If there is a Limbo in hockey the Nashville Predators are in it right now. Their position in the playoff race as the top wild card seed is locked in and now they have to sit and wait...or not. All things considered, this mental break might be great for the Predators and that's not to say they should just pack things in until the playoffs. To the contrary, they can take these last two remaining games to work on things and get mentally and physically prepared for the grind ahead in a no-pressure situation.
Meanwhile, the Preds two lone potential opponents, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, will do battle tonight at 9:30 PM CT. Currently both teams are tied in the standings (99 points), with Anaheim having a game in hand and Los Angeles holding on to an insurmountable lead in the regulation and overtime wins (ROW) column (the playoff position tiebreaker).
If Anaheim wins in regulation and gets one point over their final two games they will play the Predators. If Los Angeles wins in regulation and wins their final game they will play the Predators. So, flip over to that Pacific Division showdown all you night owls with NHL TV.
The Arizona Coyotes
There are few teams in the league that the Predators would like more to spar against in order to gain some unfounded confidence than the Arizona Coyotes. Ranked 7th to last in the league with 77 points, the Coyotes have the second worst away record in the league (13-23-3), the 3rd highest goals against per game in the league (3.00,) and the 2nd worst Corsi-For Percentage in the Western Conference (46.9 %.)
While it is great to know that on an average night the Predators should beat the Coyotes pretty handedly, don't sleep on them in the slightest because they can also pack a mean punch if you let their talent shine through. Specifically I'm talking about Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Shane Doan, and the rookies, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. If the Predators can shut down those four they have completed half the battle.
Beyond that, the Coyotes' offense is pretty decent but nothing special. Alex Tanguay has been on a tear since being traded at the deadline with four goals and nine assists in 16 games. Antoine Vermette and Tobias Rieder can also show up from time to time and provide a bit of offense. Other than Michael Stone and Ekman-Larsson this team is pretty weak on defense and lacks the necessary depth. Watch out for the Desert Dogs' goaltending, though, because every now and again they'll sneak up and bite you where the sun doesn't shine, as the Predators have witnessed before.
The Skinny: Don't sleep on the Coyotes but this should be a great warm up game for the Predators; if they shut down their top four skaters they should be golden. Let's give our friends in the desert a better chance of landing hometown great Auston Matthews, shall we?
The Nashville Predators
There is a basic three step process I have for every test I take. First, I go over my material to make sure I've got all of the information down. Second, I take a practice test, which is close to the real deal (or as close as I can make one up to be,) but obviously not quite the same. Those two steps did nothing for me grade-wise but they did prepare me as much as possible for the trial to come. Third, I go in and NAIL THAT SUCKER...well...most of the time.
As far as the Nashville Predators are concerned, tonight's game is step one of that process. It's time to refine their play against the Coyotes by limiting chances and penalties, playing a full 60 minute tight-checking game, and being systematically sound in all situations; especially on the power play and penalty kill. They should by no means sleep on the Coyotes but hopefully they can use this game against a weaker opponent to do that refining and gain a bit of confidence.
A few of players I would definitely keep an eye on are Ryan Johansen, Colin Wilson, and game-time decision Anthony Bitetto. Johansen has been great recently - 3 goals and 10 assists in the past 11 games - and the Predators need him going on all cylinders during the playoffs against a team (and this applies to both Los Angeles and Anaheim) that doesn't allow a lot of goals and plays very physical.
Wilson, who is also built perfectly for that grind it out style of play, had an awesome game last outing with a goal, an assist, and five shots on net. The Predators would like to get him going for the playoffs because when he's on he's ON and doing everything a skilled power forward is expected to do and when he's off he's OFF; and that all stems from the mental part of his game.
Also, watch for the potential return of Bitetto. Kris Martel illustrated very well how his return and good play could lead to the reuniting of the Ryan Ellis - Mattias Ekholm pairing which is one that is capable of taking on a lot of important minutes in the playoffs.
The next step for the team will be taking that practice test against the Central Division leading Dallas Stars and then on to the real deal!
Reasons to Watch
- Has it been mentioned that Filip Forsberg (32 goals) and James Neal (31 goals) are close to tying and maybe even breaking Jason Arnott's single-season scoring record as a Predator (33 goals) Also, Roman Josi is a point away from being the first Preds defenseman to hit the 60 point mark in a single season.
- Domi and Duclair are absolute speed demons and so much fun to watch. As we are small market buddies with Arizona, it is nice to see some talented youth in the desert.
- It's Thursday. What else do you have to do?
Drink of Choice for Game Time
I'll be sipping on a nice...ice cold...Natural Light because I'm a broke college student.