The Predators will take on the Pacific Division leading Kings tonight, looking to bounce back from a 4-1 drubbing against the Capitals last Friday. The Kings, who clinched a playoff berth with a 2-1 win over the Bruins on Saturday, are still fending off the Ducks and Sharks, so they are far from being on cruise control. Nashville will look to inch closer to officially locking up a playoff spot as well, and possibly even sneaking up on that 3rd spot in the Central. With 10 games remaining, the Preds are still only 6 points behind the Blackhawks for that 3rd spot.
Tonight's match-up is also a potential playoff preview: if the season ended today, the Preds and Kings would face each other in the first round, with home-ice advantage going to the Kings of course. So far the Kings have bested the Preds 2-0-0 in the season series, though the Preds did get two points out of those meetings (three on three, our old foe).
Is it April yet?
The Los Angeles Kings
The Kings enter tonight's match-up as hot as anyone in the league. They are 7-2-1 in their last 10 and relatively healthy. All of their pieces are contributing and playing well. And after all, it is playoff time in an even-numbered year, so it's time for the Kings to play the best hockey that any team has ever played and then eventually win the Stanley Cup. You can probably go ahead and put your money down on it.
The Kings are right there with the Preds in scoring at 2.73 goals/game. Both teams have 194 goals on the season. The Kings are led by Tyler Toffoli (26g) and Anze Kopitar (24g), which is a bit surprising considering the team still has Milan Lucic, Jeff Carter, and Marian Gaborik. Gaborik has been battling a knee injury and has only played in 54 games. Jeff Carter is 31 years old and finally (finally!) seeing his production drop off. Lucic has fit in well with the Kings, but won't hit that 25-30 goal mark that they were hoping he would.
Drew Doughty continues to lead the Kings' blue-line. His 45 points (13g, 32a) put him in a tie with Shea Weber for 11th in scoring among all defensemen. With only 4 more goals, Doughty would set a career season high in goals. Brayden McNabb had been Doughty's top line pairing for a while, but Rob Scuderi has recently taken on that role since being acquired from the Blackhawks. Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez round out the blue-line crew, both of which are great all-around defensemen.
Since February 2nd, Jonathan Quick has been fantastic. He's garnered a .927 save % and gone 11-4-2 with 1 shutout in his last 16 games. His play, much like Pekka Rinne's, has been key in getting the Kings in their current playoff position. And again, this is the time of year when Quick plays his best hockey. In 76 career playoff games, Quick has a .923 save % and 9 shutouts. He's only 30 years old and he's played in 42 more playoff games than Pekka. That's what happens when you win Stanley Cups.
The Nashville Predators
Eric Nystrom is apparently ready to play some hockey, but the big question is: should he? The 3rd and 4th lines have been quite impressive of late. Eric Nystrom has 7 goals on the year, but that seems like eons ago. The bottom two lines have been generating consistent shots and scoring chances in his absence, though they don't have a ton of goals to show for it. The 3rd line has been especially effective:
Nystrom would obviously not step in to replace Arvy, Fish or Wilson on the 3rd line. You could make the argument for his place on the 4th line, but still not much of one. I suppose it just depends on how willing the Predators are to eat the $3 million and go with guys who are younger and possibly more effective. I know what I would do.
By the way, Gabriel Bourque was also recalled Sunday and looks "ready to return." I'm even less sold on him playing than I am on Nystrom. Poor Bourque hasn't played with this team in 50 games and I just don't see a spot for him in the lineup, unless there's an injury. With the play of Salo and Arvy, and with Bourque's upcoming RFA status, I think Bourque has played his last game as a Predator already.
On the top two lines, we have a different kind of battle brewing. Filip Forsberg and James Neal are dueling for the goal scoring lead, which you love to see. Not to be outdone by Filip's torrid stretch in February, James Neal has taken on the role of "Señor En Fuego" with 6 goals in his last 9 games, including a hat-trick against the Oilers a week ago. An historically streaky goal scorer, let's hope that Neal keeps it going tonight. Both Forsberg and Neal are battling to break Jason Arnott's regular season record of 33 goals, set in the 08-09 season. With only 10 games to go, my money is on Fil, who has 29 already.
Reasons To Watch
- Ryan Ellis slapped a puck about as hard as I've seen from him the other night against the Islanders. Probably between 95-97 mph, by my untrained and completely unscientific measurement. And his beard, the source of all of his power, only appears to be at 90% capacity. Impressive.
- Once again: Viktor Arvidsson. You simply cannot ignore this guy's presence on the ice. Someone get this man a can of Surge® and let's see what he can really do.
- It seems the momentum has flipped from the 2nd line to the top line: Neal and Joey are on fire right now. See if they can keep it going.
My name is Theodor and I'm here to say, I came to rap in a Seussical way...
The Important Details
7 PM puck drop. FS-TN and 102.5 The Game have your coverage.