The Nashville Predators finish up their two game mini-road trip with a stop in Colorado to play the Avalanche. The Avs sit at the bottom of the Central Division with a 9-10-1 record, collecting only 19 points in their first 20 games.
Back on November 1st, the Preds walloped the Avs 5-1. Craig Smith scored twice and Pekka Rinne had 28 saves in a win that really propelled the Preds to their hot November run. The Preds would love to recapture some of that magic and move on from Sunday’s loss to the Jets (even though we really can't be too upset about how they lost).
The Colorado Avalanche
These poor Avs. Really not a lot going for them right now. They sit at 27th in the league in scoring, generating 2.20 goals per game. They’ve scored the second least amount of goals of any team this season, putting up only 44, slightly better than Buffalo’s 38. Defensively, the are slightly better, allowing 2.85 goals per game, good for 21st in the league. The combination of no scoring and below average defense has led them to the cellar of the Western Conference.
So what’s good?
Well, Nathan Mackinnon and Matt Duchene are of course the best players on the team. Take a look at the Avs offensive distribution through their first 20 games:
Duchene and Mackinnon have 28 points combined (12 goals, 16 assists) for the Avs, which is 23% of their entire team’s point accumulation. Everything pretty much runs through those two, with Duchene probably being their most dangerous offensive player. Duchene is shooting 17.9% and all seven of his goals have come at even-strength.
Another plus is that young gun Mikko Rantanen has been playing well, especially when paired with Mackinnon. Rantanen has 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) on the season in 15 points, which is not bad for a 20 year old. The combination of Rantanen and Mackinnon has been one of the better forward combos on the team and should be a staple of this Avalanche attack for years to come.
Semyon Varlamov has been (expectedly) bad. Among goalies with at least eight starts, Varlamov is 34th in the league in 5v5 save percentage, saving only 91.3% of shots faced. That’s real bad. The good news is that Calvin “The Good Pickard” Pickard has been pretty good. He’s generated a 5v5 save percentage of 94.7% in seven starts and won four of the six games he’s started. Pickard has started two of the last four games for Colorado, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see rookie coach Jared Bednar roll with Pickard tonight.
The Nashville Predators
The Predators rolled through a three game home stand last week and put up some dang points! Wins over Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Winnipeg vaulted Nashville into 4th in the Central Division, sitting there with 23 points in 21 games. While they’ve certainly been playing much better recently, and finally been getting the results that we’ve been expecting, they are still not a dominant team overall. They are still making mistakes in dangerous areas of the ice and the 4th line is suspect. Dominance will come, I’m sure of it.
Speaking of, Pekka Rinne has been absolutely sensational this season. That ranking of 5v5 save percentage where Varlamov falls 34th? Rinne is 6th at 94.7%. Take a look at some other situational save percentage numbers for Rinne:
- 90.7% on the penalty kill (4th in the league)
- 95.9% 5v5 with the Preds leading (4th in the league)
- 95.2% 5v5 with the score close (tied, up a goal, or down a goal) (5th in the league)
- 93.5% in all situations (8th in the league)
I know some folks are eager to see more of Juuse Saros—and for good reason. Little Bear is very clearly the future of the franchise at the goaltending position. In addition, Rinne needs rest if he is to maintain his current pace (a pace which, admittedly, he will have a hard time maintaining at 34 years old). For the time being however, lets all revel in the performance of Rinne through his first 17 games.
Reasons To Watch
- With James Neal (and Ryan Ellis and Colton Sissons) out at least one more game, we will get another chance to see Frederik Gaudreau. Brooks Bratten has a nice piece on Gaudreau on the Predators website. It’s always nice to see young guys getting a chance at the NHL dream. First point tonight? First goal maybe?
- Speaking of young guys, Kevin Fiala will probably get another game tonight. He finished with two shots in just under 10 minutes ice time on Sunday. He’s in the right position to succeed, playing on one of the top two lines, but he still has to make it happen.
- Ok, let’s keep this trend going. Pontus Aberg is five games removed from his first NHL goal against Ottawa. I would love to see this guy emerge as a goal scorer going forward, so we will see if he can get more of that going tonight. ICYMI, Bryant ranked Aberg at #11 on OTF’s “Top 25 Under 25” back in August:
“...in his draft year (2012), Aberg was at points in time viewed as a first-round pick. The Djurgardens forward showed fantastic speed, nice hands, and a very, very good shot. After being picked in the second-round by the Predators, Aberg has shown a decently steady uptick in development year-after-year. Once projected as a potential top-six player, I would say Aberg now looks more like a middle-six goal scorer.”
He should have a chance to succeed if he stays on a line with Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson.
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The Important Details
Puck drops at 8 PM tonight. TV: FS-TN, Radio: 102.5 The Game