The Nashville Predators make their first trip north of the border with back-to-back games. Tonight, they look to steal a road win in Calgary.
After several days off, the Nashville Predators return to the ice tonight. In what is one of the best starts in team history, the defending Presidents’ Trophy winner sits in first place in the Central Division. The only blemish on the Predators’ early-season resume is a shutout loss to the Calgary Flames. A loss that came during the home opener after the team raised banners from last season’s success.
The Predators were impressive defending home ice after their loss to the Flames. They grounded the Winnipeg Jets, turned the Isles away, and calmed the Wild. Now, they take their game on the road for back-to-back games in Canada. Up first: Calgary.
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Still early in the season, the Calgary Flames are exceeding expectations. While some picked the team to be third in the Pacific Division, Calgary currently sits in second with a 4-2-0 record. As a team, they are eighth in the NHL in goals scored, and eleventh in goals allowed. However, don’t read too much into this yet. Outside of their victory over Nashville, the Flames have played Vancouver twice, then struggling teams in St. Louis and Boston. They did take an overtime win in Colorado.
The Flames are led by Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, both earning 9 points on the season. They can score a goal on their own, but finding teammates is their strong suit. Just ask the Predators. In the game at Bridgestone, Gaudreau made a perfect pass to find Elias Lindholm for a power play goal. Gaudreau was credited with an assist on all three goals that night.
What is interesting about the Flames is their success given their starting goalie. Of the 20 goalies with 200 minutes or more on the ice, Mike Smith ranks 16th in save percentage (.903) during 5v5, is 18th in GSAA (-1.73), and is last in medium-danger save percentage. He is not setting the world ablaze with his play, yet is 3-2-0 on the season. And he shut out the Predators.
Nashville didn’t play poorly on offense against the Flames. They finished the game with a better Fenwick rating (60%), double the scoring chances, and had 14 more shots during 5v5. Two power-play goals and some shotty defense allowed Calgary to escape with a win. Mike Smith just played well.
Now, however, the Nashville Predators are playing as a complete team. Each line is contributing to the action. Twelve players have at least one goal, and 16 have points. Defensively, the team is attacking the puck and making it difficult for quality shots to be taken. The Predators will need that tonight.
The Flames have finished with better Fenwick ratings in each game except against Nashville and Boston. It is part of the reason why they are fourth in the NHL in expects goals for per 60 minutes.
No matter what, it will be a tough battle. And, after this, the Nashville Predators face Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow. Here is hoping for four more points.