The overall feeling surrounding the Nashville Predators has hit rock bottom territory following Thursday’s eye-opening loss to the Boston Bruins, and now they take on a Florida Panthers team hungry for a playoff spot.
While you can argue the Panthers have been a disappointment in their own right, they have a much better chance of salvaging their season and going on a run in the postseason.
This will be the first of two meetings between the Predators and Panthers, with the other coming the night before the trade deadline on March 2 in Sunrise, Florida.
Nashville Predators Take on Inconsistent, But Dangerous Panthers Team
Don’t get fixated on the Panthers’ ordinary win-loss record of 28-24-6. They are a team that can get hot and beat anyone in the NHL. Since January 28, they have solid wins over Boston, Tampa, , Minnesota and Washington.
The Panthers thrive off of generating enormous amounts of offensive pressure, meaning this matchup has the capabilities of being a horrendous rerun from Thursday for Nashville.
Less than two weeks ago, the Panthers torched the Tampa Bay Lightning for seven goals, and just put up six goals on Washington in their last outing. They rank second in the NHL in goals with 200, and seventh in Expected Goals % when at 5-on-5.
The problem the Panthers have faced on occasion, and maybe speaks at to why they’re in the middle of the pack in the standings, is they’re not elite defensively. They’re in the bottom half of the league in Expected Goals Against, hovering around the same number as the Predators.
This might be the perfect game for the Panthers to improve on that number as the Predators are well-noted as being an abyss on offense. Basically since the calendar turned to 2023, the Predators rarely score more than two or three goals in a game:
Expect a no nonsense Panthers team in Nashville in this afternoon game. They’re in a dog fight with five other teams to secure one of the two Eastern Conference wildcard spots. They sit just one point out going into Saturday’s action against Nashville, and can leap frog their way into a playoff spot with a win.
Nashville, on the other hand, has fallen to seven points back with the suddenly hot St. Louis Blues right behind them. Since the All-Star break, it has truly been a horror show.
Sizing up the Panthers Roster
Of course you have to start with Matthew Tkachuk, who is fourth in the NHL in points with 75 and fifth in assists with 48. You can pretty much book him to get a multi-point game against Nashville.
The Panthers Captain, Aleksander Barkov, is widely underrated around the league. He’s got 49 points in 47 games and 21 of those have come on the power play.
This is a rather deep roster of forwards, which speaks to why they’re high-powered in producing goals. Carter Verhaeghe leads the team in goals with 29, follwed by Tkachuk with 27 and Sam Reinhart with 20.
The Predators have zero players with 20-plus goals, with the injured Forsberg at 19 and Matt Duchene with 16.
Forsberg remains day-to-day, giving Philip Tomasino some more NHL playing time in his absence. The last update from Head Coach John Hynes on Forsberg was leading up to the Bruins matchup when he was said to have been making “progress” along with the also injured Alexandre Carrier:
Our old friend Nick Cousins has landed himself a regular spot on the Panthers third line averaging 11:29 of ice time, down from his two seasons playing in Nashville.
Defensively the Panthers aren’t quite as scary, but Aaron Ekblad should never be overlooked. He’s not a high point scoring defenseman, but he certainly gets the job done as a top pairing defenseman.
It’s unconfirmed, but expect Sergei Bobrovsky to go between the pipes for Florida. The veteran with 611 career NHL starts has had somewhat of an average year with a GAA slightly above three goals per game.
Do the Preds Have Anything Left to Give?
This team looks completely broken. Maybe they can give us one more push almost like a beaten boxer pulls out a couple more rounds before the final bell, but this feels like it’s only going to get uglier.
The Panthers are another matchup nightmare with their potent offensive attack, and if it gets to be a quick three or four-goal lead in the second period, you have to pull Juuse Saros and not subject him to this.
I actually think the Predators show a little more fight in this one and keep it interesting in the third period. But do I think they’ll win? Absolutely not. I’ll go a heartbreaking regulation loss due to power play chances wasted and the Panthers eventually winning 4-2.