I couldn’t help myself with that outdated DJ Khaled reference, but there is truth in that phrase. There is a major key for the Nashville Predators tonight.
Although it’s not confirmed as I write this, it seems like Cody McLeod will play tonight. He’ll most likely slot in alongside Colton Sissons and Austin Watson on the fourth line. McLeod will have one job tonight, to “neutralize” Ryan Reaves. Reaves is coming off of yet another game where he really didn’t make an impact on the ice beside a fight with Liam O’Brien. Reaves has three points in 18 games, but to his credit, he does have 49 hits in that time. He was a force against the Nashville Predators in their last meeting, as he beat up McLeod and Watson, and then added insult to injury by scoring a goal.
What I take away from all this is that Reaves hasn’t scored a goal since. Reaves is like a cross between McLeod and Watson. A better fighter than Watson but a worse hockey player. In my opinion, Reaves represents how the Penguins got under the skin of the Predators and gives me an idea of how to overcome it.
Play your game
I feel like a walking cliche when I say this, but there’s truth to it. The Nashville Predators have a tendency to give up when they think a game is over. I saw it in Pittsburgh and in San Jose, the team becomes more interested in hitting and hurting the opposition than scoring goals. Many people said that the first game against Pittsburgh was a statement that they wouldn’t be pushed around, but all I saw was the scoreboard. Statement games are comeback victories, dominant possession games, or even just holding on to a close lead. Not a convincing lose where the team throws a lot of hits.
The Nashville Predators need their bottom six to play their game. The Penguins dominated the last two years because they had Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel on three different lines. Well now the Predators own a deeper offense. Let Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons beat Greg McKegg and Riley Sheahan and the rest of the depth. Let Watson and Sissons metaphorically beat up on the fourth line, while the top six tries to neutralize Crosby and Malkin.
Don’t pick fights
As I’m sure we’re all aware, the Nashville Predators take too many penalties as is. They lead the NHL with 245 penalty minutes in 15 games, according to ESPN.com. That’s 16.33 PIM per game. The third most penalty minutes per game is the Penguins though, who average 12.89 PIM per game. A big key to tonight will be keeping Crosby off the power play. But the bigger key is don’t go chasing trouble. Don’t pick a fight with Reaves, don’t let a hit (a simple part of hockey) throw you off your game.
If Ryan Johansen starts to care more about hits and fighting, then he deserves to be sat for the last 10 minutes of the game. The Nashville Predators will never beat anyone with their physicality, but they will beat everyone with their speed. Play to your strengths and don’t get caught picking fights, because at that point the game is over.
McLeod in the line-up is a mistake
I’ll catch flak for this because of the video I put in earlier where Reaves creams O’Brien. But watch how it starts, Reaves makes a hard, but clean hit and O’Brien tries to atone. There’s nothing wrong with being hit as it’s part of hockey. Don’t put McLeod in the line-up just to try to fight Reaves after he makes a hit. It’s not going to stop Reaves, as that’s a major part of his game. Instead, play to Reaves weaknesses, make him actually play hockey. Exploit his slowness in the defensive zone and turn it into goals. You know who’s pretty quick? The recently sent down Frederick Gaudreau…
Putting McLeod in the line-up to play seven minutes, be a negative possession player, and get his butt kicked once again by Reaves isn’t a good idea. It’s not like Reaves would take McLeod’s absence as permission to run Subban and Josi from behind. Plus, Austin Watson can fight if the need arises. Although that didn’t exactly go well either.
Don’t play into Pittsburgh’s hands
The Penguins are a terrible team on back to back nights, but that had a lot to do with Antti Niemi in net. It looks like Tristan Jarry will get the start, and although he’s unproven, he put up great numbers in the AHL last year. Jarry, just like the rest of the Penguins are not to be taken lightly. Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored a goal in over a week, but he’s good for a few on any given night, and he’ll make it look easy.
The trick for the Nashville Predators will be to play to their strengths and make Pittsburgh change their game. Use your speed, exploit their third and fourth lines, and most importantly, don’t let a few hits make you see red. Hopefully, tonight ends up being a statement game for the Nashville Predators.