Three Keys to Success for Nashville Predators in Rematch against Canucks

Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) makes a save as time expires during the second period against the Vancouver Canucks at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) makes a save as time expires during the second period against the Vancouver Canucks at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

An early season rematch for the Nashville Predators against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night, a team that held the Predators to just 18 shots on goal in a 3-2 win in Nashville just one week ago.

The Predators should come into this game well-rested as they begin a five-game Western road trip that will span nearly 5,000 miles in travel.

They’ve played just one game over the last week, a 3-2 overtime win over the Maple Leafs on Saturday, and now will look to kick the offensive into a much higher gear than what they showed in the first matchup with Vancouver.

The Canucks have been one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL, averaging right at four goals per game, but averaging near the bottom in shots per game at 28.3.

On top of efficient goal scoring, the Canucks have gotten quality goaltending from Thatcher Demko with a 1.91 GAA and .936 save percentage. That combination has the Canucks sitting with a 5-2-1 record and second place in the Pacific Division.

Let’s get to the keys to success for the Nashville Predators as they sit at 4-4-0 on the young season and will try to get above .500 for the first time in 2023-24.

Key #1: Match the Puzzle Pieces, Make the Adjustments from a Week Ago

This key falls on Head Coach Andrew Brunette and his coaching staff. When you get an early season rematch like this one just a week apart, you get to see how coaches can make adjustments.

The Predators, while getting goals from Kiefer Sherwood and Colton Sissons, just couldn’t find any offensive rhythm in the first meeting with Vancouver. The fact they still could’ve gotten that game to overtime and walked away with two points despite the meager total of shot was a credit to Nashville’s defense as well.

Brunette and company will likely throw out some different line combinations for this rematch. The introductions of their two waiver pickups of Samuel Fagemo and Liam Foudy has made predicting who starts and who sits hard to figure out until the lineups are officially announced later in the day.

From a scouting standpoint, it’s great for the Predators that they have a deep starting lineup full of different options. For instance, Juuso Parssinen went from playing top line to fourth line in the win over Toronto, which bumped up veteran Gustav Nyquist to top line duties.

Then you have Philip Tomasino who got back into the starting lineup after three games of being a healthy scratch. It has to make it hard on the opposing team to prepare when they have no clue at all how Brunette will change things from game to game.

Tomasino sat as a healthy scratch in the home game against Vancouver a week ago. It would be really surprising to see Tomasino sent right back to the bench after just one game. We will see.

Key #2: Keep Cooking on the Power Play

The power play was humming against the Maple Leafs on Saturday. Even in their three attempts where they didn’t score, they were getting zone time and moving the puck well. It’s building into an actual strength for this team.

Ryan O’Reilly tallied both power play goals with some great chemistry being shown with Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and Luke Evangelista. These four on a power play unit together has the potential to really become a top-10 producer in the NHL.

The Predators have moved up to 11th in the NHL in power play percentage at 23.5. The Canucks have been less than stellar on the penalty kill, sitting outside the top-20 while surrendering eight power play goal on 31 tries for the opponent.

The biggest improvement that the Predators power play has shown from last season to the current one is creativity and decision-making. Moving without the puck has been excellent and it’s keeping the penalty kill guessing on where the puck is going next.

To excel in this, your passing has to be crisp and the decision-making on time. The goals will follow. If the Predators get a little revenge and beat a solid Canucks team, they’ll likely need a power play goal or two.

Key #3: Protect the House, Keep the Defensive Structure

For the most part you have to be impressed early on with the team defense from the Nashville Predators through eight games. They’re averaging less than 30 shots against per game, which is a recipe for success when protecting your goaltender.

Even in the 3-2 loss to the Canucks where the offense just couldn’t get going, the defense held strong to keep the score close. They only surrendered 24 shots, and unfortunately Saros gave up an early goal that he usually snags with the glove.

It’s unconfirmed if Saros will get his ninth-consecutive start to open 2023-24, or will Kevin Lankinen make his first start. He’s only been seen once in relief duty of Saros.

Since you’re going on a five-game road trip, we’ll definitely see Lankinen at some point on this road trip make his first start. If it’s me, I’m starting Saros tonight against Vancouver and starting Lankinen on Thursday at Seattle.

Either way, you have two quality goaltenders that can do their part just fine if you play disciplined defense in front of them.  You can’t help but be very satisfied with the way Dante Fabbro has responded to the pressure by playing on the top pairing with Josi.

Among defensive pairings with at least 50 minutes of ice time together, the Predators have two pairings in the top-20 in Expected Goals Against.

Jeremy Lauzon and Tyson Barrie with 80 minutes together have given up 2.2 Expected Goals Against, while Fabbro and Josi have 87 minutes together and a 2.6 Expected Goals Against. Not bad at all.

As mentioned earlier, the Canucks have been averaging under 30 shots on goal per game. But they thrive on the power play with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller on their top unit.

At 5v5 even strength the Predators have been a force on the defensive end. They only gave up one Canucks power play chance in the first meeting. It helped keep the score close despite the lack of offense.

The Predators should turn in a much better offensive showing and if anything this rematch is a toss-up. Two evenly-matched teams and it should make for a fun clash between two teams looking to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing in 2023.