The Nashville Predators wrap up a five-game homestand as the Buffalo Sabres come to town. Who knows which players will suit up.
Four games into a five-game homes stand and the results are mixed. The Nashville Predators started of with a 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, but lost two consecutive games. Honestly, they were not even really that close in either, or so it felt. Then, Nashville put up three goals in the first five minutes against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a beautiful onslaught. They would end up winning 5-2.
The true story of the homestand is not the record or who they have faced. It is who has played for the Predators. The team was already missing P.K. Subban and Viktor Arvidsson. Kyle Turris was placed on injured reserve on November 11 due to an upper-body injury. The Predators then announced Filip Forsberg would miss four-to-six weeks due to a hand injury. And, Nick Bonino missed the last game due to an illness.
That is four key players missing significant time and another who is day-to-day. The Predators’ two top goal-scorers are out. Their best power play scorer is out. An elite defender is missing. Still, the Predators are at the top of the Central Division and Western Conference.
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With the injuries, the Predators practice of musical lines continues. Kevin Fiala and Ryan Hartman flanked Ryan Johansen against Chicago. Eeli Tolvanen made his season debut playing on the second line, ans scored his first NHL goal. Austin Richard, who was the top scoring forward with the Milwaukee Admirals, made his NHL debut on the fourth line.
Luckily, the first game these young players were asked to perform was against the Blackhawks.
Now, the Buffalo Sabres come to town. Before the season, not much was expected from the Sabres. Most experts expected the Sabres to improve from their league-worst performance last season; however, few picked Buffalo to make the playoffs. With 37 points so far this season, the Sabres are third in the Atlantic Division, just two points behind the leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Predators also have 37 points on the season.
Driving the engine for the Sabres is Jack Eichel. With 32 points on the season, Eichel is finding players around him early and often, averaging 2.02 primary points per 60 at 5v5. Jeff Skinner leads the team with 20 goals, 15 of which have come at even-strength.
But, looking through the stats on Corsica Hockey, many of the Sabres are underachieving offensively. Four players have a positive expected-goals differential. The team ranks 22nd in CorsiFor (48.02%) during 5v5, but are 10th in goals scored. Their power play gains possession and shots better than most of the league, generating 17 goals. Still, they only convert on 19.5% of power-play opportunities.
Carter Hutton has played well in net for the Sabres. He ranks 16th in save percentage and in sixth in high-danger save percentage. However, Hutton is 0-2-1 in five games against the Nashville Predators.
Can the Predators produce enough offensive opportunities to score? With a patchwork lineup, players like Ryan Ellis and Calle Jarnkrok will need to step up their production. Limiting penalties, as always, will be key, but the Predators need to find ways to gain shots from the slot and in front of the net, not just the point.
It will be a difficult game, but the result will say much about this Predators’ team. Who would have thought a win over Buffalo at home could mean so much?