The last time these two teams met, the Predators broke the scoreboard at the Air Canada Center (as well as Steve Dangle) and skewed their own stats for weeks to come. If you were watching the game, odds are pretty good you had a point in it.
Tonight, the stage could be set for something similar. The Maple Leafs are mired in a terrible run of play in which they've only scored 13 goals in their past 16 games. More on their woes in a second, but should a potential MVP candidate make himself known tonight, their path to the back of the net could get much, much harder.
The Toronto Maple Leafs
Since the calendar turned 2015, Alex Ovechkin has as many goals as all Leaf forwards combined (14)— CorsiHockeyLeague (@CorsiHL) February 2, 2015
Toronto had a rough January. Like, really rough. Only one win and three points in 13 games last month. Their season is essentially toast, as they start Tuesday 12 points out of the final Wild Card spot in the East. But hey, at least they're rid of Randy Carlyle, who should have been gone last year, and some would even say before that.
Manning the helm for the time being is a figure that Nashville faithful are very familiar with: Peter Horachek. Poor guy. He's managed to improve their possession numbers from where they were under Carlyle (low bar), but any immediate results fans may or may not have been hoping for haven't come. Not that they should, because the presently constructed roster just isn't fit for success. Management has been spinning their wheels for years, and ignoring the obvious flaws of the team.
On the year, the Leafs are a bottom-five possession team, and muster barely 27 shots per 60 5v5 minutes. They'll be without captain Dion Phaneuf, who's been listed as week to week with a suspected hand injury. Korbinian Holzer has taken up residence on the top pairing with former Pred Cody Franson.
When it's clicking, most of Toronto's offense come from either Phil Kessel or James van Riemsdyk. Both have cracked the 20 goals, 20 assists mark, but the points share starts to drop off considerably once you get past Tyler Bozak and Franson. With the ineptitude of the Leafs in recent weeks, there's really only two ways this game can go: more of the same, or a complete slump-buster where they score a touchdown on Nashville. Hockey is funny that way.
The Nashville Predators
The problem with doing these previews ahead of time is we have no idea what can change between scheduling for publish and morning skate. The rumblings are a certain Finnish netminder could be getting close to returning from the injury shelf, but this is more or less pure speculation. He traveled with the team last week and has been skating more regularly, but is he ready for full game action? Expect the comments section to blow up with updates from morning skate and quotes throughout the day.
It's not the most dire thing if Pekka Rinne doesn't return tonight, but it certainly couldn't hurt. Though Carter Hutton had himself a whale of a game on Sunday, the team is basically treading water. Since January 14th (the day following the Vancouver game Rinne was injured in) Nashville is posting a 5v5 score adjusted CF% of 56.4, tops in the league. However, they're 3-2-2, but the team is also giving up as many goals as they score. 12 for and 12 against at even strength, good for 2.1 per 60 minutes.
Surviving with a 91.1 Sv% doesn't help things too much. That's 22nd in the league over that span. Basically, goaltending matters. But you already knew that.
Reasons to Watch
- Leafs jerseys have been finding their way onto the ice... even away from Toronto. You never know.
- Fans get a chance to give Peter Horachek a warm welcome back to Bridgestone, as well as condolences for the team he acquired.
- Goaltending mystery!
Sights and Sounds
A normal time (7 p.m. CST) on your normal stations (FS-TN & 102.5 The Game) on an otherwise normal Tuesday night.