A switch has appeared to have been flipped by the Nashville Predators in the last couple of weeks. They would have a nine-game point streak going if not for a late collapse inside a minute in regulation to lose to the Dallas Stars on December 27.
The five-game Eastern Conference road trip continues tonight in Ottawa. The second and final meeting of the 2022-23 season, with the Senators winning in Nashville by a 3-2 score just a month ago.
Looking back on that game, the Senators had six power play attempts, connecting on two of them. The second power play goal scored by Drake Batherson in the third period ended up being the difference-maker.
Sizing up the Senators
The Senators are a hard team to put a peg on. They’re definitely not slouches, and if anything, have underperformed considering the offseason they had to improve the roster.
Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux were the coveted offseason acquisitions for the Senators, and both scored against the Predators in the first meeting.
The Senators should be much better than their pedestrian 18-18-3 record. Their roster is impressive on paper. It doesn’t stop with DeBrincat and Giroux. Their entire top-six boasts a lineup that can burn you if you make mistakes.
Tim Stutzle, playing in his third NHL season, is up to 39 points in 35 games. He is very productive on the Senators power play with six goals.
You of course can’t forget about Brady Tkachuk who is a winger on their top forward line. He is an agitator, a hard skater and is having one of his most productive offensive seasons of his five-year NHL career. He’s up to 40 points and has a decent chance to break his career high of 67 points set just last season. Before that, Tkachuk had never surpassed 45 points, which was his rookie year.
We’ll also see an old friend in Austin Watson on the Senators fourth line. He is already in his third season with Ottawa after leaving the Predators following the 2019-20 season. Although he has never been a productive offensive player, he has appeared to have found his role as a fourth line tone-setter for Ottawa.
The Predators will likely have to deal with Cam Talbot in between the pipes for the Senators. He is in his first season with the Senators after bouncing around the league on several teams since his rookie year of 2013-14.
Talbot got roasted in his last game on Saturday when the Seattle Kraken scored five goals on just 19 shots. He did post a .931 save percentage against the Predators on 27 saves in the December 10th win.
Keys to Victory for the Nashville Predators
I’ve been really pleased with how much improvement the penalty kill has been showing as of late. A key reason why the Nashville Predators are winning games and not getting blown out.
The Senators are a very dangerous team with the man advantage. They’re fourth in the NHL connecting on 28 percent of their power play opportunities. While the Predators have cut back on their penalties compared to last season when they led the NHL, they’re still a highly penalized team.
For the Predators to remain in their winning ways, the penalty kill is going to have to continue to be a major strength. Having Juuse Saros playing out of this world definitely helps.
Saros is going to be the primary reason for Predators if they stay on the winning track. This is no secret. If he stays on this Vezina Trophy caliber level, then the Predators are going to eventually climb back into the playoff picture. They’re only three points behind Edmonton for a wildcard spot heading into this game.
Finally, my final key to victory is doing a much better job at limiting shots on goal for the opposition. As much as Saros can be counted on to bail you out, he’s still human and this trend of open target practice for the opposition isn’t sustainable.
The Predators give up the fourth-most shots against in the NHL at 34.1. They are among some bad company on that list with teams like the Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets. Thankfully, Saros has neutralized that.
On the flip side, the Senators register 33 shots per game which is good for seventh-most in the NHL. This is a key area to watch in this matchup. Will Saros have to once again face a barrage of shots and be near-perfect to keep this winning streak alive?
The Predators need to be better in their zone exits, harder on the forecheck to generate puck possession, and of course limit the odd-man rushes. Teams with a lot of speed seems to always give the Predators fits.
Another way you limit the shots on goal is obviously avoiding the penalty box. You can start with not giving the Senators six power play chances like you did in the first meeting.