A new chapter will be written in the growing rivalry between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins invade Bridgestone Arena for the only time of the regular season. Not long ago we were unsure about this Predators team, now they’re blazing through their schedule with three-straight wins. On top of that, they’ve got points in eight of their last 11 games.
Of course, there’s no room to ever let up in the Western Conference. With Pittsburgh making their fist visit to Nashville since they hoisted the Stanley Cup, I’m expecting a locked-in performance. It will be fun to see Kyle Turris make his Predators debut in front of the home crowd. He was acquired in a blockbuster deal from Ottawa earlier in the week.
Sizing up the Penguins
The Penguins are playing average hockey by their standards. They’re 9-7-2 and have had some lopsided losses. Their slow start still has them tied for first place atop the Metropolitan division. They’re the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs and are capable of flipping that switch back on at any moment.
An important note about this matchup is Pittsburgh will be coming off a back-to-back as they clashed with Washington. Judging by the outcome of that rivalry game, the Predators may be catching the Penguins at an opportune time. The Penguins are actually 0-3 on the second night of a back to back, and have given up over 20 goals over those three games. Granted, they started Antti Niemi, but Tristan Jarry isn’t exactly proven.
The usual suspects will keep the Predators’ hands full with. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel lead the charge, that is a potent scoring attack. The crowd will obviously be going crazy, but I’m not sure how much energy they can sustain if Pittsburgh goes up early by a couple of goals.
Where the Predators sit
It’s a perfect time to exorcise the demons that the Penguins gave the Predators. To be quite frank, the Predators are trending up and the Penguins are just kind of sleepwalking through a rough start to the schedule.
The Predators will have Pekka Rinne this time around, instead of Juuse Saros. The moment seemed too big for Saros in the second game of the season as he surrendered two goals in the first 11 minutes of the game, including one just 66 seconds in. That set the tone, and a great team like Pittsburgh seized control. The Predators are getting three days of rest since their last game, and will be poised to put together a much better performance. Rinne reflects on the matchup, per Joe Rexrode of the Tennessean:
"You always want to challenge yourself against them and try to measure yourself. But it’s not a repeat of the Stanley Cup Final. They have a different team, we have a different team.”"
Overall, we have to be happy with where the Predators are sitting. They’ve survived a challenging stretch in their schedule and sit right in the thick of things in a crowded Western Conference race. The balanced scoring and the success on special teams are two areas to be thrilled about.
Keys to the game
No bad penalties: They have to show more discipline and stay out of the penalty box. This game can turn sideways real quick if the Predators keep taking bad penalties. Some are necessary, but it’s concerning that they’re leading the league in penalty minutes average, and it’s not even close. I know players say all games count the same, but this one will have extra incentive to play smart.
Build early chemistry: How quickly the Predators can adjust to the addition of Turris will be interesting. You have to allow time for teams to build trust and adapt with a new player on the roster, especially of the magnitude of Turris. An early goal contribution from Turris’ line will settle everyone down. This group psychologically needs to see Pittsburgh behind on the scoreboard.
Pekka needs to stay hot: It’s tough that everything always seems to be on Rinne’s shoulders, but that’s the price of being an elite goaltender. He will be tested early and often. Pittsburgh will force plenty of highlight reel saves from Rinne. How many of those types of saves he makes is a major factor. Rinne’s start this season, now at age 35, is simply remarkable:
Predators game roster
Rinne most likely will get the nod.
Follow the game
Catch the action at 7:00 p.m. CT on Fox Sports Tennessee and the radio broadcast on 102.5 The Game.