Nashville Predators Back in Action as Wildcard Race Heats Up

This is why we love hockey. Every game matters from here on out for the Nashville Predators, with the Vancouver Canucks up next.

From this point forward the Nashville Predators have to maintain a pace of winning at least three out of every four, and take advantage when playing other teams fighting for a wildcard spot like they are.

Tonight they finish off their four-game road trip against the Vancouver Canucks, a team that burned them for five power play goals in their last meeting. That was a 6-3 win for a Vancouver, and they’re looking for the season sweep of the Predators tonight.

The Canucks have left a bad taste in the mouths of Predators fans after two horrendous losses in the season series already. They’re a team that’s flying under the radar quietly as they’re leading the Pacific Division, but only six points ahead of the Predators.

The Predators are looking to continue making progress defensively and on the penalty kill under head coach John Hynes. Their last loss to the Oilers was a tough one with some questionable calls from officials, but overall the team fought hard and brought forth a solid effort.

Slumping penalty kill

It’s been a sore spot all season long. The Predators can’t kill penalties off no matter who they’re playing. The Canucks put up five power play goals on them in the last meeting, and another three power play goals in the first meeting.

Seems pretty simple right? Stay out of the penalty box and keep it at even strength where the Predators look like a much better team. This has to be the primary focus going into tonight’s game, and for the rest of the season.

The Predators have no fallen to 30th in the NHL in penalty kills percentage. They’re killing off just 74.3 percent of opponent’s power plays while the Canucks are 8th in the league on the power play at 22.9 percent. Bad combination if the Predators can’t play disciplined hockey.

Where they’re at in the standings

You have six teams all within five points of each other battling for the two wildcard spots right now. The top-three teams in each division are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

The Predators currently sit at 59 points with games in hand over all of the teams they’re jumbled up with. As it pertains to this game, Vancouver is leading the Pacific Division with 65 points, so it’s not really about catching up to them, but more so about leap-frogging Calgary, Winnipeg and Arizona in the next couple of games.

You also have division foes Minnesota an Chicago right on their heels with 58 points apiece. The Predators have one game in hand over each of these teams and have two games each left against them head-to-head.

It’s their for the taking for the Predators. They have to keep up this pace of winning three out of every four, and absolutely can’t suffer any losing streaks. The margin for error is razor thin.

Players standing out

Mikael Granlund immediately jumps to mind for his play as of late. He was my top trade deadline possibility just a week ago, but he’s making a case for himself to remain with the Predators. He’s also raising his value if he does end up on the market.

Roman Josi continues to make his strong case for his first Norris Trophy of his career. He’s maintained his point per game pace all season, and is now up to 54 points, with 40 of those being assists. He’s two points away from setting his personal career high in points, and seven assists shy of tying his career high in that category.

We’re looking for a return to the lineup for Calle Jarnkrok as he’s missed some recent games due to illness. He’s been slotted all over the lineup this season, but it looks like he’ll be back on the fourth line upon his return.

It looks like Colin Blackwell and Yakov Trenin will be moved back out of the lineup for now. Not sure I agree with both of them being moved out for Austin Watson, but we’ll see how that shakes out.

The Canucks are led by their young playmaker Elias Pettersson, who has 23 goals on the season and 55 points overall. He’s on a bit of a drought lately with just two goals in his last nine games. With that said, he’s still very deadly, and especially on the power play as we all know.

What makes the Canucks so formidable is their depth. They have a lot of guys who can chip in on the scoresheet, including Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller and Tanner Pearson. They have six players with 15 or more goals on the season.

This is going to be a very challenging game for the Predators as the Canucks have been virtually unstoppable at home dating back to December. They just had a nine-game home winning streak snapped, but the Predators have been formidable in their own right on the road.

It’s late start tonight as the puck won’t be dropped until 9 P.M. CDT up north of the border. Other consequential games around the league tonight is Arizona in action against Montreal and Calgary taking on San Jose.

If the Predators win tonight and both Calgary and Arizona lose in regulation, they’ll be within one point of the final wildcard spot as they come back home Thursday to take on the New York Islanders.

 

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