The Nashville Predators return home to Bridgestone Arena tonight in a match-up with the New York Islanders. It's the Predators first home game since a disappointing OT loss to the Devils on March 3rd. Since then, the Predators have built a sizable lead on the 1st wild-card spot. But this is not the time for complacency.
The Predators play 8 of their final 12 games in front of their home crowd at Bridgestone Arena. With a record of 17-10-6 at home this year, the Predators get points in roughly 70% of their home games. If the pattern holds up, we can expect the Preds to get around 10-12 of those 16 possible points in their remaining home games. With that, along with their recent consistent play on the road, the Preds could still push for 100 points on the season. If they can make it to 100 points (for the 6th time in franchise history), they may even push for a top 3 spot in the division. Do they want that? Would they rather play the Stars, Blues, or Blackhawks in that 2 vs. 3 matchup in the 1st round? Or take on the Pacific winner, be it the Kings, Sharks or Ducks?
I'm not sure it really matters. There's always a chance that the Pacific winner ends up with the better record and the Preds have to face the Central winner anyways. At this point, we really just want the regular season over to see where the team ends up and get to the playoffs as fast as possible.
The New York Islanders
The Islanders are 2nd in the Metro Division, locked in a tight race for runner-up with the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. No one is catching the Capitals, obviously. Instead, those three teams will duke it out for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Islanders will face 12 quality teams in their final 14 games, but 8 of those will come on their home ice. Tonight's game is one of their 6 remaining road games of the regular season.
The Isles are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, but are 1-1-2 in their last 4 games. Much like the Predators, the months of February and March have been kind to the Islanders, but they've recently returned to Earth a bit. Scoring 2.79 goals per game, the Islanders are led by John Tavares (26g) and Brock Nelson (22g), but plenty of guys are dangerous on this team. Anders Lee, Frans Nielsen, and Kyle Okposo all have double-figures in the goals column. Okposo has been a super distributor with 36 assists on the season. Their blue-line doesn't bring the goals in the same way that Nashville's does (who does really?), but both Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk can produce offense consistently.
The Islanders boast the 6th best overall defense in the league, allowing only 2.43 goals per game. While Jaroslav Halak has had a solid year, with 18 wins and a .919 save %, the attention now belongs to Thomas Greiss, with Halak possibly out for the year. A career backup who has made stops at San Jose, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh, Greiss is enjoying a career year. In 32 games, he boasts a .928 save %, collecting 19 wins. The Islanders have essentially been rolling out two goaltenders on a regular basis, keeping both goalies fresh, but Halak suffered a groin injury recently and most likely won't return this year. So Greiss will have to keep it going. Can he keep it up?
The odds say probably not. With a career save % of .913, he will likely regress at some point. But still, you can't deny how good he has been. Just look at him compared to Halak and Nashville's own goaltenders:
He's faces more shots/game than Hutton, Halak, and Rinne, and has a better adjusted save percentage than all three as well. He also has a higher high-danger save % than the rest of these guys at 87.44. Greiss has been one tough customer all year long, as Nashville fans have seen first hand: back in October, Greiss stopped 44 of 47 shots to earn the 4-3 win over the Predators. That was back when the Preds were shooting the puck at ridiculous rates and still having problems scoring. The Preds will have to work hard to solve Greiss if they want points tonight.
The Nashville Predators
A few years ago, if you had told me the Predators would obtain John Tavares from the New York Islanders in exchange for an unhappy veteran and a bottom 6 forward prospect, I would have been ecstatic. All of us would have been ecstatic. But as it turns out, that's essentially what the Predators did when they got Filip Forsberg from the Capitals.
The parallels between Tavares and Forsberg are numerous. To start, both players possess advanced shooting ability with similar career shooting % numbers. Both Tavares and Forsberg tend to work hard along the boards and find advantageous shooting lanes to exploit even when denied a lot of room to work with. Both players are skilled passers who make their line-mates better. Looking at OwnThePuck's new WARRIOR charts, you can see both players match-up well:
While Forsberg's TOI is greatly affected by the inclusion of 2013-14, where he played only 13 games, you'll see that he still possesses similar weighted possession and scoring numbers to Tavares. Tavares's playmaking is otherworldly, but both players generate shots and goals at similar rates. What Forsberg lacks in playmaking, he makes up in shot suppression, something that Tavares does not do all that well.
Tavares just recently scored his 200th NHL goal, while Forsberg has only just recently passed the 50 goal mark. But the career paths are similar enough to be excited about the future for Forsberg. Both players are All-Stars (Tavares with 3, Forsberg with 1) and both players were Calder snubs. Both players are similarly sized at 6'1", 205-210. Both players are on playoff-competitive teams in very competitive divisions, where they know their expectations and role on the team is essential. Tavares's career high in goals came last year with 38 goals, a mark that Forsberg seems almost sure to reach at some point in his career.
Forsberg is poised to be a perennial All-Star and annual goal-scoring leader for whatever team he plays for. The big question is: will it be as a member of the Nashville Predators? Just asked the Magic 8 Ball: Outlook good.
Reasons To Watch
- If you haven't been watching Viktor Arvidsson play hockey, what is wrong with you? You need to do so. It is so much fun. Picture the Tazmanian Devil on bath salts.
- Roman Josi, the Swiss Bliss, leads Preds defensmen with 49 points. You can't deny this man has been a catalyst for the Preds this year. What an incredible talent.
- It's St. Patrick's Day: be responsible, but have fun. Like, a lot of fun.
The Important Details
7 PM puck drop in the home barn. TV: FS-TN, Radio: 102.5 The Game