After back-to-back division wins and an absolute thriller to beat the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, the Nashville Predators are in search of their first three-game win streak of 2023-24.
The Predators will host the Calgary Flames, a team they completely fell apart against just over two weeks ago in a 4-2 loss. A game where they had a 2-0 lead heading into the 2nd period.
Head Coach Andrew Brunette said after the loss to the Flames on November 7 that it was the first game to that point that he walked away “disappointed in our group”. So this should be the perfect game for this evolving roster to right the wrongs from that loss.
On Monday against the Avalanche the Predators managed to score two goals in the final minute of regulation, in a game where Brunette surprisingly decided to bench his young superstar Luke Evangelista.
Let’s get to our three keys to dousing the Flames and getting the win streak to three games.
Key #1: Protect the Goalie, Play Disciplined on the Defensive End
I really loved how the Nashville Predators responded against the Avalanche, one of the top Stanley Cup contenders. A big reason they were able to stick around in the game until the offense found two goals in the final 60 seconds was due to solid defensive structure.
It is no easy feat to hold the mighty Avalanche to under three Expected Goals. While they didn’t rack up a lot of blocked shots, only 10 for the whole game, they did build a shell around Juuse Saros allowing him to see the puck better to make the saves.
Furthermore, the Predators penalty kill really seems to be turning a corner. They did surrender one power play goal to the Avalanche, but killed off the other three to keep the score within reach.
Saros is trying to play out of his current rut, and ending his personal five-game losing streak on Monday should help springboard him into some better play. However, it’s critical that the Predators play sound defensively and get back on defense after a failed rush attempt on offense.
The Flames aren’t going to be confused for an offensive juggernaut. They’re in the bottom half of the NHL in Expected Goals, while the Predators are top-10.
Key #2: The Superstars Have to Show Up This Time
In the last meeting with Calgary it was the rare occurrence of Filip Forsberg, Ryan O’Reilly and Roman Josi all failing to register a point. You’re not beating anyone when that happens, at least not very often.
The remedy to getting some revenge on the Flames on Wednesday night is quite simple; Forsberg and his fellow veteran stars of this team have to produce. Forsberg has seven goals in the five games since losing to the Flames. O’Reilly has five points in five games in that same timeframe, while Josi has been quiet and is currently on a two-game pointless drought.
The confidence should be high that the Predators turn in a much better offensive performance than the first meeting with Calgary. Only 18 shots on goal just isn’t going to get it done.
Look for better passing, more aggressive skating and a full 60-minute effort that Brunette has been preaching. If the do that, they have a strong chance of beating a Flames team that is in disarray.
This game will be an interesting test to see how this coaching staff makes adjustments from a game that was probably the worst overall performance to date in the Brunette era.
Key #3: Force the Flames into Mistakes, Use the Speed to Draw Penalties
I have a lot of confidence in the Predators power play continuing to show improvement. They went for the goose egg on the power play against a top tier Avalanche penalty kill on Monday, and went 0-for-2 with the man advantage in the first meeting with Calgary.
The Flames come into this matchup ranked 6th in the NHL in penalty kill. It’s their bread and butter. They’re a rugged and physical team, while managing to not take a whole lot of penalties in the process.
For the Predators, they have to find a way to remain very aggressive on their offensive rushes and on their forechecking. Get the Flames chasing the puck, and then feast on your power play opportunities.
I can see this being another low-scoring affair in the neighborhood of a 3-2 final score, so capitalizing on the few power play chances you get is going to be crucial.
This comes as no easy task with Tommy Novak being out with injury as one of the Predators’ top power play producers with four goals. O’Reilly leads in this category with five power play goals.
The Predators are 14th on the power play and in a four-way tie with Red Wings, Senators and Canadiens. On top of that, the Predators have the fourth-most power play time in the NHL at over 111 minutes.
Puck drop is 9 P.M. EDT from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The Predators and Flames will play one more time during the regular season after tonight, again in Nashville on January 4.