The official start to the 2022-23 regular season is finally here, despite how many times the NHL keeps forgetting to promote it, as the Nashville Predators will square off with the San Jose Sharks in the NHL Global Series from Prague, Czech Republic.
On paper this looks like a matchup that the Nashville Predators should be considerable favorites in, but we all know that hockey usually doesn’t go according to script. Especially in the early goings of the season.
We have a good idea of what the Nashville Predators starting lineup will look like against the Sharks in Friday’s opener, per Willy Daunic of 102.5 The Game:
For the Predators to take care of business against the Sharks to open the 2022-23 season, they’re going to need to rely on some key x-factors to play at a high level.
You can peg Sherwood as your biggest surprise starter coming out of training camp and into this matchup with the Sharks. He played last season with the Colorado Avalanche, but only appeared in 11 games and mostly played on the AHL level by piling up 75 points.
It is likely that Sherwood gets elevated ice time on the second line with Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter, a spot that was initially be thought to be had for Philip Tomasino.
Without speculating too much, my only fair guess is Tomasino is nursing some sort of an injury to be precautionary. It could of course be something more complex that we’ll learn of later, or maybe it’s just simply that coaches have more faith in Sherwood over Tomasino.
Sherwood played in 50 games in his rookie season with the Ducks back in 2018-19, but since then hasn’t played more than 16 games in a season. He really took off on the AHL level last season by elevating is point total from 16 points to 75 points.
Can Sherwood respond to the pressure of playing on the second line with two proven veterans? If he can, then it will be highly beneficial to the Predators’ chances of opening up with a win.
In hopes that the Predators finally solve their defensive depth issues, Lauzon comes in as the initial third pairing starter with Dante Fabbro.
Lauzon is being counted on to provide some newfound stability on this pairing, and maybe even show a little offensive pop from his game. That would just be an added bonus. He tallied two assists in nearly 19 minutes of ice time in the 7-1 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The big thing for Lauzon is avoiding lazy penalties that can crush momentum. Keeping his emotions in check while still maintaining that physical edge.
My money is on Lauzon getting in the first brawl of 2022-23 for the Nashville Predators.
I’m more encouraged than maybe most about what Lauzon can provide for this team. If he can play a clean, but physically imposing, game against the Sharks than it will do wonders into keeping their offensive scoring chances in check and allowing the Predators to better protect Juuse Saros from having to bail them out with 40-plus saves.
Speaking of Saros, I can’t leave him out as a top x-factor in this season-opener. His first game back since the late season injury that forced him to miss the first round series against the Colorado Avalanche which ended in the first postseason sweep in Predators history.
How fresh does Saros look coming right after puck drop? Does he possibly take a period to get locked in and allow a soft goal or two? It’s entirely possible because, after all, the guy is human and there may be some rust early on.
This is why the Predators as a whole have to come out sharp defensively, control the puck possession game, and absolutely not be careless with the puck that leads to odd man rushes that puts Saros in compromising situations.
Saros has all of the abilities to make clutch, game-saving stops as he gets into his groove. I just don’t want to see him forced into that role in the first 10 minutes of regulation that puts the Predators in an early hole on the scoreboard.
There’s a reason that Saros is a popular preseason pick to win the 2023 Vezina Trophy. He’s one of the best in the NHL and has the ability to put the Predators on his back and take them far. However, let’s try to take some of that pressure off.
How quickly does Niederreiter get into the flow of the game and get his Nashville Predators career off to a blazing start? He already looked really good in his preseason action, including a slick goal in the 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on a feed from Johansen.
That win over the Lightning was the measuring stick game of the preseason for me. The Lightning had many of their core players compete, as did the Predators. It was a highly intense game from both teams, and it was awesome to see Niederreiter break open the scoring in that one.
The Niederreiter/Johansen connection could very well end up having the impact of ultimately getting the Nashville Predators over the hump against some of the league’s top teams. Now they have two top lines they can roll out and be confident in.
Niederreiter is a huge x-factor against the Sharks. Without his presence in the lineup, the Predators would be much more down to earth and on paper these teams would be more evenly matched.
Look for Niederreiter to log critical minutes and tally a point or two in the box score.
X-Factors for the Sharks
As for the Sharks, they have a few formers Predators on their roster, and one notable one is Luke Kunin.
Kunin is projected to get a top line role with top stars of the Sharks Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. What a chance for him to stick it to his former team today. Of course, he has to be an x-factor to watch from the Sharks side.
Hertl and Meier are the building blocks of a young and transitioning Sharks team. They have the ability to take over games offensively, so the Predators have to keep tabs on them to not let these two beat them on their own.
Then you have the other netminder going up against Saros, and that’s most likely going to be the veteran James Reimer.
Reimer is no slouch, simply speaking. For an outmatched Sharks team last season, Reimer still put up commendable numbers with a .911 Save % and a 2.90 GAA. Nothing earth shattering, but also fairly respectable for a team around him that lacks the top end talent.
The guy can steal a game, and the Predators have this knack of making goaltenders past their primes suddenly look like Vezina Trophy contenders. If the Sharks are able to win this game, my money is heavily on Reimer putting up 30 to 40 saves and just snatching it away from the Predators.
The action is set to get underway from Prague at 1 P.M. CDT on NHL Network and regionally on Bally Sports South.