After opening 2023-24 against five opponents who made the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Nashville Predators return home to take on the winless San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
The Predators have had enormous success in recent years over the Sharks, dating back to their last loss in the head-to-head series back on November 9th, 2019. A string of seven-straight wins for the Predators.
But as we all know, you can never take any NHL opponent lightly, and the Sharks managed to keep it somewhat close against the Boston Bruins on Thursday in a 3-1 loss. The Sharks have been outscored 15-6 through their first four games.
As many expected, the Sharks are in store for an extremely difficult rebuilding year. They lack much top end proven talent aside from Tomas Hertl as their top line center, and don’t have trustworthy goaltending, either.
So this should be a cake walk for the Nashville Predators, right? Can’t even let yourself think that way for a second. Let’s get to the keys to victory for the Predators to get their season record to 3-3-0.
Replicate Your Defensive Structure from Thursday’s win over Rangers
The 4-1 win over the New York Rangers featured some flashy offense, but it was really the defensive structure and discipline that really impressed me the most. They kept a lethal Rangers offensive attack mainly on the perimeter and frustrated those skater from finding scoring chances.
The Sharks come in with drastically fewer offensive weapons, and a repeat defensive performance from Thursday should really keep the Sharks from generating much of anything at even strength.
At 5-on-5, the Sharks are 29th in Expected Goals For at just 5.32. That’s in four games. The Predators have to avoid carelessly turning the puck over in the neutral zone or when exiting their own zone, and they should really be able to limit San Jose from getting quality looks on net.
What can really butcher this seemingly straightforward gameplan is giving San Jose life on the power play. And while San Jose’s power play is pretty bad, you can’t give them too many opportunities and then allow them to build offensive momentum and wear out your defenders.
Attack, Attack and Attack Some More
The Predators need to put relentless pressure on the San Jose defenders. If there’s an area where the Sharks can maybe pull off the upset in this matchup, it’s mucking things up in the neutral zone and trying to win a defensive stalemate.
Even if it’s choppy early, the Predators have to stay committed to their offensive attack and wear down those San Jose defenders. Grind away, don’t stop attacking, and of course be accurate in your passes both on the rush and when setting up for scoring chances.
If the pressure doesn’t lead to goals early on, it will lead to San Jose taking penalties and giving the Predators more work on their growing power play.
This isn’t the game where the Predators need to play it safe and hope for it to be close in the third period. I’d feel more that way if you’re going up against a more talented roster that can counter attack more effectively, but against the Sharks, I’m all about constantly pushing the puck and forcing them into mistakes on defense.
Find Those Loose Pucks for Rebounds
As of this publication the starting goalies for Predators and Sharks haven’t been announced yet. The Sharks gave Kaapo Kahkonen the start against Boston on Thursday, and he played rather well for 33 saves on 36 shots against a very difficult opponent.
The starts have been split between Kahkonen and Mackenzie Blackwood through four games. Blackwood has faced an enormous amount of shots in his two starts, facing 94 shots and only surrendering seven goals.
So it’s very possible that whoever starts in net for San Jose against Nashville on Saturday night, this could be their lifeline to steal a game from Nashville. Just ride a hot goaltenders that can minimize damage even with 40-plus shots faced.
This is why it’s imperative that Nashville keeps attacking San Jose and not play a conservative style. That’s exactly what San Jose wants. Then they can lean on their goaltending and hope to score a couple goals to win a low scoring affair.
Unfortunately the Predators will be down a key player in Cody Glass for the next seven to 10 days with a lower body injury, shaking up the centers for Nashville. They skated with 11 forwards for most of the game against the Rangers.
Puck drop is set for 7 P.M. CDT on what’s a busy night for the NHL with 15 games.