After a 10-day break during the NHL All-Star Break, the Nashville Predators will have a three-game homestand and five consecutive games against playoff caliber teams.
The Predators have a 26-23-2 record through Head Coach Andrew Brunette's first 51 games as the franchise's fourth head coach. With 54 points, the Predators are right in the middle of a jam packed wildcard race that has seven teams within seven points of each other.
In fitting fashion, the Predators will return from the All-Star break with a home matchup against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. A team that hasn't been their kryptonite in frustrating fashion in the first two meetings.
In other words, it's going to feel like playoff hockey for the Predators from here on out.
Game 52: Arizona Coyotes (23-23-3, 49 PTS, 3-6-1 in Last 10)
Having 10 days off can be both beneficial and damaging. The Predators are going to have little time to waste taking on a Coyotes team that is sneaky good, but also going through their own set of drama regarding possible relocation.
If the Predators are going to start setting themselves apart from some of these other wildcard hopeful teams like the Coyotes, then getting this win is critical.
In the first meeting way back on November 11 at Bridgestone Arena, the Predators blew a two-goal lead twice. Juuse Saros faced only 24 shots but gave up six goals and the Predators lost 7-5. Just brutal stuff, but shortly after that the Predators went on their longs, stretch of winning into mid-December.
The second meeting at Mullett Arena on January 20 was much different. Again the Predators defense limited the Coyotes to only 24 shots on net, but Saros gave up three goals in the process. Unlike the first meeting, the Predators couldn't find a way to beat Connor Ingram on more than two goals. and the Coyotes snuck away with the 3-2 victory.
These are two evenly-matched teams and the Predators really need to come out of the All-Star break on a positive note by getting this win at home on Saturday. I wouldn't have Ingram as a lock to start, however. He just got roasted for three goals in the first six minutes on Thursday against Vegas before getting yanked for Karel Vejmelka, who made 28 saves and blanked the Golden Knights the rest of the way.
Game 53: New Jersey Devils (25-21-3, 53 PTS, 4-6-0 in Last 10)
It will be our first look at the Devils this season against the Predators, and their star player just returned from injury in Jack Hughes. He had 45 points in 32 games before going down with an upper body injury on January 5.
The Devils are one of those teams that has underperformed but if they find a way into the playoff field, they're going to be capable of making a run. They are only five points out of the wildcard race in the Eastern Conference and seven points behind third-place Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division.
The problem for the Devils is pretty clear; lack of consistent goaltending while giving up the fourth-most goals per game in the NHL at 3.57. So this might be a game for the Predators to get their offense humming, and for Saros to step up with some clutch saves to preserve the two points.
I don't care where the Devils are in the standings, getting a win over them will be a statement win for the Predators. Especially if they follow up after a win over the Coyotes. Two wins over offensively gifted teams won't come easy, and Saros will have to be sharp.
Game 54: Dallas Stars (31-14-6, 68 PTS, 7-2-1 in Last 10)
Here we go again; another date with the Stars, the fourth of the season, and there hasn't been any shortage of drama in all three. The Predators have won the last two meeting, both at Dallas, and should be 3 for 3 if not for an epic collapse in the final 60 seconds on December 23.
I have a bad feeling about this one. The Stars are starting to play some of their best hockey of the season. They're back in first place in the Central Division. They're at full strength on the injury front and have their sights set on bringing a Stanley Cup back to Dallas in 2024.
I'll be very impressed, and shocked no less, if the Predators get a third-straight win over the Stars. They do seem to match up well with the Stars and bring their best game against these types of opponents.
Game 55: @ St. Louis Blues (26-21-2, 54 PTS, 6-3-1 in Last 10)
Another game that's going to feel like a playoff atmosphere. The Predators will hit the road against the Blues after coming out of the All-Star break with their first three at home.
The Blues have been a major surprise as of late and have gotten themselves back into the middle of the playoff pack. However, they are a team that is so hard to figure out and trust, just like the Predators quite frankly.
When you look at the Blues, it's hard to understand how they keep finding ways to win and remain relevant. They're near the bottom in both goals per game and power play, and middle of the pack in penalty kill.
Robert Thomas has been the best player by far for the Blues, racking up 52 points in 49 games while boasting a +15 plus/minus rating. Jordan Binnington hasn't been spectacular in net, but he's always capable of looking elite out of nowhere.
On paper this is a toss-up game between two playoff bubble teams. The Predators made easy work of the Blues back in November to the tune of a 8-3 final score. Back then the Blues weren't considered a playoff contender, but they have shown this isn't just some throw away year for them.
How the Predators perform in these first four matchups out of the All-Star break should give us a much more clear picture into what Barry Trotz is thinking regarding the March 8 trade deadline.
If the Predators find a way to take three of four out of these and stay at the top of the wildcard race, will that be enough to sway Trotz to cautiously buy? He hasn't committed to a strategy on either side yet, but time is ticking.