The Predators will take a quick tour of Western Canada over the next few days, starting with a game against the Vancouver Canucks tonight. The Canucks will be looking to end a losing streak as well as revenge the dramatic OT loss to the Preds from a week ago.
The Vancouver Canucks
There was a brief period recently—maybe a 6-7 game stretch—where the Canucks were starting to get it together. They managed a six game win streak and all of sudden found themselves in position for a wild card playoff spot. Then they reeled off four straight losses, including the OT loss in Nashville, and are returning to their inept ways.
The Canucks are 25th in the league in goal scoring at 2.38 goals per game. The good news is that premiere young forward Bo Horvat is having a great season. He leads the team with 30 points (13g, 17a), outperforming the Sedin twins who have 28 and 25 points. Horvat is on track to be a dominant center in this league and he’s made improvements to his game every year since his rookie year in 2014-15.
The bad news is that other than their top six forwards of Horvat, the Sedins, Brandon Sutter, Loui Eriksson, and Markus Granlund, there’s not much scoring elsewhere on the team. Sven Baertschi is having a career season, but that’s not saying much. There’s virtually no scoring on the blueline. The eight defensemen that have played so far have generated a total of nine goals. And Ben Hutton has four of those. For the most part, this Canucks team prefers to pass the puck around and look for their forwards to take shots from the perimeter.
The defense is not only not contributing offensively, they are suspect at the other end of the ice. The Canucks rank 20th in the league in goals allowed at 2.84 goals per game, and that’s with Ryan Miller stopping pucks right at his career average in save percentage (91.4%). Miller hasn’t been a world beater or anything, but you’d expect better with Miller’s consistency. The Canucks have also rolled out Jacob Markstrom for 19 starts with mixed results.
I’m not sure this team will be as terrible as everyone thought going into this season. Horvat, the Sedins, and Eriksson will make sure they are a challenge in every game. But they are still likely a contender for lottery draft pick given the rest of their lineup.
The Nashville Predators
Regardless of all the good feelings we have about Cody McLeod and Austin Watson all of a sudden providing some net presence, the truth about the 2016-17 Nashville Predators remains:
They simply don’t get enough shots off from the middle of the ice, in front of the net.
That big blue oval in front of the opposing net indicates they are far below the league average in shooting on net from that area. They good news is that they have guys like Filip Forsberg and James Neal who shoot very well from further out, not to mention a guy like Viktor Arvidsson who shoots from everywhere.
But the problem remains. Outside of Mike Fisher, no one is going to the front of the net consistently. That needs to change.
Great teams consistently get traffic in front of the net. The Kings, the Sharks, the Blues, the Wild, the Blackhawks, and the Ducks all consistently get guys in front of the net. All of those teams are playoff teams. Though playoff teams may have guys that can rip from outside, they know that the majority of goals are scored in the crease or with traffic in front. They get dirty goals from guys like Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Joe Pavelksi, Eric Staal, Ryan Kesler, Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz, etc.
Guys like Watson and McLeod are fun to watch, but they aren’t going to be 15-20 goal scorers this year. They aren’t really an answer for the middle of the ice problems the Preds have. That being said, you hope that they can fill the void until someone else emerges as a threat from the middle.
Reasons to Watch
- Honestly, the Preds lineup could be as interesting as the game itself. Will Subban play? What about Wilson? Will Mike Ribeiro be a healthy scratch? Will the McLeod-Watson-Zolnierczyk line still be a thing? Or will they give way to the more talented skaters? More questions than answers these days.
- Well, the last time these teams played, it was a snooze fest for about 64 minutes... and then things got real. Maybe the Preds shouldn’t find themselves in a position where they need to score with 1.5 seconds left, but if they do then this one could be fun as well.
- Filip Forsberg is on a tear. Like a six goals in his last ten games kind of tear. It’s about time, but really he has been playing this well all year. He’s been putting up shots in dangerous areas all season, only they are going in now. When he is like that, it is fun to watch. Be on the lookout for Fil tonight.
The Important Details
9:00 PM puck drop in this one. Get ready to stay up late. If you’re watching, it’s on FS-TN. If you’re listening, it’s on 102.5 The Game.