The Nashville Predators complete a four-game road trip in Columbus tonight. A victory would mark this series on the road as a season milestone.
Still reeling from a dreary performance in San Jose, the Nashville Predators rolled into Anaheim last week looking to rebound quickly. And rebound they certainly did, as they picked up four points in two nights, including a rare overtime victory in Los Angeles. In doing so, the Predators are close to realizing the full potential of this difficult road trip.
Six points in four games is always a good thing. When it’s done away from home? It has the chance to breathe new life into a previously lukewarm season.
Of course, in order to get the remaining two points, the Predators will have to beat Columbus tonight. The 9-5-1 Blue Jackets have been impressive so far this season. Currently, they sit third overall in the Eastern Conference and second in the Metropolitan Division. Most impressively, they’ve beaten the white-hot Tampa Bay Lightning twice this year.
Newly-acquired Artemi Panarin has recorded 12 points (2G, 10A) in 15 games. Former Predator Seth Jones also has 12 points (3G, 9A), and is remaining a keystone of the team with almost 24 minutes of ice time per game. Sergei Bobrovsky is up to his usual standards, rocking a very solid 0.920 save percentage from 12 appearances.
Luckily for the Nashville Predators, the Blue Jackets played tonight in New York City, falling to the Rangers after allowing four goals in the third period. This is good for a couple of reasons: first, the Jackets will be tired after a tough loss and late flight back home. Secondly, backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo will almost certainly be between the pipes. His save percentage of 0.887 in three appearances looks a lot friendlier than that of Bobrovsky.
The Nashville Predators have been picking up steam lately, especially on the road. That said, there are several individuals who have yet to break out as expected. Kevin Fiala has collected six assists in fourteen games, but has yet to find the net himself. Ryan Johansen is below his usual 60 point-pace, having recorded just seven points so far.
Defensively, the team has struggled to lock down high-danger areas. Pekka Rinne has been standing on his head, but the team is still allowing a worrying 2.92 goals per game on average. The problem is easy to identify. Opposing forwards are easily gaining entry below the faceoff circle, creating chaos in front of net. The Predators currently sit 24th in the league for high-danger chances allowed. Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets are in the top ten in terms of creating those chances this season.
In order for the Predators to win tonight, they will need to get down and dirty. The low slot is often an extremely physical area of the ice. Defensemen and forwards alike will need to dig deep and force the Blue Jackets to stay out near the perimeter of the zone.
Keys to the game
Shut down Artemi Panarin. He once haunted the Predators as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, but now he’s the magic in this Blue Jackets’ offense. In 11 of his past 15 games, Panarin has generated at least three high-danger scoring chances. Statistically, that should result in 0.75 goals per game from those chances alone. The Russian winger is on pace for 64 points (11G, 53A) this season, and will be a threat any time he is on the ice.
Arvidsson needs to come out swinging. In spite of the line blender being on full speed, he has managed an average of 3 high-danger chances generated per game. Additionally, he’s on pace for 41 points (29G, 12A) this season. Even so, he’s been quiet by his own standards lately. In a game that will require high-energy and relentless effort, look for Arvidsson to thrive.
The roster remains the same as last game.
It looks like Rinne will get the start after a few dats of rest. Unfortunately Kyle Turris will not join the team until their game on Saturday.
Follow the game
The puck drops in Columbus tonight at 6:00 p.m. CT. You can watch live on Fox Sports Tennessee with pregame coverage beginning at 5:30. As always, you can listen to Pete Weber and Hal Gill on 102.5 the Game, with pregame starting at 5:00.