The Nashville Predators (14-12-0) are currently playing their best hockey of the new Andrew Brunette era, with the streaky Toronto Maple Leafs (13-6-4) up next.
In the first meeting between these two teams on October 28 the Predators got a thrilling overtime win with the game-winner coming off the stick of Roman Josi. The Predators trailed twice in this game with Ryan O'Reilly tying it up both times on the power play.
Both of these teams come in on recent hot streaks. The Predators are winners of nine of their last 11 games while the Leafs are 7-2-1 in their last 10.
Tough Goalie News for Leafs, Lankinen & Samsonov the Matchup Between the Pipes
Bad news for Toronto coming into this one with their top starting goaltender Josoph Woll suffering a high ankle sprain and being listed as week-to-week.
This pushes veteran Ilya Samsonov back into the starter's crease for Toronto. He has had a really difficult go of things in 2023-24 and hasn't gotten a start since November 24.
Samsonov did start against Nashville in the first meeting, and despite only facing 24 shots, still gave up three goals in the loss.
On paper this looks like a much favorable matchup for the upstart Predators offense that is 4th in the NHL in Expected Goals For, but just remember that Samsonov is still capable of throwing out a gem.
On the other side, the Predators will be rolling with their backup as well, giving Juuse Saros a rest. Kevin Lankinen is expected to make his sixth start of 2023-24 and his 90th overall of his NHL career.
It's another difficult opponent for Lankinen to go up against after getting his last start against the New York Rangers and surrendering four goals on 26 shots faced. He's looking for a bounce back performance, but it won't come easy with the Leafs firepower up top led by Auston Matthews (16 goals) and William Nylander (13 goals).
Sorting Out the Preds Defense with the Tyson Barrie Uncertainty
The ongoing story surrounding the trade speculation of Tyson Barrie will continue until a deal is made. Do you healthy scratch him, let him play or figure something else out more abrupt?
Predators Defensive Contributors Through 26 Games
Time on Ice
Marc Del Gaizo
As you can see from the table above listing every defenseman that has suited up for the Predators for at least one game, Barrie is third on the team among defensemen in games played with 23. His 10 points are 2nd among defensemen.
Barrie was seen taking reps on the 2nd power play unit per Predators play-by-play announcer Willy Daunic. This doesn't necessarily ;mean Barrie is getting the start, but it does lean that way.
The Predators are caught in this dilemma of wanting to trade Barrie, but can't find a suitable trade partner. You don't want there to be a distraction, and Barrie just wants to play and let the chips fall where they may.
Spencer Stastney has already been reassigned to the Milwaukee Admirals, which leaves room for Alexandre Carrier to possibly return to the starting lineup from injury.
There could be a scenario for today against the Leafs that has both Carrier and Barrie in the starting lineup, and Luke Schenn as your healthy scratch. This is my preferred scenario because you're going to likely need plenty of offense against the Leafs and Schenn has looked a step or two slow since coming back from his season opening injury.
Once Barrie is eventually traded, you would expect Stastney to get called back up for more of a full-time role on the NHL level. At least that's the expectation I have in all of this. He fits Brunette's system much better than Barrie, or Schenn for that matter.
Preds Power Play Keeps Getting Better, Novak is Back to Boost It
The power play for the Predators was under a microscope as soon as Brunette took over as Nashville's fourth head coach in franchise history. It's his wheelhouse, and as of right now during this recent hot streak, the Predators power play is showing signs of being a major weapon.
You're seeing more creativity, better movement without the puck, and that showcase of speed in transition. Ryan O'Reilly as the crafty leader of the top unit is making Filip Forsberg a more elite scorer in this area, and with Tommy Novak back from injury, this unit should continue to thrive.
In the Predators' last game, a decisive win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, special teams really made the difference. The Predators went 2-for-3 while the Lightning got blanked on four attempts.
The battle of power plays in this one has the Predators as the 14th ranked power play in the NHL at 21.2 percent, while the Leafs are 9th at 23.9 percent.
Having Novak back should pay dividends for the Predators power play even more. I've also really liked what Philip Tomasino has brought to the table on the second power play unit, and you're just waiting for him to get rewarded with some goals really soon.
Much like the first meeting, the power play will be key in this one. Both teams have really good ones going up against backup goalies. The Predators penalty kill has shown mild improvement still not exactly where it needs to be, and the Leafs aren't elite in penalty killing, either.
This will be the 32nd meeting all-time between the Predators and Maple Leafs, with the Predators holding a record of 15-13-2 and also one tie.
Filip Forsberg has 15 points in 14 careers games against Toronto, while Auston Matthews has 10 points in 11 games against Nashville.