Nashville Predators at Vegas Golden Knights: Three Keys to Beating the Champs

The Predators travel to Sin City to face the defending champs, and will have to avoid the lack of effort mentality if they're going to have a chance at the upset.

Jan 15, 2024; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Luke Schenn (2) and Vegas
Jan 15, 2024; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Luke Schenn (2) and Vegas / Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
facebooktwitterreddit

The overall sentiment around the Nashville Predators is low with the team currently on the playoff bubble and many thinking it's time to sell at the trade deadline.

There's nine games left before the potential sell-off happens, with the Vegas Golden Knights up next. A stiff challenge for a Predators team that's coming off a win over the Blues to stay relevant in the wildcard race.

It's hard to trust the Predators to string together multiple wins in a row. Inconsistency has plagued this team all year, and the Golden Knights have championship pedigree and make teams pay the price when they don't bring the full effort.

The Predators lost 4-1 to the Golden Knights on January 15. The game was close in the late moments of the 2nd period before Mark Stone made it 3-1 with 24 second remaining. The Predators managed 35 shots on net but Logan Thompson was at his best while Juuse Saros had a .893 save percentage giving up three goals.

Key #1: Protect the Goalie, Play Lockdown Defense

I know the motto of this team under Andrew Brunette was going to be run and gun, push the pace and thrive on the power play. First and foremost, the Predators have to get more disciplined in their own end.

It's no secret that Juuse Saros, while not nearly as sharp has he has been for his NHL career, has also gotten very little support from his defense on many occasions. Too many odd man rushes the other way due to poor passing and lazy skating.

The Predators have to get back to the basics against the Golden Knights. You can't gift wrap goals for the reigning Stanley Cup champs. I can promise you, they don't need any extra help.

The Golden Knights aren't some highly potent offensive team like you might expect. They're middle of the pack ranking 14th in goals per game at 3.15. Also just 20th on the power play.

Additionally, the Golden Knights aren't at full strength in the health department right now. Jack Eichel has been out for a while but is getting closer to returning, while William Carrier has been out over a month and on IR, and Shea Theodore has been out since mid-November but is now considered Day to Day.

If the Predators bring a disciplined defensive game to Vegas, they can keep this score relatively low and have a chance to win an ugly one.

Key #2: Control Puck Possession, Hit them With a Hard Forecheck

Predators need to play with a very high intensity against Vegas. That means winning puck battles on the boards and laying out some hard hits in the process. We know Jeremy Lauzon can be counted on for that, but when you control possession you tend to draw more penalties.

They have to find a way to make Vegas uncomfortable and force them into mistakes of their own. You can't sit back and let them dictate things. Vegas is one of the least penalized teams in the league. They have the second fewest minor penalties and only average 7:55 in penalty minutes per game.

feed

Along with my first key to the game, delivering on this key will also keep the score low and manageable. I don't like the Predators' chances of winning a track meet style game against the sharp shooters Vegas has like Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

Also important to note that Vegas is on the back end of a back-to-back. The Predators need to pressure them hard in their own zone and hopefully force them into mistakes that can lead to offensive zone giveaways and high danger chances for the Predators to take advantage of.

You cannot let the Golden Knights coast through this game. The intensity needs to be 10 out of 10 to have a chance.

Key #3: Finish on Your High Danger Chances

The Predators are among the worst teams in the league when it comes to Expected Goal Differential. They're at -13 goals under what has been expected according to MoneyPuck. That puts them down in the neighborhood with such teams as San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago.

The starting goalies haven't been officially confirmed yet for this late night puck drop, but it's fully expected to be Adin Hill in the starter's crease for Vegas. He is part of arguably the best goalie duo in the NHL and brings a .931 save percentage, 2.06 GAA in 21 games.

Simply speaking, you're likely not beating Hill on soft and predictable shots from the blueline or outside the faceoff circles. Sure, deflections can happen, but the Predators are going to have to thrive in getting in the dirty areas to feast on rebound chances and slot shots to beat Hill.

The Predators generated 14 high danger chances in the win against the Blues, resulting four goals plus an empty netter. The game before when they got ran out of the building against the Stars to a 9-2 final score, the Predators managed a measly three high danger chances.

In the first meeting on January 15 the Predators won the shot battle 35 to 28, but the quality of scoring chances wasn't there with the Predators only having a 2.75 Expected Goals. Need to find better looks at the net tonight to beat Hill.

Brunette has called out his team's effort several times this season. You're not getting into those high danger areas and beating goalies like Hill with a lack of effort.

I might sound crazy and regret this, but I think the message has been received loud and clear. Veteran leaders of the team like Roman Josi and Ryan O'Reilly know that they have to treat every game like it's an elimination game.

Next. Trotz Message. A Simple Message from Trotz to Preds: Work Hard, Get Paid. dark

I'm not sure if the Predators win tonight, but I do think the effort and intensity will be there. I can see this being a grind it out type of game if Juuse Saros can play to his high standard and carry over what he did against the Blues.

The reason why the Golden Knights can win back-to-back Stanley Cups this year is because of their duo in net. It sets them apart from some other top teams who still have goalie concerns. The Predators can end up playing a superb game tonight and still come out on the losing end.

I have the Predators getting this to overtime but losing 3-2. I don't trust the Predators to finish on their scoring chances. They've given me no reason all season to think they're going to flip switch suddenly. The intensity will hopefully not be a question to keep it close at least.