For the second game in a row, Nashville showed lots of promising points during its game against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night, however failed to really set anything ablaze offensively.
Defensively, the Predators looked like an absolute juggernaut: Pekka Rinne collected his first shutout of the season -- and has stopped 56 of 57 shots to start the year -- while all three defensive pairings are playing ten-fold better than they did during preseason contests.
Tuesday's game against New Jersey should offer another decent test for Nashville, but its biggest match-up of the early season will come Thursday against the Islanders.
Line combinations based on morning skate:
(Line combinations thanks to our buddy Adam Vingan over at The Tennessean)
Predators AM lines vs. Devils: Forsberg-Ribeiro-Neal Wilson-Fisher-Smith Bourque-Hodgson-Jarnkrok Nystrom-Gaustad-Watson— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) October 13, 2015
Predators AM pairs (as per usual); Josi-Weber Jackman-Jones Ekholm-Ellis— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) October 13, 2015
Forward Line One: Filip Forsberg / Mike Ribeiro / James Neal
Forward Line Two: Colin Wilson / Mike Fisher / Craig Smith
Forward Line Three: Gabriel Bourque / Cody Hodgson / Calle Jarnkrok
Forward Line Four: Eric Nystrom / Paul Gaustad / Austin Watson
Defensive Pair One: Shea Weber / Roman Josi
Defensive Pair Two: Barret Jackman / Seth Jones
Defensive Pair Three: Mattias Ekholm / Ryan Ellis
Goaltender: Pekka Rinne (Third straight start)
SCRATCHES: Viktor Arvidsson, Victor Bartley, Anthony Bitetto
Three Things vs New Jersey
Let the young kids play
I spoke in my first set of musings about why Bourque would have been chosen over Watson to start the season, showing a need for speed over size on Nashville's fourth line. Yet, with the line combinations in morning skate showcasing Watson and Bourque both in the lineup over Arvidsson, it leaves me a tad confused.
Arvidsson has played fairly solid over his first two games of the season -- scoring a goal in his first game with 15 shifts and 11:14 time on ice -- but saw his numbers dip just one game later, not appearing on the scoreboard and collecting only 10 shifts and an even eight minutes on the ice.
There's zero part of me that, as the lines would have you believe, thinks Bourque on Nashville's third line over Arvidsson and slapping Watson on the fourth is anything more than Peter Laviolette testing the waters to try and make a splash on the bottom six portion of his lineup.
In my honest opinion, Arvidsson and Watson both have much more potential to distribute offensive chances -- while maintaining defensive pressure -- than either Bourque or, for that matter, Nystrom.
Why either is having to fight for a spot on the roster is bewildering.
Rest Rinne when you can
Based on morning skate, it appears that Rinne will get his third straight start of the season -- and acquiring Nashville's all-time record for starts by a goaltender at 384.
While that record, previously held by Tomas Vokoun, is important in and of its own right, there lies more importance with giving Rinne every possible chance to rest that becomes available.
Tuesday's game against the Devils would be a perfect opportunity for that. Not necessarily due to the fact that starting goaltender Cory Schneider will not be playing as his wife gave birth early this morning -- and congratulations to them -- but more so that Carter Hutton needs to get as much backup playing time as possible, not limited to chances on the front or tail end of a back-to-back.
Hutton went 6-7-4 last season with one shutout, a 0.902 save percentage and 2.61 goals against average. That's sub-par, at best. A fair handful of those games came during a eight-game stretch mid-January after Rinne incurred a knee injury against the Vancouver Canucks.
Once Rinne returned, Hutton accumulated five starts in Nashville's final 32 games of the season -- posting a 2-3-0 record in that span.
Hutton's time in Nashville has been mediocre, however he can't necessarily get in any type of rhythm unless he's allowed a start every so often.
Open the floodgates
Nashville only has four goal in its first two contests, not exactly the most staggering of numbers. Smith and Forsberg have accounted for three of those four goals, which isn't surprising either. For the Predators to be a successful again this year, they have to start producing more offense -- which starts with converting the chances they already have.
Ribeiro, Neal and Wilson -- who should easily already be on the board a handful of times -- haven't found the back of the net yet, but it's not because they haven't had the opportunity to do so.
It's easier said than done to say that a player needs to convert on a two-on-one, connect on a breakaway or finish a one-timer that slides to their stick, but the Predators collectively have had plenty of those chances and so far found themselves unable to do so.
There's no need to hit the panic button by any means, but Nashville should be averaging more than two goals per game -- even if we're only two games into the season.
New Jersey, who has already allowed eight goals in its first two games and will be without Schneider this evening, may provide Nashville with an opportunity to open those proverbial floodgates.
Player to Watch
(Game 2 PtW: Calle Jarnkrok. Result? 14 minutes of ice time and was held off the scoreboard.)
Austin Watson: If Watson truly makes it into the lineup tonight, which seems like an almost certainty after morning skate, there's no doubt that he will do everything in his power to show the coaching staff why he needs to stay there.
Watson's shorthanded goal near the end of the preseason was a beautiful thing to witness. Besides the fact that Watson should find himself factoring into Nashville's already overworked penalty kill unit, I've got a hunch he finds himself on the scoreboard as well.
(Game 2 Prediction: 4-3 Predators win in overtime. Result? 2-0 Predators win. CURRENT RECORD: 2-0)
The Predators skate to their third straight win of the season with a commanding 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils.