The toughest game of the season for the Nashville Predators may well be tonight as they face Toronto. They could make a very strong statement.
Believe it or not, things are not as bad as many Nashville Predators fan would let you think. Looking through Twitter you see posts about how frustrating the team can be. The lapses in defense. Turnovers in their own zone. Taking too many shots from the point with no traffic around the net. Though it feels like the Predators are hanging onto a door in waters as the ship sinks, they are still right in the middle of the playoff hunt.
As things stand now, Nashville sits second in the Central Division, one point behind the Winnipeg Jets who have two games in hand. The Pacific Division is laced with teams surging in the standings. Calgary clings to the top spot as Vegas has won six in a row. San Jose is finally putting everything together as well. All these teams have 53 or more points, including Nashville.
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The difference? Nashville has been pounded with injuries. Three of their top-six forwards spent time on the IR. Filip Forsberg and Kyle Turris are still missing action. P.K. Subban was out for a substantial amount of time. Depth pieces like Colton Sissons and Yannick Weber spent time on the IR. Even Pekka Rinne missed games. Still, the Predators are among the best in the NHL.
As a team, the Nashville Predators have allowed 70 goals at 5v5, second best in the NHL. Their 55.7% goals-for ratio is fifth, and they boast the best high-danger save percentage at 87.82% on the season. And, they have the sixth best CorsiFor rating at 52.66%. Better than Tampa Bay, Colorado, Winnipeg, and Toronto. At least, according to NaturalStatTrick.
All this while many of their best players missed significant time. Not bad.
Speaking of Toronto, the Nashville Predators travel north of the border to face one of the most feared offenses in the NHL. Their 108 goals at 5v5 is second in the league, just four goals behind Tampa Bay. Their 411 high-danger chances at even-strength are sixth but have led to 57 goals. The Leafs have only allowed 43 such goes this season, which eighth fewest. Their power play is also rather respectable, converting on almost 23% of their chances.
The strength of the Leafs? Their forwards. Five forwards have 10 or more goals on the season, with newly acquired John Tavares leading with 27 tallies. Auston Matthews missed 14 games, yet still have 20 goals and 19 assists. Not bad. Defenseman Morgan Rielly likes to get in on the scoring as well and boasts 13 goals and 32 assists on the season.
However, the Leafs are without Frederik Andersen right now. While he could return soon, a groin injury forced him to miss the last two weeks. Garret Spark serves as the team’s backup goalie and has a .905 save percentage on the year but is out with a concussion. Veteran Michael Hutchinson, however, looks to get the starting nod tonight according to RotoWire. It will be his third straight start for the Leafs, which includes a shutout of the Canucks. He is 1-2-0 against the Predators, with a .837 save percentage and a 5.2 GAA.
The key to tonight will be getting action in front of Hutchinson. The graphs from HockeyViz tell that story.
Since Viktor Arvidsson returned to the ice, the Predators have increased their action around the net. It will take a great effort there again to earn a victory. OddShark predicts it will be a close game with Toronto winning. A close game bodes well for the Predators.
The Nashville Predators are 11-9-(1)-2 against the Leafs all-time, earning at least a point in 6 of their last 9 matches. If Nashville can put pressure on Hutchinson and play full team defense for 60 minutes, they can pull off a statement win.