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Nashville Predators @ Toronto Maple Leafs Preview: Go North, Men!

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The Predators will head back to Canada tonight as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first of two meetings this year. Everyone in Canada loves the Predators, so let's give them something to cheer for.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Back to Canada so soon? The Nashville Predators will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. But before they do, I am sure they will stop by NHL HQ and confirm with the league that Mike Ribeiro's goal against the Winnipeg Jets definitely should have counted and that they definitely screwed that one up. Because even though James Neal corrected the mistake for them via laser-shot-cannon, everyone deserves a chance at redeeming their mistake. It's ok, NHL... we forgive you.

The Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are nestled safely in the middle of the Eastern Conference with 20 points and a 9-7-2 overall record. They are sitting in 6th in the Atlantic Division and really should be a lot higher. They are 4th in the league in scoring at 3.11 goals per game and 18th in the league in goals allowed per game at 2.78. Their schedule has a lot to do with their current standing: of the 18 games they've played, 8 have been against heavy hitters Boston, Pittsburgh, Montreal, New York, and Chicago.

They are coming off a disappointing 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres... ouch. Were they likely a bit flat because they played Pittsburgh less than 24 hours prior? Yes. Do they get a reprieve because they shellacked Boston 6-1 earlier in the week? Probably. Or maybe they saw how upset this kid was and felt reeeaaally guilty.

This team is dangerous, mostly because of Phil Kessel. With 11g-11a, Kessel is a top 5 player in the league right now. The previous two top 5 players the Predators faced (Sidney Crosby, Vladimir Tarasenko) scored and led their teams to wins. Kessel definitely has that ability. The Preds will need to make sure to contain the players around Kessel like Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, not to mention stopping 2nd and 3rd liners Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov in order to leave Ontario with a win.

The Nashville Predators

At the game Saturday night, a long time friend of mine (and long time fan of OTF) and I were discussing Predators teams of old, realizing again how different this team is from previous teams. Our conversation mainly centered on line combinations, realizing how much more predictable this team seems to be compared to previous teams. Under Barry Trotz, the Predators never really had consistent, concrete top forward lines. Trotz was constantly shuffling line combinations according to a number of different factors, most of which involved a formula known only to Trotz himself.

Quick--think of the best top forward line in Predators history. Who comes to mind? Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont, and Steve Sullivan? Paul Kariya and... whoever else he played with? David Legwand, Martin Erat, and... ok, give up already.

But look at the team this year. After a feeling out process over the first couple of weeks, our forward lines are as consistent (not to mention as good) as they've ever been. And none of them look like they will be shuffled, barring injury. The Neal-Forsberg-Ribeiro line is as dangerous as it is inseparable. Roy-Cullen-Wilson (prior to Wilson getting hurt) has had huge moments, and always brings pressure. Even the bottom two forward lines have some consistent pairings, with Smith-Jarnkrok-Beck looking like one that could stick for awhile.

Much depends on how well these lines keep playing... if they play well, it's hard to see why Lavy would move the forward lines around much. The only challenge at this point will be plugging in Mike Fisher... an acceptable and welcome challenge, I would think.

It is nice to watch a team with consistent, reliable line combinations that don't leave us (and presumably the players) wondering what the line combinations and ice-time numbers will look like every night.

Also... at the game Saturday night, I scored this INCREDIBLE ITEM:

That's right! A VICTOR BARTLEY! You should have seen me dancing in the aisles when I unwrapped that mystery puck and saw the beautiful silver emblazoned autograph of the best #64 in Predators history!

Something tells me Victor had "Sign 1,000 pucks for Hockey Fights Cancer Night" on his agenda Saturday morning.

Reasons To Watch

  • While Filip Forsberg is fun to watch in a "James Neal" kind of way, Taylor Beck is fun to watch in a "Paul Gaustad" kind of way. Watch him use his size well and get physical on the boards.
  • Seth Jones had one of his better games of the season on Saturday. Let's see him do it two games in a row.
  • Never take watching Pekka Rinne for granted. We didn't get a lot of it last year... cherish it!

The Important Details

6:30 pm start for tonight. Even though you probably don't need to, leave work a half hour earlier! (you can tell your boss I said it was cool). FS-TN will have the televised broadcast, 102.5 The Game will have the radio broadcast.

Pre-Game Music For Your Listening Enjoyment

I really want Predators game-ops to work in a clip from this video into a game somehow. The Preds power-play needs to hear what Del has to say.