Nashville Predators: Keys to Victory as Sharks Invade Bridgestone Arena

Ryan Johansen #92 of the Nashville Predators skates against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on November 1, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)
Ryan Johansen #92 of the Nashville Predators skates against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on November 1, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images) /

Coming off by far their most impressive and complete performance of the young season, the Nashville Predators return home to Bridgestone Arena tonight to face the surprising San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks, much like the Predators, had very low preseason expectations coming into 2021-22, but they’ve shockingly navigated to a 4-1-0 record with wins over Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

What’s even more impressive about the start for the Sharks is they’ve done this in the midst of a five-game road trip to open up the season. They finally get their home-opener after tonight’s game with the Predators.

Nick Bonino returns to Nashville to face the Predators for the first time since being traded on draft day in 2020 for Luke Kunin. Kunin has turned out to be a valuable player for the Predators’ top-six forwards, but losing Bonino will always sting.

Other key Sharks contributors are Logan Couture (8 points), Tomas Hertl (3 Points), Erik Karlsson (6 Points) and Timo Meier ( 8 Points).

These two teams have a history full of bad blood even though the rivalry has cooled off in recent years. The Nashville Predators own the all-time head to head record with 37 wins, 29 regulation losses, eight overtime losses for a point percentage of 55.3 percent.

Here’s our keys to victory tonight as the Predators look to build their first winning streak of the young season.

1. Continue to build on the power play success

How about that? The Predators appear to be building something on their woeful power play as they’ve connected on five power play goals since their October 19 win over the LA Kings. All five of these goals have come from different players.

Not only are the Predators starting to find success on the power play, but they’re aggressive style of play is drawing penalties. Even when you don’t connect on the power play, building all of that time up can help get momentum back and protect your goaltender from facing a barrage of shots.

The Predators have enjoyed over 34 minutes of power play time through the first six games, good for 9th-most in the NHL. If they can keep drawing penalties and making progress in this critical area, it should narrow the offensive scoring gap that they face against a lot of teams.

The Sharks have proven to be stingy on the penalty kill this season only giving up one power play goal and posting a 92.3 penalty kill percentage. The Predators will have a major test in this area tonight.

2. The Top Six Needs to Lead the Way

This should go without saying, but for this team getting production from the top end of their lineup doesn’t happen nearly as much as it needs to.

Fortunately on Sunday in a game the Predators badly needed to win, the top core of the lineup came out blazing and it helped build a big lead early in the game to set the tone.

Ryan Johansen is a major part of this equation. When he comes out aggressive in shooting the puck, good things happen for him. I know he’s a pass first type of player and a gifted passer, but we need more offensive aggression from him from now on.

Johansen had two really pinpoint accurate goals to help propel the Predators to a 3-0 lead against the Wild on Sunday. We need to see this more consistently from him, and tonight against the Sharks is a good time to stay in that attack mode.

Same goes for Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and Mikael Granlund. All of these players are gifted offensive players who got into the mix on Sunday and pushed the Predators to a win. When all of these players are clicking together and playing an aggressive style of hockey, it suddenly makes the Predators much better than just a mediocre defensive team that can’t score goals.

3. Clear the net front, pave the path for Saros

Juuse Saros was unfortunately the victim of deflections goals and bad puck luck in his last start on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. He surrendered six goals while only making 23 saves. The rare bad start for Saros where not only did he surrender so many goals, but also didn’t face too many shots.

Although Saros certainly deserves some of the blame and could’ve made some of those difficult saves on Saturday, a bigger issue is the crowded traffic in front of the net is making it all the more challenging for him to see the puck and plan for deflections.

The Predators have to control the puck better in their defensive zone and clear out into transition better. Too many giveaways in many of Saros’ starts this season have led to easier scoring opportunities for the opponent.

Blocking more shots away are very important for the Predators to help Saros out and give him better opportunities to see the puck to make the save. The Predators are currently dead last in the NHL in blocks per 60 minutes with just 10.66.  For comparison, the Sharks block on averages six more shots per 60 minutes than the Predators.

This falls on the defensive pairings to get loose pucks, be in the right position and clear the zone much more efficiently than they’ve been. We know very well that the defensive pairing depth has been an early issue, so tonight this area has to be cleaned up.

151. 4-1-0 (8P). Tuesday, Oct 26. 2-4-0 (4P). . 7:30 PM CT. 120. ESPN+, Hulu

The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks are scheduled for a 7:30 PM CT puck drop and will be broadcast exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu streaming services. There won’t be regional broadcasts of this game.

The last time the Predators and Sharks faced each other was November 9, 2019 in San Jose. The last time the Sharks were in Nashville was near the beginning of the 2019-20 season, a 5-2 win for the Predators with Pekka Rinne making 33 saves.