We're coming up on the midway point of 2023-24, and the Nashville Predators are starting to already catch notice as a surprise team for the NHL as they hold onto the top wildcard position at 19-14-0 under first-year Head Coach Andrew Brunette.
The Predators have beaten up on a lot of middle of the road teams, but do also have a handful of wins over top tier opponents like the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. Beating the Dallas Stars on Saturday would arguably be their most impressive win so far.
This will be the first clash between the division rivals this season, with Dallas completely owning Nashville last season going 4-0-0 and winning by a combined margin of 17 to 5.
Now this Predators team is vastly different than last year's squad in the final year under John Hynes as head coach. Perhaps the biggest matchup to watch is Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene.
Duchene makes his first return to Nashville against the Predators after being shockingly bought out in the offseason. He's having a really strong first year with Dallas as a point-per-game player with 29 points in 30 games.
O'Reilly is kind of the replacement of Duchene in my mind, and he's been really good for his new club in the Predators as well. So you got two veterans who are having early success with their new teams, so I'm watching to see how both of these players perform in today's afternoon matchup at Bridgestone Arena.
The Stars are for real. We know that. They're my preseason Stanley Cup pick and I haven't budge from that. It's a dog fight at the top of the Central Division with Winnipeg at 43 points, Dallas and Colorado tied at 42 points, and Nashville right behind at 38 points. So it doesn't need to be overly exaggerated that this is a critical game for both teams today, yes even in late December.
It's going to be a huge defensive test for the Predators. Dallas is 5th in the NHL in goal per game at 3.52. Puck drop is shortly. Enjoy the game, Smashville.