Tonight's matchup will be a dress rehearsal of sorts. No playoff positioning or home ice advantage rides on this game. The Predators are locked into 2nd place in the Central, though they must await the outcomes of Minnesota-St. Louis and/or Chicago-Colorado to find out their opponent. They are also locked into home ice advantage in the first round. All panic and widespread outrage aside: if I told you back in August that this is how the regular season would finish, you would likely give me a hug. Or at least a solid, confident handshake.
But like a dress rehearsal, it does matter how this game against the Stars is played. Playing a solid 60 minutes is something the Predators haven't done in ages. The defense, along with Pekka Rinne, needs to show they can manage the opponent in their own zone. Scoring goals and holding leads has been damn near impossible. Puck possession has been solid, but for whatever reason hasn't led to much scoring. It's time to put it all together in just enough time for when it's all going to matter. And it would be nice to not have a 6 game losing streak prior to facing either the Wild or Hawks in a playoff series.
The Dallas Stars
What happened to these poor Dallas Stars? Wasn't this supposed to be a good team?
In our very own NHL predictions preview, not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE people predicted the Stars to win the Central. Not only did they not win the division, they never legitimately challenged the top three contenders Nashville, St. Louis, and Chicago. By the way, shout out to Zeke... he predicted the Stars would crash and burn, quoting: "Egos will clash, the defense will be bad...ok I can't rationalize this, I just want it to happen." Wish granted, Zeke.
It's hard not to lay the blame on goaltending. In 65 games, Kari Lehtonen posted a career worst .903 save %, a shocking 11 points lower than his career average of .914. His Quality Start % (.462) and GAA (2.94) were also career worsts. If he doesn't have statistically the worst year of his NHL career, the Stars are probably about 4-5 points better in the standings (he normally accounts for about 12 point shares for his team, but this year only 8.6)... which would at least put them in the mix for a wildcard spot. Jhonas Enroth wasn't much better, except for last Saturday apparently.
Lehtonen does not solely share the blame. Their defensive corps was just awful. Trevor Daley put up decent offensive numbers, but didn't play his position well and managed a meager 46.1% 5v5 CF. They had to rely on rookie John Klingberg to hold down the blue-line, who was a lone bright spot on defense for the Stars this season. The Stars will manage to finish in the bottom 5 in the league in defense, allowing 3.16 goals per game going into tonight's contest.
The Nashville Predators
Here is what I want to see tonight: a win.
Here's what else I would like to see: Mike Fisher back in action. As I was walking to my car on Thursday night hurling insults into the air with wreckless abandon, I couldn't help but think Fisher's absence was important, and perhaps a key to the loss. We clearly managed the first 21 games of the season without him, but once we got him back,his versatility and veteran presence became a sturdy foundation upon which the rest of our team rested. He's also put up a career high 52.0% 5v5 CF, almost 5 points higher than his career average. His presence could have grounded the team when the Wild tied it up. Or maybe he could have drawn a penalty, giving the Preds an advantage late in the game. Or maybe he could have won a few late face-off draws in the offensive zone. Or maybe this:
So, let's hope that Fisher's "day-to-day" isn't like James Neal's "day-to-day," which was more like "week-to-week."
Finally, I would like to see Filip Forsberg score 6 goals and dish 4 assists so we can put this Calder Trophy talk to rest.
Editor's Note: Looks like that Fisher wish won't come true, and some other players are going to be sitting for the last game of the season.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p>Weber (lower), Josi (Lower), Fisher (upper), Franson (upper), all day-to-day and out tonight. Joe Piskula emergency recall in for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Preds?src=hash">#Preds</a></p>— Willy Daunic (@WillyD1025) <a href="https://twitter.com/WillyD1025/status/586924603571769344">April 11, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Reasons to Watch
- Honestly? Unless you would like to see if the old Predators re-emerge, there isn't a ton riding on this game. But you are a fan and you should watch because you care.
- Watch Pekka Rinne closely. As Jon pointed out in the article I linked earlier (here it is again), it's those "medium danger" saves that he needs to start making. If he is able to close the gap in that Sv%M area, we may have the old Pekka back.
The Important Details
Watch the final regular season game play out at 7:00 pm central on FS-TN, or listen to it on 102.5 The Game.