It might just be an exhibition game, but exhibitions don’t get much more important than the one between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars.
This is going to be our first look at the Nashville Predators against another opponent in nearly five months. To some degree, we should get some clarity on how this team is looking post-training camp.
You can try to draw conclusions from practice scrimmages and drills, but the real assessment has to come against another team. That’s why this exhibition matchup on Thursday with the Dallas Stars is actually pretty important compared to most exhibition games.
The result itself won’t be something to focus on, but how the team looks in their weak spots is what will be important to watch.
1. Power play finally fixed?
Assuming the Predators get at least one power play opportunity against Dallas, I’ll be interested to see how it looks and if any obvious changes have been made.
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The big thing that really needs to change about the power play is puck movement. Setting up higher quality shots. Far too many times it looks like the Predators are just blindly throwing pucks at the net and padding the stats for the goaltender.
During training camp there was an emphasis placed on puck movement in the zone. The Stars have a really solid defense and penalty kill, so the Predators should get a good test if they get the man advantage.
The Predators won’t be in Edmonton very long if their power play doesn’t show improvement. The Arizona Coyotes, their qualifying round opponent, doesn’t give up easy goals. You have to take advantage when power play opportunities arise with high quality looks.
For two seasons now the Predators have been trying to fix the power play. A power play that has the player personnel to be so much better than this. Has Hynes finally cracked the code?
2. New line combinations, new team?
These three are excited to be back to together as a unit as the chemistry has quickly been reignited. Now let’s see if it translates to results against the Stars on Thursday.
It’ll be hard to contain the excitement if this classic trio connects a few times in the exhibition game. This can completely change the chances the Predators have of going deep in the playoffs if this line becomes the force that it was in 2017.
Bravo to Head Coach John Hynes for getting this trio back together.
Furthermore, the second line is an experiment that could be equally as productive as the top line. A one-two punch that the great teams usually have in the playoffs.
If training camp is any indication, this line is going to consist of Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund and Kyle Turris. Three excellent offensive players who are also great set-up players. Efficient puck movement and possession time is what I’ll be looking for from this unit.
The third line should stay the same, led by Nick Bonino, so the hope is they pick up where they left off. The fourth line is one that’s still a work in progress.
3. Sorting out the goaltender debate
The exhibition against Dallas will have to settle the goaltender decision between Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne. I’m glad Hynes isn’t rushing into a decision until he’s ready, but now we’ll have to see if both get playing time.
Hynes plans to split time with the goaltender against Dallas, per Thomas Willis of the Predators official website:
Who gets the start and who comes in for relief is something keep tabs on as well. I’d personally start Saros and bring Rinne in somewhere around the midway point.
The reason for this choice is I want to see how Saros comes out of the gate in the opening minutes of action. How does he handle the pressure, even in an exhibition game, and does he immediately look locked in like he did back in March? You know that time when he had consecutive shutouts against these same Dallas Stars.
Rinne should be 100 percent refreshed, and that could be a scary thing for the other 23 teams in this tournament. If one of these two struggles badly while the other one looks great, your decision will probably be made.
However, if both look great then I say you go with Rinne. This should be the main focus of everyone against Dallas. And not just how many goals might be given up, but how the goals were scored. Were they “soft goals” or ones that should’ve been prevented by the defense in front?
The Predators and Stars have built quite the rivalry since the last postseason. These two teams are fun to watch clash, and they split four meetings in the regular season. Only six points in the standings were separating the two when the pause happened.
The exhibition game with Dallas is set for Thursday from the Edmonton bubble, with a puck drop of 3 P.M. CDT. It will be televised locally on Fox Sports Tennessee and on NHL Network for the fans outside the viewing area.