, including a 9-3 trouncing of the shorthanded Lightning. With the Panthers at home, with their depth, with how they’ve played coming out of the break, this one should not be close. I’d consider a puck-line play and the over as well.

Oilers to beat Islanders 

This is a pretty tricky game to pick. The Oilers are going to be on the second half of a road back-to-back after losing to the New Jersey Devils in overtime on New Year’s Eve. Meanwhile, the Islanders have a few more player absences to contend with due to injury and health protocols.

Most often, I’d lean towards the home team, especially when their opponent is on the second half of a back to back, but I’m not sure the Islanders have the scoring depth at the moment to keep pace with the Oilers if the game opens up. Also, with the extended break preceding the back-to-backs, I’m not as concerned about fatigue on the Oilers’ side.

This is a really tight game to call, but I lean towards the team that has the offensive weapons that Edmonton does, as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl still have the capability to take a game over.

Wild to beat Blues 

The 2022 Winter Classic promises to be a very cold, very scenic event with a lot of attention on it after not happening last season. Minnesota is known as the State of Hockey for a reason and there’s a sold-out crowd expected for the NHL’s outdoor tradition. It should bring a small sense of normalcy in a season that has been anything but normal.

When it comes to outdoor games, there’s really no favorite to lean on. The weather, the ice quality and the environment levels the playing field in such a way that it’s hard for even the best teams to look their best. The visiting team has won the Winter Classic eight of the 12 times the outdoor game was contested.

This time, however, I think the Wild are going to feel the pressure to win on their home ice. They have a few native Minnesotans on the roster and the state has been desperate for a Winter Classic since they started holding the event. I think that lends itself to creating a playoff like atmosphere.

The Blues are also short a few regulars heading into the game, so I like Minnesota’s depth here, too. Not only that, this is a huge divisional game where the Wild can leap-frog the Blues to the top of the Central Division with a regulation win. I like the Wild outside.

Maple Leafs to beat Senators 

The Battle of Ontario returns, but the game will be played in front of no fans. Provincial restrictions in Ontario will require the Maple Leafs to play games with an empty stadium. The Leafs announced that policy will likely extend for the next three weeks. It’s unfortunate, but the reality of where things currently stand with the COVID-19 situation in Canada.

Toronto should get a boost for this game as there is a chance Mitch Marner is going to play after being activated off of long-term injured reserve. Toronto is almost back to full health for the first time in a long time, which is good news for them and potentially bad news for Ottawa, which has really been hit by injuries and COVID-19 protocols in recent weeks.

This will be the first meeting between the two teams since mid-October when they split a home-and-home series. There is currently a 22-point difference between the two teams in the standings, but the Sens always play the Maple Leafs tough. The fanless games might level the playing field further, but I think Toronto’s depth is what will separate them in this game and ultimately secure them another two points.