Winter Classic 2020: Dallas Stars v Nashville Predators

The eyes of the ice hockey world will be on Texas on New Years’ Day as the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators go head-to-head in the 2020 Winter Classic.

The event marks the first regular season outdoor game for both teams and will be the perfect way to kick-off the year.

The iconic Cotton Bowl Stadium has been chosen to host a game that has become an integral part of the National Hockey League (NHL) schedule.

The Stars have had a positive season in the Central Division thus far and are firmly in the running to secure a spot in the play-offs.

They will have a new face behind the bench for the Classic after the shock dismissal of head coach Jim Montgomery during December.

Stars’ officials confirmed that he was fired for acting inconsistently with the “core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League”.

Rick Bowness has been named as interim coach for the rest of the season and he will be eager to prove he should get the job on a permanent basis.

While the Stars look a good bet to qualify for the post-season, the Predators have an almighty battle on their hands to join them.

The Predators failed to cash in on a schedule that gave them 18 of their first 30 matches on home ice and they have given themselves a difficult task for the rest of the campaign.

Dallas have historically had the edge over Nashville during regular season matches, picking up 96 points from their previous 84 meetings.

By contrast, the Predators collected have collected 82 points and were beaten by the Stars in their play-off series last season.

The two teams will get the opportunity to test each other out ahead of the Classic when they meet in Nashville on December 14.

However, that game is unlikely to have any bearing on the outcome of the Classic which is very much a unique occasion.

The Winter Classic is the climax of a packed schedule over the festive period that will have tested the fitness of players across the league.

Both the Stars and Predators face some difficult looking matches in the run-up to the game and will be keen to be in good form when it comes around.

With ‘home’ advantage the Stars are fancied to come out on top, but the Predators are unlikely to go down without a big fight.


Vancouver aiming to cash in on home ice at Christmas

The Vancouver Canucks have a golden opportunity to boost their play-off hopes as they embark on a five-game homestand over Christmas.

The Canucks are involved in a tight battle in the Pacific Division, but the favourable fixture list gives them the opportunity to put some pressure on the teams around them.

Vancouver will start their festive matches with a tough looking test against Montreal Canadiens on December 17.

The Canadiens are one of a host of teams struggling to keep pace with the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division, although they are firmly in the running to secure a play-off spot.

The Canucks will head into the game trying to snap a seven-game losing streak against the Canadiens that dates back to 2015.

Vegas Golden Knights are the next visitors to the Rogers Arena two days later for another game that pitches the Canucks against a play-off hopeful.

The Golden Knights are firmly in the mix in the Pacific Division and will be eager to take something from their visit to Vancouver.

Vancouver have struggled against the Golden Knights over the past couple of years, winning just one of their previous eight meetings in the NHL.

Things don’t get any easier the following Saturday as the Canucks take on Pittsburgh Penguins for the second time this season.

The Canucks blew a two-goal advantage in their last meeting during November to lose 8-6 and they will be eager for revenge this time around.

Pittsburgh have been struggling for consistency in the Metropolitan Division and are likely to be without forward Sidney Crosby for the trip to Canada.

Edmonton Oilers are next on the agenda for the Canucks on December 23 in what will be the fourth meeting between these two sides this term.

The Oilers triumphed 3-2 on home ice back in October, before the Canucks gained their revenge with a stylish 5-2 road win at the start of December.

However, Edmonton bounced back to take the third game by a 3-2 scoreline to keep themselves to the fore in the Pacific Division.

The Canucks end their homestand against the Los Angeles Kings on December 28. The Kings have been struggling for form this season and were beaten twice by Vancouver during October.

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In addition to Vancouver’s packed home schedule there are plenty of other interesting match-ups taking in place in Canada during the festive period.

These include Calgary Flames versus Montreal on December 19 and Edmonton versus Pittsburgh the following day.


McDavid aiming shine as Oilers face the Penguins

Edmonton Oilers host Pittsburgh Penguins on December 20 in a match-up that will feature one of the National Hockey League’s biggest stars.

Connor McDavid will lead the Oilers’ scoring threat against a Penguins team who are likely to be without star forward Sidney Crosby.

The Oilers had looked on course for a comfortable ride in the Pacific Division this term, but a significant dip in form sent their long-suffering fans into meltdown.

With just one appearance in the play-offs in the last 13 years, it is fair to say that the Oilers’ faithful have suffered more than their fair share of heartbreak.

However, with McDavid well on course for another 100-plus point campaign, hopes are high in Edmonton that the team can qualify for the post-season this time around.

With Leon Draisaitl also lighting the lamp on a frequent basis, the Oilers have plenty of firepower at their disposal.

Their defence has been praised in certain quarters, although the Oilers’ goals against tally could do with some improvement.

This will be an area Pittsburgh will undoubtedly be looking to exploit when they visit Edmonton, although it is expected they will have to do it without Crosby’s help.

The 32-year-old underwent core muscle surgery to repair a sports hernia during November and could be out for the rest of the year.

The Penguins had won six in a row against the Oilers prior to a 2-1 home defeat earlier this season and they will be out for revenge in their latest meeting.

They have managed to stay in the play-off mix despite Crosby’s absence and can be expected to improve their form when he eventually returns to the ice.

With Crosby missing this is definitely a tough assignment for Pittsburgh and the Oilers are strongly fancied to record an important victory.

The Oilers versus Penguins game is one of seven NHL fixtures scheduled that evening, with the clash between New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs the other standout fixture.

Minnesota Wild versus Winnipeg Jets should also be extremely entertaining, while Washington Capitals will fancy their chances of racking up a big score at struggling New Jersey Devils.


Rangers and Maple Leafs set for stellar festive battle

New York is set for its latest battle of the Original Six over the festive period as the Rangers host the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 28.

Both teams face an almighty scrap to force their way into the play-off picture this season and will be eager to pick-up a valuable two points in this one.

It has been a frustrating campaign for the Rangers who are bidding to end their two-year absence from the post-season line-up.

The team remains very much a work in progress, but they have shown that they can beat the best the NHL has to offer. Unfortunately, they are also capable of throwing in a stinker against lower-ranked teams.

The high-profile addition of Artemi Panarin last summer was seen in some quarters as a risky move, but it is one that is already reaping dividends.

The 28-year-old is on track for yet another prolific season points-wise, but it is his impact on other members of the roster that is perhaps most noteworthy.

His leadership and team-first ethic are helping some of the Rangers’ young prospects shine and that can only be beneficial further down the line.

Whether that will be enough to drive the Rangers into play-off contention is open for debate, but it certainly won’t be for the want of trying.

While the Rangers are going through a transitional phase, the same could also be said about the Maple Leafs.

Firing coach Mike Babcock as head coach was a risky move, but Sheldon Keefe managed to get a positive response from the players.

Star forward Auston Matthews hasn’t played to his full potential for much of the season, yet he has still managed to average around a point-per-game.

With the prospect of him stepping up the pace, the Maple Leafs could easily go on a run that takes them all the way to the play-offs.

They have lost the last two meetings with the Rangers, but won four successive matches prior to that.

Home ice advantage could just about tip the scales in the favour of the Rangers once again, although they may need overtime to get the job done.

The Rangers versus Maple Leafs game takes place on what promises to be an action-packed night in the NHL.

There are 12 other fixtures scheduled, with Carolina Hurricanes versus Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins versus Nashville Predators two of the other standout games.


Match of the Week: St Louis Blues vs Edmonton Oilers

St Louis Blues host Edmonton Oilers on December 18 in a game that is the undoubted highlight of the upcoming National Hockey League (NHL) schedule.

The Blues are firmly in the mix towards the top of the Central Division, while the Oilers are embroiled in a close battle to secure first place in the Pacific Division.

After a good run of form the Blues went off the boil a little and they will be eager to bounce back heading into the festive season.

Troy Brouwer’s recent addition to the roster appears to have had a detrimental affect on the team and it will be interesting to see if he is still in the line-up against the Oilers.

The 34-year-old had looked a fading force with the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers over the past few seasons, making his return to St Louis all-the-more surprising.

However, netminder Jake Allen has been a big positive for the Blues, rediscovering his best form to become a viable alternative to Jordan Binnington.

The Blues’ functional style under head coach, Craig Berube, doesn’t win them many plaudits outside of St Louis, but they will fancy their chances of picking up two points against the Oilers.

They have won their last three meetings with Edmonton, racking up a 16-5 aggregate scoreline during that run.

The Oilers also suffered a dip during December, sparking fears amongst their fans that they might miss out on the play-offs.

Slumps in previous years have seen the Oilers miss out on the post-season in 12 of the last 13 years, although the current team certainly has the ability to rediscover its best form.

Conor McDavid’s embarrassing penalty shot miss in a recent game against the Carolina Hurricanes perfectly highlighted their troubles, but the forward can be expected to bounce back sooner rather than later.

With both teams needing a positive result this game could be a cagey affair and home ice advantage for the Blues could ultimately be the deciding factor.

While the St Louis versus Edmonton game is well worth watching, there are plenty of other interesting match-ups around the NHL this week.

These include Montreal Canadiens meeting the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, while Colorado Avalanche face Chicago Blackhawks the following day.

The Blackhawks are also in action a day later as they host Winnipeg Jets, while Toronto Maple Leafs versus New York Rangers is the highlight of Friday’s schedule.