Could this possibly be a Stanley Cup Final preview tonight as the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning clash?
It’s always fun when the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning meet. They only play each other twice per season, and the Lightning are one of those teams that keeps falling up short of expectations.
The Lightning are coming off a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday and have had three days off to prepare for this one. The Predators have won their last two games by a combined score of 10-1, beating the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild at home.
They’re back on the road for this one and will be in a tough environment in Tampa Bay. The Predators have won three-straight in the series, and five of the last six dating back over the last three seasons. Tampa Bay is 5-3-1 to open up 2019-20.
Who to look out for on Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay is stacked with offensive firepower and solid depth. They’re led by Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, last season’s league MVP. The duo has a combined 19 points through the first nine games. Kucherov is well behind his point pace from last season when he finished with an incredible 128 points.
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The Lightning are also solid defensively, spearheaded by Victor Hedman and Kevin Shattenkirk. This group can beat you from many different angles. However, they’re giving up 3.22 goals per game, which is in the bottom half of the league. Their penalty kill percentage is near the worst as well, as is Nashville’s penalty kill.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, the current Vezina Trophy holder, isn’t starting in this one. Backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney will get the start. That’s good news for the Predators as Tampa Bay is deciding to give Vasilevskiy some rest. McElhinney is no slouch as a backup though.
Looking at the Predators
There are some injury concerns to two vital players to the Predators lineup. Filip Forsberg is likely going to miss his fifth-straight game dealing with a lower-body injury, while Matt Duchene had to exit the Minnesota Wild game on Thursday night due to a lower-body injury of his own.
It’s looking like Duchene will suit up for tonight’s. He participated in Saturday’s morning skate, but Forsberg did not. Not having Forsberg in the lineup has meant moving Kyle Turris up to the second line as center and moving Duchene over to the wing. It’s worked pretty well over the last two games, which have been wins.
Calle Jarnkrok continues to play well on the top line with Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen. I’ve been very impressed with how he’s handled being in that important spot in the lineup. He’s already up to seven points this season while only having 26 points last season.
Juuse Saros will get the start in net tonight for his fourth start of the season. Not an easy opponent to face when you’re trying to reverse your bad fortunes recently. Saros hasn’t looked particularly sharp, but he hasn’t had much defensive help in front of him either. It’s going to take maybe the best defensive effort of the season to keep Tampa Bay from running up four or five goals on the scoreboard.
The puck is scheduled to drop at 6 PM CDT on Fox Sports Tennessee and on ESPN+ if you have that streaming service. This is going to be a tough spot for the Predators to get a win without Forsberg in the lineup.
I’m predicting a hard-fought overtime loss for the Predators tonight. Saros gets knocked around again to a potent Tampa Bay lineup. Sorry, but just don’t have a good feeling about this one.