Thursday night's win against Chicago was anything but cheap. The Predators knew exactly what they wanted to accomplish before the puck was dropped, and they executed. It wasn't just a convincing win, but a statement that Nashville is should be taken seriously.
Now another test waddles onto the ice, as the Pittsburgh Penguins look to get back to winning. The league's most potent offense will test their luck against a team that doesn't give up a ton of goals. But beware: Nashville currently enjoys a mighty high team 5v5 SV% of 95.3 (all situations). That's going to drop dramatically sometime, and we just hope it isn't tonight.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh recently lost both games of a back-to-back in stupendous fashion. First, they were felled by their cross-state arch rivals on home ice, then gave up two separate two-goal leads against the Red Wings to lose in overtime. Needless to say the team isn't going to be in a very good mood, and will want to push the tempo early. They're rocking the ninth-best FF% at even strength right now, so you know they aren't afraid to shoot. (Nashville is just behind them at 12th.)
Plus, Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist will have a little extra pep in their step as they return to Nashville for the first time since being traded. Not that they need anymore motivation: Hornqvist has gotten off to a red-hot start, with eight points in his first six games. (Playing with the best player in the world will do that.) Spals should be just as amped after scoring his fi... ah, never mind.
They've got good company, as well. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each have nine points on the year, and unsurprisingly the team is leading the league in goals scored per game. Which is good, because even with the addition of Christian Ehrhoff to bolster a blueline already boasting Krist Letang and Olli Maata, they have a hard time keeping the puck out of the net. The Pens are letting in more than three goals per game.
Adding to the massive amounts of goals against is tonight's probable starter, Marc-Andre Fleury. While he's nowhere near as bad as many make him out to be, this season hasn't started as great as it did last year. Through five starts he's sporting a 3-2-0 record, with a .906 SV% and a 2.81 GAA. He's usually hot or cold, so if the Preds can sneak a few in early, it could throw the rest of the team off their game.
The Nashville Predators
With the firepower that Pittsburgh has, Pekka Rinne and company are going to have to prepare for an onslaught, but Nashville is built to withstand it. They have allowed the fifth fewest goals in the league, and will need to continue to keep pucks out of the net if they want any chance of sending the fans home happy. Of course, if ever the was a need for the offense to enter berserker mode, tonight is it.
The good news for them, is James Neal has a bit of a chip of his shoulder after being discarded by the Pens. Coming off the first Predators' hat trick since 2012, Neal should be motivated the way Mike Ribeiro was on Tuesday. That turned out pretty well, eh?
By far the most important thing for the Preds tonight is to STAY OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX. The Penguins power play is clicking at a gaudy 36.4% so far this year. That isn't a typo. To put that in perspective: that's more than four times higher than Nashville's meager 8.7%, in only one less opportunity.. Nashville may have a chance to exploit their 21st ranked penalty kill unit, though it didn't work too well against the Flames. Pittsburgh has the worst PK unit of any team the Preds have played so far, except for Calgary. So the best way to keep them from piling in the goals is just to just avoid that issue altogether as much as they can.
Reasons to Watch
James Neal Bobble Head
If you're heading to the game, take some pictures of #LittleJames and send them our way!
My Dad (down from DC) will be experiencing his first-ever Preds game with me in Section 302. Make it count, friends.
FS-TN and 102.5 have you covered (naturally) for the 7 p.m. puck drop! See you at the game!