It's amazing what happens when your forwards score goals, your defenders shut down top players, your team generates more shot attempts than it allows, and your goalie stops difficult shots all in one 60 minute hockey game, huh?
Well, to be honest, that's sort of been happening all year long... but it's really amazing when it happens in a 60 minute game and your team wins. The Predators will look to build on their momentum from Thursday's raucous win over the Blackhawks as they take on the Colorado Avalanche tonight at Bridgestone Arena.
Tonight begins a stretch of hockey where the Predators will play some of the best teams in the NHL, including some key divisional opponents. By December 31st, they will have played the Blues twice, the Canadiens, the Rangers, the Wild, the Red Wings, and the Stars. All are tough, competitive playoff teams. Even a couple potential Stanley Cup winners in there. Here we go!
The Colorado Avalanche
The Avs are a top 10 team in scoring at 2.72 goals/game. They are mostly fueled by Blue Line Jedi Knight Matt Duchene, who has 15 goals along with 11 assists on the year. Nathan MacKinnon has recovered quite nicely from a disappointing 14/15 campaign to put up 10 goals and 15 assists.
Colorado's defense has been rather leaky, allowing 2.93 goals per game, good for 25th in the league. Tyson Barrie is a nice offensive piece on the blue-line, but the rest of the crew looks beatable. 35-year-old Francois Beauchemin has been eating up ice-time, but not really helping much. Same thing with Brandon Gormley and Nate Guenin on the bottom pairing. The Avs overall don't really buy into this whole possession-based hockey thing and their Corsi numbers reflect that: they are dead last in the league at even strength Corsi For % at 43.9.
Reto Berra seems on the verge (if he hasn't already) of taking over the #1 goaltender slot. He's been solid and Semyon Varlamov has not. Berra's .922 save % puts him in the top 15 in the NHL among goalies with at least 10 starts. Pekka Rinne is 30th on that list with his .908 save %, though Jon already pointed out that Rinne is actually a top 10 goalie when it comes to stopping more difficult shots.
The problem is that the Avs can't exactly bench a franchise $6 million goaltender for a guy with limited experience, even if the backup seems to be playing better and maybe gives the team a better chance to win in the short-run. Varlamov is the better goaltender on paper and his career numbers speak for themselves. The Avs just need to let Varlamov play through his struggles and hope he improves. Which will probably happen.
Wait, am I talking about Semyon Varlamov or Pekka Rinne at this point? I forget.
The Nashville Predators
The Predators are still one of the best teams in the league at possession-based hockey with an even-strength Corsi For % of 54.5, behind only the Kings at 57.4. And their luck is bound to turn for the better, with their PDO sitting at a below-average 99.5. Tonight we will likely see the Preds own the puck at both ends of the ice and hopefully that will translate into more goals.
Calle Jarnkrok has been a pleasure to watch recently. A guy that was expected to find competition for his spot on the 3rd line has now moved up to the 2nd and 1st lines with regularity. He gets ice-time in every phase of the game, including special teams. Recently, he's seen even more time on the power-play and has 2 goals to show for it. He brings a nice all-around game and he seems to make every line he is on a little bit better. He excels on the face-off dot, but isn't just a "defensive-zone only" forward when it comes to starts. Lavy seems comfortable throwing him out there in big situations. Seeing his continued growth will be a lot of fun. The only problem? He is yet another key RFA signing for the team this off-season. His production and role on the team is only adding to the list of demands that David Poile will have to meet this summer.
Pekka Rinne bounced back on Thursday night, stopping 35 of 36 shots (should have been 36 of 36, but the refs forgot the rules). Let's hope we see more of the old Pekka in net tonight. With the Avs skilled shooting forwards, he will need to be sharp.
Reasons To Watch
- Go see Roman Josi and Shea Weber, the top scoring defensive tandem in the league with 41 points combined. (They are actually tied at 41 points with the Stars' John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski, but the tie goes to the Predators because I said so.)
- Filip Forsberg reverse hip check.
- Am I crazy or has Cody Hodgson been playing better recently? It hasn't translated into a ton of points on the scoreboard (he had 1 assist against Boston), but he seems to have more life out there. Early in the season, it looked like he was about to fall asleep mid-shift. But recently he has been fore-checking with more aggression and not getting knocked off the puck with as much frequency. Watch him tonight and see if I'm just crazy.
The Important Details
Puck drop is at 7:00 PM on FS-TN and 102.5 The Game. Or just come on down to the Bridge and catch the action live and in person! Also, the Preds Foundation is bringing the HOF muthaload tonight.