Nashville Predators: A Desperate Minnesota Wild Team Comes to Town

ST. PAUL, MN - MARCH 03: This shot attempt by Ryan Suter #20 of the Minnesota Wild is broken up by Mikael Granlund #64 of the Nashville Predators during a game at Xcel Energy Center on March 3, 2019 in St. Paul, Minnesota.(Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
ST. PAUL, MN - MARCH 03: This shot attempt by Ryan Suter #20 of the Minnesota Wild is broken up by Mikael Granlund #64 of the Nashville Predators during a game at Xcel Energy Center on March 3, 2019 in St. Paul, Minnesota.(Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images) /

It’s hard to beat a desperate team twice in as many days, but that’s the test in front of the Nashville Predators as they host the Wild.

There are plenty of storylines to comb through for this divisional matchup between the Nashville Predators and the Wild. One team, the Predators, is still trying to find its identity and remain near the top of the division. The other is desperately clinging onto a wildcard spot along with several other teams. Not to mention these two just made a one-for-one trade with each other last week.

The Predators got the first laugh Sunday night in Minnesota and brought an exciting and playoff-like atmosphere. We need to pay attention as it’s conceivable that the Wild end up being the first round playoff opponent for the Predators. They looked like evenly-matched opponents on Sunday night, but Nashville prevailed in the shootout on a Ryan Johansen goal as he patiently waited for his moment to squeeze the puck by goaltender Alex Stalock.

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Juuse Saros got the win and was good enough as he only faced 24 shots from Minnesota. I would expect Pekka Rinne to get the start this time around, and Devan Dubnyk to go for Minnesota. Two veteran goaltenders who are capable of shutting out the other team. With that said, I expect another physical brand of hockey with not much room to operate on the ice to start. Once things open up, it will be about which goaltender blinks first.

Simmonds and Granlund make home debut

Chemistry is still a work-in-progress for the Predators with the recent acquisitions of Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund. It takes time to get lines in sync when you bring in new players. I’m intrigued to see how Granlund responds to his first home game with the Predators against his old team. He’s registered six shots in his first two games with Nashville. He’s going to be a critical part in putting some fire back into the second line.

Simmonds already has his first point in a Predators uniform with some beautiful puck handling to set up Nick Bonino. There is no doubt that Simmonds is making Bonino and Rocco Grimaldi better by playing on his line.. He’s had more time to get acclimated with his new team, and he can hopefully help improve the putrid Predators power play as well. He registered nearly three minutes of power play time in Sunday’s tilt with the Wild. Something has to start clicking with the man advantage for this team to go anywhere far. The Wild fall right in the middle of the pack in penalty kill percentage.

Granlund is playing alongside mostly Kyle Turris and Craig Smith on that second line that needs to find some life. A lot of blame is falling on Turris, which is fair. However, I love this line’s potential as they build more chemistry with each other. They have 14 regular season games to figure it out. Let’s see if they show more progress tonight in a game that will be full of emotion for Granlund. It’s a key area that needs to keep showing improvement.

Revenge will be in the air

Revenge is the common theme for tonight’s meeting between Nashville and Minnesota. They just played 48 hours ago in a game that could’ve gone either way as it ended in the shootout. It felt like a playoff game. It will be that way again in the rematch of the home-and-home series. Minnesota is trending upward despite Sunday’s shootout loss. They had a five-game winning streak leading up to that game, including wins over top Western Conference teams like Winnipeg, St.Louis and Calgary.

You can tie the revenge theme to this game with Kevin Fiala making his return to Nashville. The dust hasn’t even settled yet since Fiala was traded for Granlund last week just before the afternoon trade deadline. He was the topic of being traded or a while, so it wasn’t a surprise. I’m sure his emotions will be running high as he returns to the Bridgestone Arena atmosphere. Hopefully, Predators fans pay him his well-deserved respect.

This matchup is hard to predict. In a seven-game series, I see it going all seven games and Nashville surviving in the very end. I expect another strong performance from the top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. They’ll tally another goal or two as they continue to surge. Call me crazy, but I see the Predators cashing in on the power play via one of their new acquisitions. Something has to break through on special teams, and I see everything coming together with these new guys.

Next. Grading the Mikael Granlund Trade. dark

The Predators have no room to let up in the standings. They’ve played three more games than the two teams sandwiched around them, Winnipeg and St.Louis. It’s misleading that they’re one point behind Winnipeg and seven points ahead of St.Louis. With that said, the Predators win their fourth-straight over Minnesota on a strong performance from a well-rested Rinne. I do think Minnesota is the most probable opponent for the Predators in the first round of the playoffs.