After suffering a six-game slide, the Nashville Predators have responded in a near-perfect fashion as they’re riding a four-game point streak into tonight.
Just less than second from having a current four-game winning streak, the Nashville Predators have seemed to have fixed whatever bug was in their system. They’re playing night and day difference, and doing it behind some stellar goaltending.
Unreliable goaltending and some leaky defense in front of them was a major contributor to when the Nashville Predators were struggling throughout much of November. On the last day of the month, the Predators now get the very exciting Florida Panthers. A team you can never count out of a game.
The Panthers are currently riding a three-game losing streak after winning five of six previously. They’re a streaky team, but they’re right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference and are clinging onto second place in the Atlantic Division with 29 points. They defeated the Predators in mid-October in the shooutout after the Predators stormed back from being down two goals.
Panthers bring a lot of offensive punch
After facing a highly-potent Hurricanes offense the night before, the Predators now have another tough challenge defensively against the Panthers. They’re current 5th in the NHL in goals per game at 3.52, which is just ahead of where the Predators are at.
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You would think this might mean we’re in store for a high-scoring track meet between the two teams tonight, but the Predators have actually tightened up defensively during their current four-game point streak. They had a shutout last night over Carolina, held Vegas to two goals before giving up a goal within the last second and held the Blues to two goals in each game of a back-to-back before that.
The Predators are getting much better goaltending, mainly from Juuse Saros, in recent games. Saros is who will go tonight against the Panthers as Rinne got the start last night and pitched the shutout. It appears the Predators have their rock solid goaltending duo back.
However, Saros really has a tall order ahead against the Panthers. He’s up against a team who is among the league’s best in shots per game and power play efficiency. In return, the Predators’ penalty kill is 29th in the league, killing off just under 79 percent of power plays.
This is the area the Panthers will try to assert their dominance against a team that might be coming in a little fatigued. The Panthers haven’t played since Wednesday night in a 4-3 loss to the Capitals.
Florida players to watch for
When it comes to the Florida Panthers, they’re led by Brett Connolly with 12 goals and three other players with ten goals apiece. Four players with double-digit goals is very impressive. They have a great group of centers with Aleksander Barkov leading the way with 30 points. He leads very strong top line that has a combined 81 points, per Daily Faceoff.
Veteran Mike Hoffman leads the team with five power play goals along with Evgenii Dadonov who also has five power play goals. Barkov has four power play goals. The Predators can’t give these guys easy opportunities to strike on the power play.
Defensively the Panthers are led by their top pairing of Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle. A solid duo to lead your defensive front. This team doesn’t blow you away on the defensive end, but they’re no slouches either.
The Panthers are also very sturdy in net with Sergei Bobrovsky as their bell cow between the pipes. He was a major acquisition for the Panther over the offseason as they got him from the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’s had a pretty solid career in his nine-plus seasons, but this year he hasn’t been as strong as he’s giving up nearly 3.5 goals per game and has lost his last two starts.
Can the Predators extend the streak?
This is going to be a tough challenge as the Predators come in with little rest and have to go up against a team with plenty energy as they haven’t played since Wednesday night. The Panthers are also at home and need a win badly on a current three-game losing streak.
Not only that, but the Predators are going up against one of the best power plays in the NHL. If the Predators take too many penalties, I’m afraid that will be their undoing. They need a very clean and disciplined game to keep from having to expend what little energy they have on a back-to-back.
I’m probably beating a dead horse at this point, but I think this would’ve been a great spot to get Kyle Turris back in the starting lineup. If it’s truly a “roster decision” then how would this not be a smart move for the roster? Bring in a veteran player who is well-rested and wants to help the team any way he can. I’d put him in over Mathieu Olivier and move Daniel Carr to the fourth line.
However, that’s not going to happen as the Predators look to be sticking with their same lineup they’ve been going with for a while now. They’re sticking with what’s been working, which is understandable. At the same time, a well-rested Turris over either Olivier or Carr makes more sense to me.
Saros will be in net and has been outstanding in recent games. Ever since his start against the Sharks three weeks ago, he’s been very dependable in his starts. Even the Vegas loss was just bad fortune and a poor defensive play that allowed Vegas to cash in on the last-second tying goal.
We’re going to need another stellar performance from Saros as the Panthers are going to test him early and often. I’m always optimistic for a Predators win, but this one might be an uphill battle. Stay out of the box and be opportunistic on some Florida turnovers and maybe the Predators can pull of another improbable win.