After beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in their most impressive victory of the season, the Nashville Predators return to business tonight to take on the league’s top ranked team in the Florida Panthers.
It is the sixth of eight games on a brutal road trip for the Predators, who have managed to go a rather impressive 2-2-1 so far on the stretch.
Posting a plus .500 record deep into the trip would be seen as a tremendous feat for this inexperienced roster, who could gain more valuable confidence moving forward.
But they will have a hard time winning again if the goaltending has to be as great as it was on Monday. Here is what they can do to pull off another stunning victory.
Capitalize off opportunities
I thought the Predators got quite lucky on Monday due to a stellar performance from Pekka Rinne, but one area they did well in was being opportunistic. They might have not gotten the majority of the scoring chances in the game, but they made the most of the ones they got.
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Seeing Viktor Arvidsson fire a power play goal after some work down low was yet another encouraging sign for a unit that is continuing to make drastic progress.
I absolutely cannot see the Predators getting more scoring chances or zone time against this Panthers offensive juggernaut, so they will once again have to take advantage of the few opportunities they get.
The power play, in particular, will need to strike when they are able to, and definitely can against a Panthers’ penalty kill that is not great by any means.
For an offensively challenged team like the Predators that struggles to play a full 60 minutes, being opportunistic is already a must, and it only gets magnified when they have to play the first-placed team in the league.
Be disciplined in defensive zone
For as much pressure as the Predators gave up Monday afternoon, another thing I will credit them for is being stingy when it mattered. There were a number of times that they were able to prevent the puck from getting through to Rinne, which ultimately helped to preserve the victory.
It was yet another promising sign for Fabbro, who has recently cut back on the turnovers and continued to get more comfortable in his own zone.
And in the dying moments of the game, when the Predators were under siege, they somehow tightened up and managed to not give up any high quality shots on goal. It also helped that they did not take any penalties in the final 20 minutes of the contest.
As I mentioned, the Predators will surely suffer an onslaught or many against the Panthers, who are averaging the second-most shots per game in the NHL. The more they can maintain their form in their own zone, the more they can limit shots and chances for the opposition.
I have been encouraged by what I have seen from Fabbro, and the other young defensemen in Alexandre Carrier, Jeremy Davies, and even Ben Harpur. Hopefully they can carry the experience from Monday into tonight’s contest.
Rewrite a script
The Predators have only scored four or more goals in six games this year, and two of them have been against the Panthers. Them and the Columbus Blue Jackets are the only teams that the Predators have had multiple four-plus goal games against, and they had their highest scoring game of the season against the Panthers.
Not to mention that they were a bad call and offside review away from a second six-goal game against the Panthers two weeks ago.
The Panthers are far from the best defensive team in the NHL, but for whatever reason, the Predators have been able to find tremendous offensive success against them. They need to continue to be aggressive and do what they have done in those games.
Harder the second time around
The Predators have played 14 games against the top three teams in the Central Division, and have only managed to win two of them. They were able to get one of them on Monday, but the odds are stacked heavily against them tonight.
It is hard enough for a bad team to beat good any good team, but doing it twice in a row is almost impossible. I would be stunned if the Predators were able to win this game, but if they are able to, that would be a telling achievement for this young team.
There is a chance that it could also make decisions even tougher for management come the trade deadline, because it would likely generate the most momentum that they have had all season.
This is a tough test for the Predators, but a huge opportunity for momentum without much pressure on their shoulders. The potential gains from this game far outweigh the potential losses, so hopefully the Predators can be loose, aggressive and get creative at the right times.