Nashville Predators Welcome Bolts To Town


The Tampa Bay Lightning (34-16-5) come to Nashville tonight for a showdown against the Predators (35-12-6) in a game featuring the top two teams from each division. The Lightning have amassed 73 points so far this season and lead the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings by two points for the top spot in the East. The Predators currently sit at 76 points and lead the Anaheim Ducks (and the entire league) by one in the West.

Considering the competition, this is no ordinary weeknight game for the Preds. Each team is in a tight race for the top playoff spot in their respective divisions and has very little breathing room to falter to keep the top playoff seed.

In 2013 both of these teams were picking in the top four of the NHL draft, coming off of terrible seasons. Two years later they’re both at the top of their divisions and making a run at the best record in the league. Funny how things change, isn’t it?


The Lightning are coming off a 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday that really wasn’t even as close as the final score. The Lightning held a 5-1 lead up until a few ticks over five minutes remaining in the game. That loss by the Ducks kept them from jumping the Preds in the standings (thanks Tampa!).

The strength of the Lightning lies in their scoring. They score goals. A lot of them. 177 to be exact. That 3.22 goals per game ranks first in the NHL. Surprisingly enough, they don’t put the puck on net as much as you would think. They’re 19th in the league with 29.6 shots on net per game, so when they do shoot, they tend to make goaltenders feel bad about themselves.

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Their offensive production is led by a pair of  young All-Stars in Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos. Stamkos leads the way in scoring goals, with 28 on the season and both have broken the 50 point mark on the year, playing at almost a point per game clip. Nikita Kucherov also likes to light the lamp and already has 20 goals this season as well. The fact that neither of these three scoring dynamos is over the age of 25 certainly bodes well for the future of the club.

If the Lightning have a weakness, it’s in net. Ben Bishop is their starter and he has put up a pedestrian .912 save percentage this season, so it would behoove the Predators to try to make him do work tonight.  The Lightning are pretty good at keeping that from happening though, only giving up 27.4 shots per game, which is 4th in the NHL.

The Lightning also ice another young star in the making, Jonathan Drouin. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he was one of the top picks in that front loaded 2013 draft. He was picked third overall by Tampa Bay that year, one spot ahead of Seth Jones. Drouin was the third Bolt to make it to Columbus this year, competing with the other rookies in the skills competition, but not the All-Star Game itself.


The Predators come off the weekend after winning both games of a back to back in different cities to get rekindle their winning ways. Unfortunately fate is a cruel mistress and newly anointed hero Colin Wilson went down with an upper body injury against New York. He’s currently listed as day-to-day. Mattias Ekholm was also injured this weekend, against Florida after slamming into the boards. Wilson was skating this morning and skated with team this morning, so he may be back for tonight’s game (game time decision), however Ekholm will be out.

Anthony Bitetto has been recalled from the Milwaukee Admirals to replace him tonight. Bitetto has one game of NHL experience, the 5-2 loss to the Red Wings back in January. Bitetto has 2 goals and 23 assists this year in 46 games with the Admirals. Of note, Viktor Stalberg was also recalled from the Admirals, so we’ll have to see what happens with that. If Wilson can’t go tonight it will be Stalberg or Olli Jokinen inserted into the lineup.

If there was any discussion about who the front-runner for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year is, Filip Forsberg put that to rest on Sunday. After scoring late to tie it in Florida, he beat Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo to win the game in the fourth round of the shootout (again!). It was the single most nonchalant game-winning shootout goal in history. He remains the top pick for the Calder and still leads the Predators in goals with 18 and points with 48. 

Jones has a little something extra to play for tonight. Tampa Bay is one of the three teams that passed on the defenseman during the 2013 draft, a draft in which he was eyed by many as the top overall selection. He has said before that he wants to prove those teams wrong for passing on him, and tonight is a chance for him to do just that. For the record, Drouin has 2 goals and 21 assists this year as a left winger and Jones has 5 goals and 14 assists from the blue line.

Pekka Rinne will be back in net tonight after his game off. He’s going to have his work cut out for him stopping Stamkos, Kucherov, and Johnson. They’re accurate shooters and will put him to the test.

Tonight, the name of the game for the Predators will be to throw as many pucks at Bishop as possible. That’s the only minor Achilles Heel of this very good Lightning team. They’re also going to have to limit the quality scoring chances of the Lightning’s snipers up front. That may sound like common sense advice, but for this game it definitely rings true. A win tonight would  solidify Nashville’s place atop the NHL and gives them a quality win against a quality team.

The game can be seen at Bridgestone Arena tonight. The game will not be shown on local TV, so get down to Broadway. Puck drops at 7 p.m. CST.