After a nearly three-week hiatus, the Nashville Predators begin a five-game home stand with two games this week.
Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning marks the 60th game of the season for Nashville, with a final 22-game stretch coming afterward.
Four points back of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, the Predators play over the next few games will not only affect their chance at the playoffs but what kind of moves they make at the March 5th trade deadline.
Three questions facing the Predators this week:
- Buyers or sellers in a week? Predators general manager David Poile has said his team’s play over the next three games before the trade deadline may impact what kind of moves are made next Tuesday. If Nashville closes the gap even more on the final playoff position, it’s possible that impending unrestricted free agent forward David Legwand (for example) might stick around for the stretch run.
- Pekka Rinne making a start? For the first time in months, this is a very real possibility. The goaltender has received affirmation from his doctors all while ramping up his activities in Nashville’s practices recently. Rinne very well could be making a start in net as soon as this week, the next question is what team he’s making it for. Head coach Barry Trotz has already proclaimed netminder Carter Hutton the starter against the Lightning, but it’s possible Rinne could go on a conditioning assignment to the Predators AHL affiliate, the Miwaulkee Admirals. Nashville’s top farm team plays at home on Wednesday and Friday night.
- Rest an ally or enemy? Unlike in years past and some of the league’s top teams this season, the Predators did not have a large number of players participate in the Winter Olympics. Nashville had three participants in Sochi for this year’s Olympiad and defenseman Roman Josi and forward Simon Moser did not play a lot after they didn’t reach the quarterfinals. With nearly the whole club receiving rest time over the past three weeks, the Predators are likely as healed and refreshed as they have been since the season’s start. Trotz usually argues a lot of practice time helps his club (which they’ve had this past week and a half) but history has also shown Nashville can come out sluggish after a few days off between games in seasons past.
After the Lightning on Thursday (7 p.m. CST), Nashville plays a rare afternoon home game against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday (2 p.m. CST).