Nashville Predators vs. Lightning: Three Matchup X-Factors

The Lightning Beat the Nashville Predators in the Season Opener 5-3 in Tampa
Nashville Predators v Tampa Bay Lightning
Nashville Predators v Tampa Bay Lightning / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

In a rematch from the 2023-24 season opener, the Nashville Predators will host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. The two teams treated the fans to an exciting and intense back-and-forth affair in Tampa on October 10.

The Predators already look like a much different team from that season-opening loss, which was a game they had the lead in early in the third period before the Lightning took advantage of some Predators penaltieds, including a penalty shot goal to put them back ahead.

At minimum, the Predators will be without three players that played in the first matchup; Tommy Novak and Cody Glass remain on IR, while Alexandre Carrier is considered week-to-week with an upper body injury.

Cole Smith also missed the last game, a win over the Chicago Blackhawks, due to an illness. It's unknown if he'll be able to suit up tonight against Tampa or if the Predators will once again go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

Liam Foudy could also end up being inserted back into the starting lineup after being a healthy scratch the last two games, both wins for Nashville.

X Factor #1: Contain Nikita Kucherov

Easier said than done, right? Nikita Kucherov is leading the NHL in points with 44, five ahead of the next closest player, J.T. Miller.

Half of Kucherov's 44 points have come on the power play, and we know Nashville has had it's difficulties at stopping elite level power plays. It got them burned and cost them the win in the first meeting.

The last two games the Predators have been masterful at playing a disciplined game and staying out of the penalty box. Once you put the Lightning on the power play, Kucherov is going to set up in his high danger spot and just wait to crank his world class shot.

Kucherov also leads the NHL in shots on goal with 126, while Filip Forsberg isn't too far behind him in 5th place among shooters with 102 shots on goal.

Containing Kucherov starts with keeping Tampa off the power play. At 5v5 even strength you have a much better chance of keeping Kucherov out of the high danger areas and forcing others to beat you.

Kucherov tallied two goals in the first meeting and for his career against Nashville has 21 points in 19 games.

Push the Pace, Tampa on a Back-to-Back

The Predators should come in as the fresher and more rested team with a day off yesterday, while the Lightning are on the back end of a back-to-back after a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We've seen Nashville make it a staple of their game; pushing the pace, working in transition and having a relentless forecheck to get quickly on the rush. They have establish that tempo early in this one and force some tired legs into mistakes on Tampa's side.

This could be a game where the younger speed oriented players like Luke Evangelista and Philip Tomasino can make things happens on the offensive end. Crashing the net and getting rebound goal opportunities was a big factor in Nashville's success on Tuesday against Chicago, and they should be able to replicate that against Tampa.

Nashville needs to put it to Tampa in the trenches. Win the puck battles on the boards and generate some giveaways. This is a game where you don't let the foot off the gas and you wear out the opposition as the game unfolds.

Preds Goalies Have to Step Up

Whether it's Juuse Saros who gets the start or it's Kevin Lankinen, it's going to take a strong performane between the pipes. Even if Nashville has a solid defensive game, Tampa is going to get their looks.

The Lightning are 3rd in the NHL in Expected Goals For, only trailing the Avalanche and the Golden Knights. Much like the Predators, the Lightning put pressure on the opposing goalies by crashing the net and getting rebound chances.

Saros or Lankinen will have to be sharp in managing the puck after saves. While Saros has been showing gradual signs of rounding into his normal form, this looks like a good spot start for Lankinen.

Lankinen has five starts on the year after having 18 starts in his first season with the Predators. Saros and Lankinen have almost identical season numbers in GAA and Save % this season.

Unfortunately, the Predators have not had the reliability of either goaltender so far this year. They're going to need that to change against the Lightning or this could turn into a scoring frenzy and get out of hand rather fast.

After seeing a six-game win streak come crashing down with a lopsided loss to former Head Coach John Hynes, the Predators have gotten back on track with two wins in a row and above .500 at 13-12-0.

The Lightning are a bit of a helter skelter team as well, so this should be an exciting matchup full of some offensive flurries.