This unprecedented training camp has offered fans small glimpses of the hard work that the Nashville Predators are putting in.
The upcoming exhibition game against the Dallas Stars will show us if the work has paid off. Usually you get a few exhibition games to get ready for an 82-game regular season, but the timetable doesn’t allow for that now.
For the Nashville Predators, this training camp offers them a chance to hit the reset button and find that early success that they had back in October to start the season.
This training camp also offers Head Coach John Hynes an unheard-of opportunity to mold the team more to his liking before the playoffs begin. His midseason hiring allowed him time only to implement small chunks of his coaching philosophies and style while the season carried on.
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This week, training camp is coming to a close, and all of the drills and scrimmages will turn into actual game situations beginning on July 30 with an exhibition game against the Dallas Stars.
Under normal circumstances, exhibition games, while essential to gauge a team’s play, don’t mean much in the grand scheme of a normal season.
As well all know, there is nothing normal about this season or these playoffs.
This exhibition game against the Stars is the only gauge that Hynes will be able to use to see where the Predators are at in game situations against another team.
The Arizona Coyotes are waiting soon after that for the real deal.
These Teams Have A History
The exhibition with the Stars will allow the Predators to get a look at a familiar division rival. The Stars are a team that they have a history with and one that they could see again in the following round, depending on how the round robin side of things go.
All we know is that if the Predators advance, they’ll play either the Stars, Golden Knights, Blues or Avalanche.
The Predators faced the Stars four times this season and split those games at two apiece. However, those games read like a tale of two different Predators teams and seem like an eternity ago.
The Stars won the first two meetings pretty easily, both times embarrassing the Predators with decisive victories. There was also the fateful injury to Ryan Ellis at the hands of Stars Forward Corey Perry at the Winter Classic.
The Predators won the next two meetings, putting up back to back shutouts thanks to the hot goaltending of Juuse Saros. The final two games also showed a more defensive-minded Predators team.
What Will This Exhibition Game Tell Hynes?
Hynes will be looking at a lot of things during this exhibition. Aside from training camp scrimmages, this will be his first look at his team since March.
The main thing Hynes will be focused on is the goaltenders. Pekka Rinne and Saros are a hot topic going into the upcoming qualifying round.
Saros had a hot streak going before the season pause and was primed to take over the starting goaltender position ahead of schedule. The pause allowed Rinne time to rest and focus so that he would be fresh and ready to go once the season resumed.
Saros has the hot hand, but no playoff experience. Rinne has the experience, but struggled this season. This presents Hynes with the difficult decision of picking a starting goaltender.
A look at both players during training camp and the performance during the exhibition will help Hynes, and the coaching staff, make the tough decision.
The other important aspect of Hynes’ “new look” team will be the reformed JoFA line consisting of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson. This line has a history of playing well together but not so much this year.
All three players had their own struggles this season but will be looking to bounce back and make a statement during the playoffs. The JoFA line’s performance in the upcoming exhibition game will be critical and will be watched closely to see how well they perform together.
There are many other things that we will be watching closely during this exhibition game on July 30. Power play work is going to be another area to watch in detail against the Stars, assuming they get a power play opportunity.
If any adjustments have to be made to the team, Hynes will have little time to make them. The Predators will be playing the Arizona Coyotes in the first game of the qualifying round two days after this exhibition.
A lot is riding on this training camp and exhibition game. With time running out on this core group of players to capture the Stanley Cup, this game against the Stars may be the most important exhibition game ever.