The message in the locker room has to be one revolving around having a short memory after a fairly lopsided affair for two-thirds of the opening game of a two-game set in Raleigh, as the Nashville Predators dropped yet another contest to the storm surging Carolina Hurricanes 4-1.
However, Thursday is in the past, and another opportunity awaits the Predators tonight, and this time with some reinforcements!
"“Okay boys, time to hit the reset button and forget about Thursday night!” – Coach John Hynes probably."
That’s right, Predators fans! A name is coming off the Bally Sports pre-game injury graphic that was starting to look as full as Joey Chestnut after his 13th title as the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating contest champion. Okay, wrong sport, and yes, it is a sport, but that’s a debate for another day.
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Let’s get back to tonight’s much more relevant and important contest!
Matt Duchene makes his long-awaited return to the Predators lineup after a 22 game absence due to what the team disclosed as a “lower-body injury.”
Despite the split opinions of many Smashville faithful of his contribution levels thus far (3 Goals, 5 Assists, 8 Points, 23 Games Played), Duchene is still a very valuable addition to a surging Predators team that has managed to play some incredible hockey in his absence.
Duchene’s skill level and experience against the first-place Carolina Hurricanes will certainly be counted on in tonight’s game and down the stretch of these final 11 games in the Predators 2020-21 season!
Another notable addition to the lineup is the newly acquired towering defenseman, Erik Gudbranson. He is expected to log third-pairing minutes beside Ben Harpur in his debut for the Predators. Hopefully, fans will be introduced to the physical impact Gudbranson can provide for this team in a depth role.
While it remains to be seen where exactly Gudbranson fits in a top 6 role for the Preds, tonight’s game provides an excellent opportunity for the veteran to show what he can do against one of the division powers that the Predators still haven’t been able to solve this year.
While we saw what Petr Mrazek is capable of despite limited opportunities on Thursday night, it looks like, according to Daily Faceoff (and possibly still subject to change due to the plethora of options the Hurricanes boast between the pipes), we will see rookie revelation Alex Nedeljkovic (1.98 GAA, 0.928 SV%) in net tonight for the Hurricanes.
The Predators have had to deal with Nedeljkovic once this season on March 9th in a 3-2 overtime loss. But hey, that was the Predators’ only point earned this year against the Canes, so, silver lining.
Nedeljkovic, while in a smaller sample size, has rivaled division mate Kevin Lankinen from Chicago for rookie goaltending praise across the NHL. When it comes to the Predators and their chance at him tonight, more high danger chances and significantly more shot volume will be required if they have any chance at emerging victorious tonight.
While it is yet to be confirmed, with the Predators in the middle of three games in five nights, Juuse Saros will need a night off. Do you give him a night off when the team NEEDS a win to gain confidence against a team that they haven’t beaten all season? I am not so sure.
Saros has been the backbone of this incredible run we have seen from the Predators over the last five to six weeks. While Thursday was a tough night for the young Finn, a majority of the Canes goals came off high danger chances with little to no support from the five white jerseys in front of him.
Saros will be eager for another chance at this Hurricanes team to reclaim the form we have grown accustomed to seeing. With Pekka Rinne’s numbers and results against the Blackhawks this season, as we look ahead to the three-game set with them beginning Monday night, I see Pekka working back into the crease Monday and Saros getting the nod in a pivotal game for the Predators tonight.
Regardless of who starts for the Preds, a monster effort will be needed between the four by six cage to get the win tonight.
Thursday night’s match-up saw some real chippiness and a fair share of borderline hits. With the lineup that will dress tonight, we should fully expect that the Predators will do everything to set the tone physically (please come back soon, Matt Olivier). Limiting the Hurricanes’ speed and their dynamic offense will be crucial to achieving a positive result tonight.
Ritzy’s Rule For The Nashville Predators
The Predators have one rule to follow tonight, and it’s a cliche as old as the league itself. The Predators HAVE TO stay out of the box if they hope to have any chance tonight. Carolina boasts the league’s top power-play operating at a 28.3% clip for the season.
While the Predators did a solid job of this Thursday night, limiting Carolina to three chances and a late goal from Sebastian Aho, they must replicate this effort and ideally improve on it to shut down the potent Canes power-play.
To Be The Best, You’ve Got To Beat The Best!
While the Hurricanes have not locked up the top seed in the Central Division by any means, they have certainly put a lock on the season series with the Predators. At 0-5-1 thus far, the Predators have to find a way to get a win against this team that could prove to be a first-round matchup a month from now.
We saw a fantastic effort that led to a beat-down of fellow division power in the Tampa Bay Lightning (yes, Lightning fans, we know McElhinney was in the net) earlier in the week that gives the Predators the confidence to deal with them in mid-May should they have to.
The same thing needs to happen in at least one of the three remaining matchups that the Predators have with the Hurricanes this season; if they have any hope at solving them when it matters in the post-season again, should they need to.
Time to go to work and get the enormous Carolina Hurricanes monkey off of your backs, boys. Let’s see a great effort tonight!
The puck drops at 6:00 PM CDT and will be televised on Bally Sports South. Follow along with us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute game commentary.