Three Keys for Nashville Predators to Put it All Together vs. Ducks

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 30: Jakob Silfverberg #33 of the Anaheim Ducks battles Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators for position on a faceoff during the third period of a game at Honda Center on December 30, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 30: Jakob Silfverberg #33 of the Anaheim Ducks battles Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators for position on a faceoff during the third period of a game at Honda Center on December 30, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

A recurring theme for the Nashville Predators in 2023-24 is playing well enough to win, but not finishing the job. It makes the losses that much more hard to swallow, and now they get another chance to deliver two points against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Predators are in the midst of a very long stretch at home, playing nine of 10. They just took a back-and-forth, wild loss to the Arizona Coyotes where the defense broke down and Juuse Saros wasn’t able to override it with clutch saves.

It’s been a case of the Predators not only losing, but also failing to even get it to overtime and at least secure a point. They’ve fallen to last place in the Central Division with a 5-9-0 record and in danger of digging themselves into a deep hole if this homestand is unsuccessful.

Key #1: Nashville Predators Need a Dominant Performance in Net

Whether it’s Saros who gets his 13th start of the season or if the Predators turn to Kevin Lankinen for his third start, this team is in desperate need of one of those classic goalie gems. A game that the opponent leaves afterwards and just shakes their head that they did all they could but couldn’t beat the goalie.

Unfortunately, Saros hasn’t been able to do that much so far in his 12 starts. It’s of course never completely on the goalie, but Saros is outside the top-70, yes you’re reading that right, in Goals Saved Above Expected.

When a team is in a funk and everything seems to be going wrong, a locked in goalie can quickly turn the tide back in your favor. We know this team is capable of scoring goals in quick fashion, but these track meet games like we saw against Arizona spells disaster.

Related Story. Panic Strikes for Preds as Juuse Saros Isn't Bailing Them Out. light

Anaheim and Nashville have played the same amount of games, with Anaheim having scored two more goals. But both teams are outside the top-20, while Nashville has a higher Expected Goals For than Anaheim.

The Ducks have speed and young talent similar to the Coyotes. They will be looking to feast on the counter attack just like the Coyotes did, and it will take clutch saves from either Saros or Lankinen. They have to step up in critical situations and make some difficult saves.

I made it clear over the weekend that I’d go with Lankinen against Anaheim, and even entertain going with Lankinen in back-to-back games if he plays well and pushes the Predators to win tonight.

Key #2: Find that Power Play Mojo Again

The Predators power play has been very streaky so far. They’ve had spurts where they look like they can be a top-10 unit, and then other stretches where they look cursed and the passing isn’t there to get set up.

The Ducks average nearly 14 minutes of penalties per game, 2nd-most in the NHL. They’ve taken seven major penalties and 68 minor penalties. The Predators have to be ready to take advantage of that trend.

I’m a firm believer in what Head Coach Andrew Brunette is building with the philosophy of the power play. You see the aggression and you see the creativity. The problem is, if that passing is off just ever so slightly, then it’s hard to get set up. That’s been the issue lately. The timing and passing has been off.

The Predators power play did go 1-for-4 against the Coyotes, but it came up short in critical situations on two power play chances in the third period when the Predators were trying to reclaim the lead.

This looks like a perfect game for the power play to really make a difference in getting the Predators back in the win column.

Ryan O’Reilly leads the Predators in power play goals with five, with Thomas Novak having four. No other player has more than one power play goal.

Unfortunately, the Predators will be without Novak for the foreseeable future. He has been placed on Injured Reserve, which will shake up the power play structure. Novak was on the top unit, and this might leave the door open for Sherwood to get in on the power play.

Related Story. Tommy Novak to IR, Will Test Preds Depth. light

Key #3: Play a 60-Minute Game, Avoid the Lapses

This team just isn’t good enough to override long stretches of bad hockey in games. It is killing the Predators in their last three losses to Arizona, Winnipeg and Calgary.

Whether it’s frustration penalties, losing your focus or falling away from your gameplan, this team has to avoid these things. When the Predators power play expired in the first period against Arizona, a bad line change left an open breakaway for the tying goal at 2-2.

Brunette has to be harping on this in practice. You can’t respond to adversity by letting it snowball and get worse because you’re pressing and getting away from your original gameplan.

These players know they’re not playing up to par. They know they can’t let this spiral out of control still so early in the season. This is why I expect a complete effort tonight against Anaheim. It’s what I call a “Get Right” game.

Ryan McDonagh is also needed back in the worst way. He’s that type of player that holds the team together throughout the course of a game. He’s always going to bring it, especially on the defensive end and protecting the goalie on the penalty kill.

The Predators have had two days off while the Ducks played on Sunday and got the 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks. That ended a brief two-game losing streak for them.

Ducks and Predators will drop the puck from Bridgestone Arena at 7 P.M. CDT and broadcasted exclusively on Hulu and ESPN+.