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It’s great to be back picking games at Betway. We’ve already had some outstanding games to start the NHL season, so let’s get a look at tonight’s slate.

Canadiens to beat Sabres 

Montreal started off their season with a tough loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road Wednesday night, but the good news is they get to get right back after it on Thursday. A short trip across the border to Buffalo to take on a Sabres squad that has one of the weakest rosters in the league could be a big help.

The Sabres should be jazzed to get out there on home ice under Don Granato, who had the interim tag removed and became the Sabres full-time coach this offseason. He’ll have his team ready to play, but Montreal has too many weapons at its disposal for Buffalo to slow down.

Additionally, the Canadiens have a healthy, rejuvenated Jonathan Drouin back in their lineup after he took some time away to address his mental health last season, missing the playoffs. He returned to the Montreal lineup with a goal, giving Montreal even more scoring depth in their lineup this season.

Normally I’d lean towards the well-rested team when the other is on a back-to-back, especially when both games come on the road. Not this time, though. Montreal will bounce back, but I would anticipate a closer game which means I’m steering clear of the puck line.

Senators to beat Maple Leafs 

Ottawa had Toronto’s number a little better than most of the teams they played last season, winning four of nine meetings between the two clubs. The Sens always play the Leafs tough and Toronto is coming off of a hard-fought game against Montreal just last night.

On top of that, Toronto won’t have their resident Senators killer, Auston Matthews, who is sitting out at least the first week of the season while recovering from wrist surgery. The gifted goal-scorer has 23 goals in 24 games against Ottawa. That’s not to say Matthews is the only weapon Toronto has, because Toronto still has Mitchell Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander and a host of others that can take care of business offensively. Additionally, we should get the first look at new Maple Leafs goalie Petr Mrazek after Jack Campbell was solid in the season opener against Montreal.

Meanwhile, the Senators will be without Brady Tkachuk, who remains unsigned as a restricted free agent. Tkachuk has scored more points against Toronto than he has against any other team in the league. His loss will be significant enough.

Tim Stützle had seven points in nine games against Toronto as a rookie last season and should be looked to as an offensive leader in Year 2. The big question for Ottawa remains in net as Matt Murray is coming off of the worst season of his career, having posted an .893 save percentage.

The Senators are awfully young, but that could play to their strengths especially in the first game with fans in the building in 19 months. This is one of those games where it’s a mismatch on paper, but you take into account the context around the game and you have to expect the Sens young players to be ready to go on opening night. With the Leafs on the second half of a back-to-back, even though it’s very early in the season and fatigue should not be as big of a factor, I’m going to go with the home underdogs in Ottawa.

Islanders to beat Hurricanes 

I think the Islanders are one of the best teams in the league and have some of the best structure of any group. They sustained minimal losses from last year’s team and look poised to go on a deep run. They’ll be starting the year on a 13-game road trip as their new home UBS Arena gets the finishing touches put on it before the Isles move in. The urgency to start that long swing that will go all the way into mid-November on a high note should be noticeable Thursday night.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have a lot of new faces on the roster including both goaltenders, Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta. Carolina is still loaded up front and on the back end and should also be viewed as a legitimate contender. They’ve also been particularly good on home ice, having outscored opponents 94-56 last season in Raleigh.

Where I give the Islanders one extra edge is in net. Ilya Sorokin is likely to start for the Isles and he was sensational as a rookie, but put up slightly better individual statistics on the road. Meanwhile, Andersen is coming off of the worst season of his career and while he will have a much better defense in front of him in Carolina, my confidence in him is shaken a bit.

Expect this to be one of the most tightly-contested games on the schedule, but I like the Islanders as a road underdog in this particular matchup.

Predators to beat Kraken 

Since this is my first picks column of the new season, I had to get the NHL’s newest team into the four-fold. The Kraken battled back from a 3-0 deficit against the Vegas Golden Knights before ultimately falling, 4-3. It was a valiant effort, especially with the Kraken missing some players due to COVID-19 protocols, but it doesn’t get any easier for the expansion team as they remain on the road.

I don’t anticipate the Predators to be a particularly high-scoring team this year, but I do think they have a heck of a goalie in Juuse Saros who will get the net as Nashville’s undisputed No. 1 goalie with Pekka Rinne retiring after last season. Saros put the Preds on his back at times last season and essentially willed them into the playoffs with his spectacular goaltending. He even finished 11th in Hart Trophy voting as league MVP. This is his team now.

The Kraken also have a great goaltender in Philpp Grubauer, who was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, but the Seattle defense was a little leaky in that first game which gives me some concern, especially with Nashville being at home and having a little more control over the matchups.

I look at home ice being a deciding factor in an otherwise close matchup on paper, giving the Preds the slight edge.

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