Nashville Predators at LA Kings: Matchup Keys, Players to Watch

It's the first of three meeting between the Nashville Predators and LA Kings, with the Predators looking to stay in a wildcard spot.

Nashville Predators v Los Angeles Kings
Nashville Predators v Los Angeles Kings / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages
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It's been a while since the Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings squared off, with the last meeting coming on March 11, 2023.

The Predators won two of three against the Kings last season and got five of six possible points, but the roster looks drastically different now and the Kings look like a legit contender to go deep in the playoffs.

The Kings currently have a narrow one-point margin over the Edmonton Oilers in third place in the Pacific Division, while the Predators have 49 points and the second wildcard spot.

24-18-1 (49P). . Preds Kings. 21-12-8 (50P). 67. . 151. Thursday, January 18. 10 PM ET

Matchup Keys for Predators at Kings

The goaltending matchup should be interesting with the Kings already confirming former Predators backup David Rittich as their starter. Rittich comes into the game with really impressive numbers, albeit in limited action with only five games played.

Rittich is boasting a .932 save percentage and a 1.61 GAA, with his most recent outing a 5-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes holding that potent offensive attack to only two goals on 32 shots faced.

The Predators have had a couple days off with Juuse Saros having another lackluster start agianst Vegas on Monday. Saros has a save percentage below 90 in five of his last seven starts.

There have been calls for Kevin Lankinen to get a bigger share of the starts. We'll have to wait closer to puck drop to see who Head Coach Andrew Brunette goes with, but I wouldn't be against starting Lankinen.

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The Kings bring a fierce offensive attack with speed and pure goal scorers left and right. They're 2nd in the NHL in Expected Goals Margin at +19.26 at 5-on-5. An impressive margin of generating offense and not surrendering too many scoring chances to the opponent.

Surprisingly, the Kings aren't as elite on the power as you would expect coming in at 16th overall. The Predators are right behind at 18th. Two teams that have the offensive playmaker to be much better than they're showing with the man advantage.

The key for the Predators is going to be to come out very discliplined and organzied on defense. They have to do a better job protecting whoever is in net, especially Saros who is still stuck in a slump and needs to see the puck better.

It might be a very difficult night to get power play momentum going for the Predators with the Kings having the NHL's most successful penalty kill, killing off 87.2 percent of the power plays they face. Just an enormously impressive success rate and a great strength that will serve them well if they're in the playoffs for a seven-game series.

I have the Predators as the underdog in this one, but they can add another impressive win to their resume if they show attention to detail first on the defensive end. Strong puck management and not giving away the puck in the neutral zone.

What can really turn this game around and give the Predators the edge is if they find a way to crack through the Kings' top ranked penalty kill. This is an area the Predators have to improve in and become mroe consistent if they're going to hang with the NHL's top tier offensive juggernauts.

Players to Watch for Preds at Kings

We already mentioned Rittich as the confirmed starter for the Kings in net. Anytime Predators fans see their team going up against a backup, they expect it to be a Vezina Trophy like performance for that backup.

Luke Evangelista is starting to get hot on the offensive end. He has five goals in his last eight games, and nine goals overall on the season. The Predators need their younger core of talent to pick up some of the scoring load for the top line led by Filip Forsberg. Evangelista is an important player that needs to stay hot.

Denis Gurianov has been searching to add more scoring depth for the Predators, and he has definitely brought the aggressiveness on offensive end with 12 shots on goal in five games.

Gurianov is running out of time before he'll lose his waiver exempt status, so the clock is ticking on him making a big enough impact for the Predators to keep him up on the NHL level for good. Otherwise, he may get sent back down to Milwaukee in the coming days.

Will Brunette shake up the lines at all after the underwhelming performance against Vegas on Monday? We've only seen Cody Glass in the starting lineup once in 2024, so perhaps Brunette gives him another chance in this one.

Kiefer Sherwood hasn't played in two weeks, and I wouldn't be opposed to getting his tenacity and hard forechecking back into the starting lineup, but it will be tough for that to happen as long as Gurianov is getting this strong look to be a starter long-term.

Finally, it really comes down to getting a strong showing from a Predators goaltender, whether that's Saros or Lankinen. The Predators just haven't been able to lean on that part of the game like they have had the luxury of for many years in the past.

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The Kings, much like the Predators, generate a lot offense but aren't the best at finishing at the net. The Kings average the third-most shots on goal per game at 33.8.

For the Predators to get over the top in this one, they're going to need Saros or Lankinen to step up and make a lot of saves. I'm expecting it to be Saros, but it would be clear message from Brunette that he's giving a harder look at Lankinen getting more starts if he gets the nod in this one.