When you look at the current Western Conference standings, on its surface, you would think the Nashville Predators still have a realistic chance to get into the playoff field only being five points back.
However, the remaining schedule with 13 games left will likely have the Nashville Predators as underdogs in all but one of those matchups. It starts tonight as they host the Seattle Kraken at Bridgestone Arena.
For the Nashville Predators to continue this underdog story and defy odds by making their ninth-straight playoff appearance, it will take several upset wins down the stretch.
The Kraken, who are seven points ahead of the Predators and currently holding the first wildcard spot, can improve their chances of getting into the top-three of the Pacific Division.
Additionally, the Kraken are no strangers to playing close games. They hold a record of 6-3-1 in March, with six of those 11 games being decided by one goal.
Tale of the Tape Between Preds and Kraken
This is the second meeting of the season between the Predators and Kraken, with their first matchup coming all the way back on November 8. It was a complete disaster for the Predators right from the start as the Kraken erupted for four goals in the first period, all coming at even strength.
It’s safe to say that these are two very different teams this time around, with Eeli Tolvanen now a member of the Seattle Kraken and since being claimed on waivers as put up 23 points (13 goals) in 36 games.
For comparison, Tolvanen never put up more than 11 goals in a season with the Predators, and it only took 36 games for him to surpass that mark with the Kraken. It will definitely be the main storyline going into Thursday night’s matchup.
The Kraken are an extremely efficient and balanced team on both sides of the ice. They rank third-best in the NHL in Goal Differential at 5-on-5 and have the highest team shooting percentage in the NHL.
What makes Seattle really such a viable team once they get into the playoffs is they’re deep. They have three players with 50-plus points, five with 40-plus points and 12 with 30-plus points.
In between the pipes, the Kraken have gone with a 60-40 approach on their two starting goalies, Martin Jones and Philipp Grubauer. Both have save percentages below 90 percent and hovering around a 3.00 GAA.
So if there is one weakness you can take away from the Kraken, it’s that they’re not necessarily stellar in net. Even with that, Jones and Grubauer aren’t pushovers, either. It hasn’t been confirmed who the Predators will see first in these two home games for the Predators against the Kraken in two days.
Jones is currently listed as the “unconfirmed” starting goaltender for Thursday night, with Saros being list as unconfirmed for the Predators. Jones’ last start was on March 13 in a game where he took the loss against Dallas and surrendering five goals.
Keys to the Predators Getting an Upset Win
On the injury front, we’re waiting to see if the Predators can get anymore relief. They did get back Ryan McDonagh in the last game against Buffalo, which ended up being a huge boost tallying a goal, an assist and a blocked shot.
Josi is listed as day-to-day, but also looks as if he won’t be ready for Thursday’s tilt with the Kraken. Possibly he can be back by Saturday.
I don’t expect nearly as much open ice for the Predators to operate in against Seattle as they had against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. The Kraken will play a tighter and more physical game, and the Predators will have to dig deep to generate space. Passing and creating takeaways to get out on the rush will be paramount.
As is usually the case, the Predators will need to kick this slumping power play into gear. They’re 0-for-12 with the man advantage over the last five games, and have only received five power play opportunities in the last three. So not only do they need to connect, but drawing penalties has been a struggle as well.
How the Predators open the game is obviously going to be key as well, as I already mentioned how the first game went back in November. If the Predators can come out playing solid in the first 10 minutes and establish some puck possession and forechecking, then things should open up for them to keep this game close til the end.
X-Factors to Watch
For the Predators, I’ll be looking for Duchene and Tomasino to hopefully remain on the same line and see if they can carry over what they did against Buffalo on Tuesday. Tomasino playing alongside a veteran leader like Duchene should be beneficial to him.
Novak has emerged as the most consistent offensive player on this team. Let’s see if he can remain on a hot streak. He has a string of points in six of his last seven games and has jumped to fourth on the team in points with 32.
As I mentioned earlier, the Kraken are deep. Aside from the easy choice of how Tolvanen responds to his first game back in Nashville, I’ll be watching rookie Matty Beniers who has 49 points in 68 games and is the leading favorite to win the Calder Trophy later this summer.
The Predators will truly have to earn their way into the postseason by beating current playoff teams to preserve their playoff streak. Only two of their final 13 games will be against a team out of the current playoff picture.