What’s this? The Preds have a two game winning streak? On the road, no less?
The Predators will put that two game streak on the line against the Los Angeles Kings tonight at Bridgestone Arena. The Preds have been excellent at home so far this season with a 10-3-3 record, but they’ve lost two straight in Nashville. They lost 5-2 to Minnesota last Thursday followed by a 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers on Saturday.
The key to this game will be building on the recent momentum the Preds captured while in Philadelphia and New Jersey and adding it to the already stockpiled momentum they have on their home ice.
The Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are in a similar position as the Preds in terms of standings. They sit in 5th in the Pacific Division with 35 points and a 16-13-3 record. They’ve got a below average offense, putting up 2.50 goals per game, good for 21st in the league. They’ve been a good defensive team, despite losing Jonathan Quick until probably February, allowing only 2.44 goals per game, good for 9th in the NHL.
Jeff Carter is having a heck of a year. He’s off to probably his best start since the ‘08-09 season with Philly. He finished that season with 46 goals and 84 points. He won’t hit those numbers (won’t even really come close), but with 16 goals already he will likely break the 30 goal mark for the first time in six years.
In addition to Carter, the Kings employ a cadre of offensively talent but defensively minded forwards in Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli, and Dustin Brown. They are all quality players that any self-respecting Preds fan would be happy to see wearing gold. Tanner Pearson is probably their best scorer from the wing, though he’s only collected seven goals thus far.
The Kings defensive approach of course runs through reigning Norris winner Drew Doughty, who has 17 points in 32 games so far. Brayden McNabb is out for a while with a collarbone injury, so Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin are handling much of the load on the blue line.
As you can tell in the ice-time graph above, 2nd year defenseman Derek Forbort has been asked to shoulder the load vacated by McNabb and he’s played ok. He’s not bringing much on the offensive end, but he’s done well enough defensively to fill in the gaps. Undoubtedly, this is Doughty’s unit and since he does enough to worry you both offensively and defensively, the rest of the guys are just filler.
Perhaps most surprising is the play of goalie Peter Budaj. The loss of Quick for half the season (or more) should have spelled the end for the Kings, but Budaj has quietly held his own. He’s got a .916 save percentage in 28 games, his best season since... well, probably ever. For a 34 year old goalie, he’s never really had a “prime” even though he’s played in over 300 NHL games. You have to feel good for guys like Budaj who stick it out, do their due diligence in the minors, and then, when they finally get a shot in their 30s, make it count. Good on you, Peter.
The Nashville Predators
No one can deny the importance of Viktor Arvidsson to this team. Not anymore. (As if they would try to.)
Arvy has catapulted to the top of the list when it comes to the most important and most valuable Predators for this season. His 23 points is tied for the team lead with Ryan Johansen. He has a new career high in goals with nine. He drives shot attempts every time he is out there, sometimes better than anyone else on the team. He can fit on a line with the grinders and with the skill players. He can pass to elite scorers and set them up for goals. His shooting is better than it has ever been. He is absolutely tireless and his presence is felt by both teams when he is out there.
After the game on Tuesday, we threw this out on Twitter:
Ok. Play time is over. It's time to have a real discussion about protecting Arvy over Smith/Wilson/whoever in the 8 skaters scenario.— On The Forecheck (@OnTheForecheck) December 21, 2016
You all did not disappoint. There are loads of opinions on expansion draft protection, but the jury is out on Arvidsson: he stays.
@OnTheForecheck why would there be a discussion? they are protecting him— J.R. Lind (@jrlind) December 21, 2016
@OnTheForecheck When was this even a discussion? Arvidsson is outplaying anyone else we would risk losing in the expansion draft.— Charles Chesnutt (@ChuckChesnutt) December 21, 2016
You guys also had some interesting takes on expansion draft as it pertains to Arvidsson and other players in the mix for protection.
@OnTheForecheck I was thinking he would make a trade to Vegas in exchange for them not taking Arvidsson— Graves (@WBGravey) December 21, 2016
@OnTheForecheck I would seriously consider the 7 forward 3 defense option exposing ekholm- play has not been great this year— Christian Kitchell (@kitcchr) December 21, 2016
@OnTheForecheck go 7-3... expose Wilson and Ekholm and make them choose— Michael Jenkins (@mj23teach) December 21, 2016
@OnTheForecheck There is no discussion. He had forced their hand. Expect Wilson or Smith to be traded— Jeffrey Huggett (@spartanrad) December 21, 2016
@OnTheForecheck how about sign and trade Ribs to Vegas instead. And Poile agrees to stock their office soda machine for 2 years— RandomInternetPerson (@notjasonzito) December 21, 2016
I think that last option is perfect.
A while back, we threw together a primer on the expansion draft protection. You should check it out. There are still a ton of options to sort through and nothing is certain, but it seems as though David Poile should seriously consider protecting Arvidsson (or at the very least, make a trade that protects him from being selected) in whatever scenario it takes. Whether that’s eight skaters, protecting all the defensemen and exposing Smith, Wilson, or whether it’s protection seven forwards and three defensemen, leaving either Ellis or Ekholm out for selection (which would mean they would definitely be gone).
Over the summer, things seemed pretty cut and dry with the Preds expansion draft list: Neal, Forsberg, Johansen, Smith, Subban, Josi, Ellis, and Ekholm. But with the exceptional play of Arvy, things are anything but certain.
Reasons to Watch
- Is Filip Forsberg back? Maybe if we keep hoping that one or two goals means that Fil is back, that means he will be back. So, is he back? I don’t know. He might just be back. Watch the game tonight and see if he is back.
- James Neal has 14 goals and is the best shooter the Preds have ever had. It is seriously fun watching this guy work. And he is around guys that just want to feed him the puck in Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and others. Great to see.
- The last two goaltending performances have been golden. Pekka Rinne stopped 31 shots on Monday against Philadelphi, Juuse Saros stopped 27 shots on Tuesday against New Jersey. Regardless of who starts in net, I like the Preds chances to stay in the game for three periods.
- Doth Subban returneth? Would it were so!
Whenever the Preds do something good this season, it feels like the very next game they only go backwards.
That’s your cue, Kevin Parker:
The Important Details
7:00 PM puck drop. TV: FS-TN, Radio: 102.5 The Game