The Nashville Predators, riding high on the momentum of back-to-back wins against the Chicago Blackhawks, head on the road for a four-game stretch. A tall task awaits them on Saturday when they face the defending Stanely Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
The wins against Chicago did not come easy. The first went back and forth, each team searching for an advantage after both scoring two goals. Game one ended with a goal in OT by Roman Josi, his first of the season. The captain came through for the Predators once again.
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Game two was a 1-1 stalemate that required a shootout to decide the victor. It was the Predators’ first shootout of the season and the first time they scored the first goal in a game.
While it was good for the Predators to pick up the four points against a Central Division rival, they faced a severely depleted Blackhawks team missing several star players.
Two games that the Predators should have dominated, at least on paper, took extra time to get the wins. Nothing comes easy for this team who is still searching for its identity.
Tampa Bay Lightning Continue To Impress
Make no mistake, the Tampa Bay Lightning are a tough team, and there are several reasons they won the Stanley Cup last season. If there are any chinks in their armor, they are few and far between.
Tampa Bay has lots of offensive weapons in their arsenal, but their best may be a defensive one. It may be challenging for the Predators to get pucks past Andrei Vasilevskiy, who boasts a 1.98 GAA through five games.
Ondrej Palat leads the lightning with three goals, while captain Steven Stamkos leads the team in points with six. The Lightning’s potent power-play, 13th in the NHL, will go up against the Predators’ horrid penalty kill, 31st in the league.
Tampa Bay is coming off back to back losses and will be looking for redemption in the return to their home arena.
The Nashville Predators Need To Prepare For A Fight
Traditionally the Predators have performed well against the Lightning, evidenced by this Tweet from Nashville Predators’ Thomas Willis.
However, this is a whole new season that has thus far produced mixed results. Tampa Bay plays a similar game to the Dallas Stars and can capitalize on any mistakes and weaknesses that an opponent may have.
The Predators’ special teams are still woeful. The Predators did a better job of staying out of the penalty box against Chicago, only committing six penalties, half of what they committed against Dallas.
While the penalty kill did look better against the Blackhawks, the Predators are still unable to capitalize on their power-play opportunities.
The Predators power-play ranks 29th in the NHL. They are 2 for 28 on the season when facing a power-play opportunity. This is a glaring problem that needs to be fixed if they have any hopes of beating Tampa Bay, let alone finishing in the top four in the Central.
With their new defensive mindset, we can’t expect any high scoring affairs. The Predators’ wins will be ugly, but that is what you come to expect when changes of a defensive nature are made.
Hopefully, the players who have struggled to score this season will start to find their game. Most of their wins have been by a goal or two. More scoring would be a welcome sight as they head into the next set of games.
The Schedule Only Gets Tougher
This swing through the Sunshine State has the Predators facing both Florida teams twice in seven days. It will be an excellent test to see if the Predators can continue to improve after facing adversity in tough losses and overtime wins that should have been more decisive.
After the two games against Tampa and then a back-to-back against the Florida Panthers, the schedule doesn’t get easier. The next home games for the Predators are another back-to-back with Tampa Bay.
Last season the Predators always seemed to play to the same level as their competitors. It appears that this season is no different. Hopefully, they will carry the momentum from these two wins and go into Tampa Bay with chips on their shoulders and with something to prove.