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Martel's Musings: Game 7 - Nashville vs Anaheim

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In six games, we've seen some of the great things the Predators are capable of and a slew of the bad as well. Against a Ducks team that, by all rights, should be stomping their way across the league, can Nashville produce more positives than negatives?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday nights game against the Anaheim Ducks is as mysterious as the owner of silently ripped fart in a crowded room.

Anaheim has the firepower, but they can't seemingly put two and two together right now. Nashville's finding ways to win, but Pekka Rinne has inexplicably allowed eight goals in two straight games.

Can the Ducks power past the Predators, or will Rinne transform back into his normal puck-stopping self?

Projected line combinations based on morning skate:

NOTE: Nashville had an optional morning skate on Thursday. Lines below are projections.

Forward Line One: Filip Forsberg / Mike FisherJames Neal

Forward Line Two: Colin Wilson / Mike RibeiroCraig Smith

Forward Line Three: Austin Watson (or Viktor Arvidsson)Cody HodgsonCalle Jarnkrok

Forward Line Four: Eric NystromPaul Gaustad / Gabriel Bourque

Defensive Pair One: Shea WeberRoman Josi

Defensive Pair Two: Barret JackmanSeth Jones

Defensive Pair Three: Mattias EkholmRyan Ellis

Predicted Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

SCRATCHES: Victor Bartley, Anthony Bitetto

Three Things vs Anaheim

Capitalize early

The Ducks haven't played since this past Sunday, when they earned their first win of the season against the Minnesota Wild. With three days of rest behind them, Anaheim should be more than prepared for tonight's game against the Predators.

The onus is on Nashville to make the first move and put the Ducks behind the eight ball early.

Coming out of the gates flat remains a common problem for teams that have plenty of time to rest and relax between games. The Predators have been overly susceptible to that in the past, and they aren't the only team in the league to do so.

Head coach Bruce Boudreau stopped practice yesterday and reamed the Ducks for their work level. If the Predators capitalize early, it could lead to another early three-game winning streak for Nashville.

Cody Hodgson on starting strong: "We know they have lots of firepower. We know that all of their guys can score, especially their top line -- they've been pretty dominant in the league for a long time. We have to make sure and keep them in check, but at the same time we have to make sure we play our game. If we play our game, we're confident in the results."

Where is Mike Ribeiro?

That's the $64,000 question. Ribeiro has three assists in six games so far this season, but he's been largely invisible in that span.

It's not just offensive production either; his face-off success rate, which has always hovered in the low 40 percentile, currently sits at a putrid 29.9 percent (26 of 87 face-offs won).

While he seems to still be fairly productive in winning offensive zone face-offs -- 44.4 percent so far in six games -- the problem comes when being deployed to take the draw in either the neutral or defensive zone. Combined together, Ribeiro's successfully pulled 18 of 69 total face-offs outside of the offensive zone -- a shocking 26.08 percent success rate.

Nearly 10 percent of the way through the 2015-16 season, the question needs to be asked: if Ribeiro can't figure out his production or face-off issues, how dire does Nashville's need for an elite center become?

Peter Laviolette on Ribeiro: "Mike's done a lot of good things for us. His face-offs are down a little bit, right now. Statistically, he's never one of those guys who is 55 or 60 percent. He's not Gaustad, he's Mike Ribeiro. He brings a lot of other positive things to the table. I'm sure he wants his face-offs to be a little bit better. We work on them after practice and try to improve in those areas.

"Last game I thought he did some good things out there as well. He's chipping in some offense. I'm sure as he gets more adjusted to his linemates, those numbers will start to pick up as well."

No longer playing to the level of your competition

The one thing that used to be said about the Predators is that they were a team that tended to play at the level of their competition. At least, that's the way it was during the Barry Trotz tenure.

During Peter Laviolette's time behind the bench, the same can't necessarily be said about the current version of the roster.

Tuesday nights game against the Tampa Bay Lightning was a back-and-forth affair against two evenly matched teams. Though, in all six games Nashville (exception: New York Islanders) has been an early aggressor, hit a few bumps along the way and found a way to win.

One of my biggest concerns last season, and subsequently going into this year, was that the Predators would ultimately revert back to a team that competed well against the elite teams, but suffer against the teams they should handily beat.

I can't say that concern has been alleviated, however I'm finding myself less and less worried that Nashville will fall flat against the teams in the bottom rung of the league.

Player to Watch

Cody Hodgson: Six games, zero points. He hasn't been as bad as some may think and I think his offensive drought ends tonight against the Ducks.

Hodgson on his offensive performance: "I think we're getting chances; we're getting in the offensive zone. Eventually, it's going to go in. You want to contribute to help the team win as best as possible. Whatever role your in, you make sure and do your best at it. You want to contribute in a scoring category and try to help lighten the load for our top two lines."

Prediction

(Game 4 Prediction: 4-2 Predators loss. Result? 4-3 Predators loss. No musings for Games 5 and 6. CURRENT RECORD: 4-0.)

This is a tough one to predict, as Anaheim has the potential to both be very good or very bad. However, my gut says Nashville pulls out a 3-2 victory over the Ducks. So, let's go with that.