Nashville Predators: Predators vs Avalanche May Have Playoff Implications

(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Nashville Predators take a seven-game winning streak into Denver to face an Avalanche team right in the middle of playoff contention.

It’s been a successful road trip for the Nashville Predators. Wins in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver have extended their current winning streak to seven and their point lead in the Central Division to six. They also lead the Western Conference by four points over Vegas. Before returning to Bridgestone Arena, they have one more obstacle to overcome.

The Colorado Avalanche had arguably the worst season in NHL history in 2016-17. After sixty-four games they sit twenty-seven points ahead of their total from last season. They also sit one point behind the Anaheim Ducks for the last wild card slot. A win over the defending Western Conference Champions – and the current first place team in the conference – would send a message.

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MacKinnon Leads Avalanche Surge

Nathan MacKinnon was the first selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. When you’re eighteen years old and sent straight to the NHL, growing pains are expected. MacKinnon had a rookie season good enough to win the Calder Memorial Trophy. The next couple seasons were a bit of a struggle. Even though he led the team in points last season, that was more a sign of how bad the team was than of positive development on his part.

This has been MacKinnon’s breakout season, and the Avalanche have followed his lead. MacKinnon’s seventy-six points are good for sixth in the NHL. His thirty-one goals put him at eighth in the league. He’s been on fire lately with a four-game scoring streak, including five points on Friday night against Minnesota.

MacKinnon’s line-mates have benefitted from his presence. Twenty-one year old Mikko Rantanen was Colorado’s first-round pick in 2015, and he’s looking well worth the selection with twenty-one goals & forty-two assists. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is on pace to have his best season since 2013-14, having recorded twenty-one goals and twenty-six assists. He’s the old man of the group at twenty-five, by the way. The Avalanche have the third-youngest team in the NHL.

People That Aren’t MacKinnon

We’ll see a couple of familiar faces today. Colin Wilson has been a regular on Colorado’s second line lately and is looking to improve on his six goals, ten assists for the season. Samuel Girard has gone well past the nine-game limit & established himself in Colorado’s defense unit. Altitude’s Lauren Gardner is a familiar face as well, but we likely won’t see her on Fox Sports Tennessee.

Jonathan Bernier practiced in full on Saturday and should be ready to return from injury today. His 2.82 GAA, .914 SV% and two shutouts put him on par level. He isn’t a superstar, but he won’t kill his team either.

One thing to watch from the Avalanche is their penalty killing unit. They’ve had to kill the sixth-most power plays in the NHL, and they have the fourth-best PK%. The Predators’ fourth-best PP% in the league should give them quite the test. It’ll be interesting to watch.

Predators Players Will Go Through Maintenance

Friday night’s lineup showed a shift in philosophy from Nashville Predators Coach Peter Laviolette. The absence of Roman Josi, Craig Smith, Scott Hartnell & Yannick Weber, four players typically seen in the Predators lineup, took fans by surprise.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, however. The Predators are fully healthy at the moment and adding new pieces all the time. Mike Fisher scored a goal in his return to the lineup on Friday night. Ryan Hartman recently came over in a trade from Chicago. Eeli Tolvanen will be arriving in Nashville when his KHL season comes to an end.

The Nashville Predators have a surplus of productive players right now. That can happen when you’re really good and in position for a playoff berth. This isn’t like other seasons when the Predators are in the middle of the pack scratching their way up and hoping to qualify for the playoffs. Laviolette can rotate these players as he sees fit, giving guys days off so they can stay fresh for the games that really matter.

I would definitely expect to see “surprising” maintenance periods from back to backs. However, at the time of publishing this post, the Nashville Predators has not released projected lineups.

What to Expect

The Nashville Predators are heading into a tough environment. The Avalanche have won thirteen of their last fourteen home games, including a 7-1 decimation of the Minnesota Wild Friday night. They actually have more wins in the Pepsi Center (23) than the Predators have at Bridgestone Arena (22) this season. They’re looking forward to this game & will surely present their best effort.

The Predators have proven to be a strong road team. Their current road trip has bumped them up to second in road wins in the NHL. They’ve come back from two-goal deficits in each game on this trip, so if I was a Colorado fan I’d be a bit worried if the Avalanche got out to a 2-0 lead. Also of note: The Predators have an eight-game winning streak against the Avalanche, going back to the 2015-16 season.

Both teams have been able to put big numbers on the board lately so I’m expecting a high-scoring, back and forth type of game. Much like the Predators needed to limit Connor McDavid‘s production on Thursday night, they’ll need to put a lid on Nathan MacKinnon. If Nashville can do that, they stand a good chance of surviving a tough environment. If MacKinnon goes off, it could be a long flight back to Nashville.

Next: Nick Bonino Quietly Finding His Role

Follow the Game

Fox Sports Tennessee’s game coverage will begin with Predators LIVE! Pregame at 2:30 PM ET/1:30 PM CT. The puck will drop just after thirty minutes later. You can listen to the dulcet tones of Pete Weber on 102.5 The Game.