Are you still with me? Have you lost your faith in me yet? Well, hopefully if you're still reading this, that means you haven't given up on me, and I thank you for continuing to put your faith in me, and allowing me to tell you how to spend your money.
Usually, I would post a link to how I did last week, but last Wednesday was such a train wreck that I didn't even bother announcing it to the world. It was a week of upsets, and one sure-fire lock that I had on the board was refunded due to Alex Ovechkin entering COVID protocol.
Let's just keep the past in the past, and look forward to tonight.
Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert, in fact, I'm the exact opposite. These are just my personal takes and my personal bets going into tonight's contests. Odds mentioned in this article are subject to change prior to puck drop.
Game 1: Nashville Predators @ Dallas Stars
First up on the slate, we have a Western Conference clash between two division rivals, the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars. The Predators have enjoyed the fruits of success through the first half of the season, currently sitting in second place in the Central Division with 60 points, just behind the Colorado Avalanche.
Nashville has been a huge surprise so far this year. Many (myself included) did not expect the Predators to be where they are at this point and time, but they've proven us wrong. Led by their captain, Roman Josi -- who is having himself a Norris year with 44 points on 31 assists and 13 goals through 44 games played -- Nashville is the second best team in the West as far as the standings go, in a year where they were labeled a "rebuilding team" going into the season.
Perhaps the main reason for the Predators success through their first 46 games of the year has been their reliance on starting goaltender, Juuse Saros. Saros has been solid in net for the Preds in his league leading 38 starts. In the first half of the 2021-22 season, the 26-year old Finnish goalie posted a record of 24-11, a save percentage of .927, and a goals against average of 2.35.
Not the greatest numbers in the NHL, but considering that he has faced a league high 1,210 shots? And his team is still sitting where they are? Yeah, I'd say he's been pretty great. Fatigue will be a huge X factor for the Predators and Saros as they head down the stretch toward the playoffs. If Saros starts regressing, things could get ugly quickly in Nashville.
Nashville is also home to one of the top pending unrestricted free-agents in 2022, Filip Forsberg. Forsberg is having a career year just in time for a pretty pay day unless he and the Predators can strike a deal before the season ends. Forsberg is tied for eighth in the league in goals with 25, along with recording 14 assists, giving him a grand total of 38 points through 33 games played.
The Dallas Stars sit four points out of a playoff spot in the West, giving you plenty of reason to not count them out just yet. Joe Pavelski was Dallas' lone All-Star representing his team last weekend in Las Vegas, but that doesn't mean the Stars don't have their fair share of guys who can make a difference for their team at any given time.
Stars' center, Roope Hintz, is a budding young star who has already topped his career-high goals scored with 20, and is on pace to shatter his career-high in assists and points, making this a career year for the 25-year old Finn.
Left winger, Jason Robertson, is another young player on this Stars' roster who is on pace to post a career year. Couple that with defensemen Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg, and you have a recipe for a team who could very easily make the playoffs this year as long as they keep their foot on the gas pedal through the second half.
With all that being said, these are two very even teams. Both teams could be labeled as "overachievers" here in 2021-22, and both teams are going to need to continue to play at full throttle -- with a little bit of luck thrown in -- in order to have sustained success continuing into the second half of the season.
Joe Pavelski O 0.5 points
Game 2: New York Islanders @ Vancouver Canucks
The exact opposite of the Nashville Predators this year, the New York Islanders are a team that were expected to be Stanley Cup contenders this season. Those expectations have been all but crushed in the first half of the season. I can't say definitively why the Islanders are struggling so mightily this year, but I'll try to take a crack at it. Was it their COVID issues that buried them in the standings early? Is it long-term injuries to so many of their key players that were crucial in carrying the Islanders to back-to-back Stanley Cup semi-finals? It's really hard to say.
I know what you'll say, "the Islanders have only played 39 games this year," which is true. The Islanders 39 games played are the fewest in the league, however, on the flip side of that argument, the team with the second-fewest games played are the Minnesota Wild with 42, and they're in a playoff spot with 59 points, versus the Islanders who are in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division with 38 points. That's only three more games played for Minnesota, with a 21 point gap.
There hasn't been much for Islanders fans to cheer for this year, but we can point out a few bright spots. For starters, Ilya Sorokin. We all know that Semyon Varlamov has been the star goaltender for the Islanders since 2019, but there was never any doubt that one day the torch would be passed to Sorokin. With Varlamov being a shell of his former self this season, the title of Islanders starting goaltender has officially been handed off.
Sorokin has been sensational since he joined the KHL as a 17-year old back in 2012. The Islanders selected him 78th overall in the 2014 NHL draft, and since then, fans on Long Island have foamed at the mouth to get Sorokin on the big league roster. All their waiting has been worth it, as Sorokin has been as good as advertised.
Sorokin is tied for 10th in the league with a goals against average of 2.31, is 7th in the league in save percentage with .924, and tied for second in the league in shutouts with four. Sorokin is one of the top goaltenders in the league this year, and shows no signs of slowing down. He'll be among the upper echelon of NHL goalies for a long time to come.
The Islanders also feature one of the NHL's top penalty kill units. New York is ranked ninth in the league, killing off 82.8% of their penalties.
The Vancouver Canucks are much like the New York Islanders in terms of their offseason narrative. Much like the Islanders, the Canucks were looked at as a team that was supposed to come into the 2021-22 season and compete. They haven't done that up until just recently.
Things were very bad in Vancouver for a while. Fans were throwing jerseys on the ice, making signs criticizing the team's owner and general manager, and especially calling for ex-head coach, Travis Green, to lose his job.
Vancouver saw that a change in leadership was needed for the struggling team. The Canucks relieved Travis Green and assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner of their duties back in December, and moved to new head coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Scott Walker.
Vancouver immediately flourished under Boudreau, who went on a seven game winning streak after being hired by the Canucks, and most importantly of all, has managed to get the team to post a winning record since his arrival.
But honestly, it shouldn't have taken a new head coach in order for Vancouver to reach their potential. This is a team loaded with talent from top to bottom. Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko are all household names for hockey fans.
Right now, at this point and time, the Vancouver Canucks are just a better team than the New York Islanders. While I am looking for the Islanders to bounce back in the second half of the season, (and you should too because they're a good team when they're put together) I can't put my money on them just yet.