The Nashville Predators take on the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh Thursday night as the rivalry between these two teams continues. A rivalry that began when they met in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This is the first game of a five-game road trip for the Nashville Predators that will really test them. First up is a Hurricanes team with Stanley Cup aspirations, and a team that has only lost twice in over a month.
This season, if it keeps going as the first half has gone, will end the streak of the Predators making the playoffs at eight consecutive seasons. While there are still 46 games left, the Predators find themselves four points behind Edmonton for the final wildcard spot.
According to moneypuck.com, the Predators have a 31% chance of making the playoffs, which has increased over the last couple of weeks.
Thursday night’s game in Carolina’s barn will be the first of two meetings between these two clubs that built a rivalry in the Covid shortened 2020-2021 season when they met eight times.
The Nashville Predators are in Desperation Mode
Nino Niederreiter will make his first appearance against his former Hurricanes club since joining the Nashville Predators as a free agent this past offseason. He played four seasons with Carolina, but was held to just one goal in six games in that 2021 first round matchup with Nashville.
Tuesday night was a rare showing for the offensively challenged Nashville Predators, getting six pucks past Canadiens goaltender Sam Montembeault on 34 shots. This was only the fourth time the Predators have scored five or more goals in a game through 36 games.
The Predators seemed to find their form playing with an aggressive forecheck, help from the blue line offensively, and outstanding goaltending by Juuse Saros.
Head Coach John Hynes has been pleased with the Predators’ recent offensive surge, as he told the team’s official website:
"“That’s how you have to be a good team, a hard team to play against and you can generate in different ways.”Head Coach John Hynes on Nashville’s Recent Offensive Surge"
The Carolina Hurricanes currently sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 25-7-6 (56 points). Carolina will be looking to bounce back after a loss against the New York Rangers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Predators offense looks to finally be coming alive scoring 16 goals in their last three outings and earning five out of a possible six points over that stretch. Of the six goals scored against Montreal, three came from unlikely sources with Cody Glass, Mattias Ekholm, and Thomas Novak finding the back of the net.
Another positive note for the struggling Predators club is their power play and penalty kill have both started performing at a much higher level.
Over the past five games the Predators have scored five goals on 15 power play opportunities and have killed off all but one of the last 16 power play opportunities for opposing teams.
The power play and penalty kill will both be a major factor over the course of this game as these two teams like to play a “chippy” style of hockey and end up going to the “Sin Bin” quite a bit.
The Hurricanes have struggled on the man advantage this season only having a 18.9% success rate, ranking them 26th in the league. On the other side they are a little better than middle of the pack on the penalty, killing off 80.5% with a ranking of 13th.
On Wednesday, the Hurricanes activated Max Pacioretty from the IR coming off a torn Achilles on August 10th. Pacioretty was acquired by the Hurricanes from the Vegas Golden Nights and suffered the injury less than a month later.
It is possible that Pacioretty makes his first start in the red and black sweater Thursday night against the Nashville Predators.
Who to Watch from Preds and Canes
Saros has started in the first game on back-to-back sets on all occasions this season, so it would be assumed that the Predators do not break from this trend.
In his last start, Saros stopped 24 of 27 shots faced earning the win. With Frederick Anderson on the IR since November 11 with an undisclosed injury, the Hurricanes have had to rely heavily on Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov in net.
While it is unconfirmed who the Canes go with as their starter against Nashville, one would assume that they would go with the veteran Raanta after sitting him in their loss Tuesday night.
Raanta has played in 15 games this season with a 10-2-2 record posting a 2.62 GAA and .897 save percentage. He has won his past six starts and in that stretch has two shutouts, but has also allowed three or more goals in the other four games.
Filip Forsberg is on a four-game point streak with five goals and three assist over that span. He was named the NHL’s First Star for the week ending January 1. Thomas Novak has three goals, two assists in his last six games played for Nashville. These two will be ones to watch to see if their hot streak can continue for this goal deprived team.
The Carolina Hurricanes have some firepower in their lineup. They are fast and creative on the ice and if you give them any space and time, they will make you pay for it.
Andrei Svechnikov leads this club in goals with 19. While he is well-known for his lacrosse style goal against Calgary a few years ago, he has developed into a seasoned player that this team relies on heavily for their goal scoring.
Another one is Brent Burns, known mainly for his time spent with the San Jose Sharks. Burns has 23 assists on the season and is a +5.
If the Predators are going to pull out a win against this hard charging team led by Head Coach Rob Brind’Amour they are going to have to put pressure on the Hurricanes early and often. They have shown a recent resurgence in offense while still maintaining a strong defensive backing.
This five-game trip that the Nashville Predators are starting is going to be a massive part of their season. It all starts now, desperately needing a win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena Thursday night.