It will be an 11-day break for the Nashville Predators when they finally return to the ice for game action, and we can only keep our fingers crossed that their momentum going in hasn’t faded.
Nashville has won five of their last six games dating back to a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames on January 16. A very thin seven-goal margin in those five wins. They did it mainly with stellar goaltending as usual, but also much better structure defensively.
Despite still not looking anywhere close to their full potential, it’s safe to say that the Predators have managed to tread water and hopefully still have their best hockey ahead of them. They have about a 32 percent chance to make the postseason according to MoneyPuck.com. Four teams (Dallas, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Colorado) have better odds.
With that, here are my top four games I have circled on the calendar in the weeks following the NHL All-Star Break.
1. February 7th vs. Vegas
Let’s start with the obvious one because not only is it a difficult opponent, but it’s fair to expect the Nashville Predators to have some rust to shake off. Maybe the Golden Knights will as well as they’ll be coming back from nine days off without a game.
The Predators and Golden Knights played a thriller on New Years Eve that ended in a 5-4 overtime win for Vegas. Filip Forsberg netted his ninth career hat trick when he tied the game with under 10 seconds left.
You’re welcome for refreshing your memory on that with this highlight clip viaSportsNet:
Probably going to need similar heroics from Forsberg, and some others, to beat Vegas out of the break. We’re talking about a sinking Vegas team that has lost seven of their last nine and only one of those losses did they manage to even get a point.
A couple ugly losses are sprinkled in there as well against the Coyotes, Islanders and Kings. So expect this team to come in ticked off and ready to reset the deck.
Vegas was also dealt a major injury blow with Mark Stone, their second-leading scorer, being out indefinitely. This team has faded back to third place in the Pacific Division and only five points clear of being out of playoff contention altogether.
Huge game for both teams going in different directions. The Predators need to prove a point and show they haven’t loss any momentum.
2. February 13th vs. Arizona
Have to win the games you’re supposed to if the Predators are going to climb back into the postseason picture and stay there. They already got a lot of current playoff teams on their remaining schedule, so you can’t let games slip away against teams like Arizona.
This obviously means no disrespect towards the Coyotes. They don’t lay down for anyone despite a large talent gap on most occasions. They will be terrific spoilers down the stretch.
This will be the second meeting of the season for Nashville and Arizona, with the Predators squeaking out a 4-3 shootout win on November 21. That game saw the Predators give up a shorthanded goal with under seven minutes in regulation to force it into extra time.
If the Predators are truly turning a corner, you can’t drop a matchup like this. They almost fumbled it away the first meeting, but I think this team has shown some gradual strides since then.
The Predators and Coyotes will meet again less than two weeks later as we’ll get to see the college arena atmosphere at Arizona State’s Mullet Arena. Glorious name for an arena, by the way.
3. February 19th @ Minnesota
A team that surprisingly the Nashville Predators have owned head-to-head in recent memory. It’s going to be extremely difficult for the Predators to get one of the two wildcards, much less finish in the top-three.
With that said, getting quality divisional wins over teams like Minnesota will boost your chances considerably. The Predators won the first meeting way back on November 15 by a 2-1 final score. The Wild went 0-for-5 on the power play as Juuse Saros stopped 32 of 33 shots faced.
The Wild are a hard team to figure out much like the Predators. A team that has a good enough roster to be a playoff team, but underperforms a lot. They hold third place in the Central Division, but many feel that a fully healthy Avalanche team will eventually overtake them.
It could very well come down to Minnesota and Nashville battling for one of the two wildcard spots heading into the final week of the regular season. You need these head-to-head wins under your belt. I feel good matchup wise in favor of the Predators, and also if it were a seven-game series it would be a toss-up.
4. February 28th vs. Pittsburgh
Another opponent that scares me even though they’re not nearly as dominant as they once were. The Pittsburgh Penguins haunt me in my nightmare as a Predators fan thanks to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
Those days are long gone, but I always bring a little extra energy and desire to see the Predators beat the Penguins. The Penguins are currently in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division at the All-Star break and clinging onto a one-point lead over Buffalo for the final wildcard spot in the East.
Sidney Crosby is still producing points at a very efficient level with 60 in 49 games. Good for 12th in the NHL. Yes, Evgeni Malkin is also still out there lurking for Predators fans to boo relentlessly when he comes to Bridgestone Arena one time per year.
Some extra emphasis for this matchup, always. This will also be just three days before the trade deadline. By then, judging where the Predators are in the standings for better or worse, we’ll have maybe a more clear picture on what the strategy will be.
Nashville split the season series with Pittsburgh last season. They had a resounding 4-1 victory in mid-March and lost 3-2 in overtime in April in a game David Rittich started and made 27 saves on 30 shots.
Obviously all of these games matter, but these are just four that stick out to me for different reasons after the All-Star break in February. I left the Boston matchup out because I fear it will be ugly and at 1st Intermission we’ll be checking what new shows are streaming.