The road trip has gotten off to a surprisingly good start for the Nashville Predators as they’ve now taken down two prominent teams in the Eastern Conference on a back-to-back.
The Predators beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 after Ryan McDonagh scored his first goal with the team that acquired him over this past offseason. It put the Predators up for good with just over three minutes left in reguation.
It was another game where the Predators showed resiliency despite the offensive pressure going cold and having to fall back on their heels to protect the house, this time with Kevin Lankinen between the pipes.
Just the night before Juuse Saros registered the third-highest save total in NHL history with 64 saves. It was the second-highest in a regulation game with the goaltender finishing with a win.
Here’s three factors as to why the Nashville Predators got their third consecutive win, and extended their point streak to five games.
1. The Nashville Predators Penalty Kill is Becoming Huge Strength
Gone are the days when I used to feel like going on the penalty kill was a death sentence for the Nashville Predators. They’re becoming a much more tough team to crack for opposing power plays.
The Capitals ran into Predators player getting into passing lanes, being aggressive on the puck handler and some timely saves from Lankinen. A great combination for your penalty kill.
This is a strength the Predators have to have to be successful. They commit penalties. It’s the way they play, and the elite team usually have very strong power plays. If you can master this area, then you have a chance to really charge further up the standings and make this interesting down the stretch.
I have to show a lot of love for the penalty killing forwards of Tanner Jeannot, Colton Sissons, Mark Jankowski and Yakov Trenin. They’re all working as a unit to make it difficult for the opposition.
Jeannot has really been standing out as of late by pressuring the puck and even creating some shorthanded chances.
You can’t leave out the defensemen, either. As much as there was lack of confidence in Jeremy Lauzon going into the season, he has been outstanding on the penalty kill. He hits hard, blocks shots and just seems to be that agitator that can stymie a power play.
The Capitals failed on all three power play attempts, but did score shortly after one expired to tie the game at 1-1.
2. A Quality Backup Goaltender
I can’t stress enough how refreshing it is to have a backup goaltender you can trust. Lankinen has been that, and sometimes more, for the Nashville Predators in his nine starts.
Saying Lankinen had a tough act to follow after Saros’ epic performance is an understatement. He had to be sharp as well facing 32 Capitals shots and saving 30 of them. Perhaps his best save was off a rebound chance where he flashed the pad with traffic all in front of him.
Lankinen shows awesome awareness and vision when tracking the puck. He controls rebounds effectively and never seems to look too rusty despite getting the backup treatment.
No offense to David Rittich, but it is night and day difference of having Lankinen backing up Saros. I know Lankinen got lit up in his previous two starts against the Golden Knights and the Oilers, but overall he has been solid and we know that the Predators are prone to giving up a lot of scoring chances in barrages.
Lankinen upped his season record to 4-4-1 with a 2.81 GAA and .918 save percentage. A save percentage of just under 92 percent while giving up less than three goals per game is a luxury to get from your backup goaltender.
3. Depth Scoring is Emerging
Although the Predators are having too long of lapses where they’re not generating any scoring chances, when they are getting them, they’re finishing. And they’re getting scoring contributions from all over the lineup.
Tommy Novak got his fourth goal of the season after the Capitals had trouble getting out of their own zone. Novak found the loose puck, smoothly skated to the slot area and beat Charlie Lindgren in sly fashion.
Yakov Trenin, who assisted on Novak’s goal, now has a goal in three of his last six games and has his season total up to five. He scored 17 goals in 80 games last season.
Then you have McDonagh with a highlight reel goal to register the game-winner. As you see up top in the highlight clip, McDonagh put on a slick move to the net to beat Lindgren on his backhand. A move you’d expect from Roman Josi, but maybe not from the defensive minded McDonagh.
The Predators have scoring depth and they’re showing that as of late. In the win over the Hurricanes the night before, Cody Glass and Mark Jankowski got back into the scoring column.
Filip Forsberg has been on a scoring surge as of late, but was held in check this game. It was great to see others chip into the scoring department on an off night from Forsberg.
The Predators have 12 players with at least four goals, with five of those sitting at four goals. Last season the Predators only ended up having 14 players with more than four goals. We haven’t reached the halfway point yet and it looks like this team will have more spread-out scoring.
According to MoneyPuck, the Nashville Predators are one of the unluckier offensive teams in the league. They have the third-lowest Goals For Above Expected at -15.95. Meaning they’ve had trouble finishing and have ran into some really good goaltending. Maybe the winds are shifting, finally.
There remains a lot of room for improvement when it comes to generating offense. The Predators are 27th, which is a slight improvement as of late, in goals per game at 2.79. That’s tied with the Arizona Coyotes.
The Nashville Predators get a couple days off before continuing their five-game Eastern Conference road trip with their second clash of the season with the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators won a month ago in Nashville by a 3-2 score thanks to two power play goals in a game where the Predators registered 17 penalty minutes.
The Nashville Predators are right back on the doorstep of the wildcard. Two points behind the Oilers and three points behind the Flames. They’re also just four points out of the third place Wild in the division.