Coming off of two big wins up in Alberta, the Predators shift their attention tonight back to the Central Division as they play the Minnesota Wild. The Wild, current leaders of the Central Division, have played two less games than the Predators and four less games than the Chicago Blackhawks, who also have 63 points. Meanwhile, the Predators, tied with the St. Louis Blues for third in the Central with 51 points, have a prime opportunity to make some major ground in the division and leap out of the wild card and into a divisional playoff slot.
As if betting against Bruce Boudreau to win the division was ever a wise idea.
Although the Columbus Blue Jackets ended the Wild’s winning streak a few weeks back, the Wild have not deviated far from their winning ways. They have been playing excellent hockey as of late and are 7-2-1 in their last ten games. Nevertheless, although Devin Dubnyk is usually talked about at the key component to the Wild winning, they have given up an average of 3.2 goals over their last five games.
What has really been a difference for the Wild this season is the addition of Eric Staal at center. Despite being on the wrong side of 30 and being awarded a contract that many believed to be an over-payment, Eric Staal has been rejuvenated in Minnesota. In 45 games this year, he is closing in on a point-per-game pace with 40 points. The jury is still out on how much longer he will be able to maintain that pace, especially in the following years, but in the here and now he is doing wonders for Minnesota.
Nevertheless, even Eric Staal has not been carrying the workload for the Wild over the last five games. Instead, they are receiving contributors from the youth in their lineup. Finnish center Mikael Granlund has posted six points in five games. Charlie Coyle, a fellow 24-year-old with Granlund, has 37 points after posting 42 all of last season.
The truth is, everything that could be improved, other than their goaltending, has been improved. A large amount of credit for that has to be given to head coach Bruce Boudreau. What Mike Yeo was unable to change in the Minnesota Wild, Boudreau has significantly altered for the better. Night in and night out, Bruce Boudreau is bringing out the best of his players and placing them in positions to succeed. His influence and role in bringing the Minnesota Wild to the top of the Central Division cannot be understated. Were it not for John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets, Bourdreau would be in line for another Jack Adams trophy as the NHL’s best coach.
P.K. Subban is back! ...is it too soon?
In playing Friday night against the Edmonton Oilers, superstar P.K. Subban joined the Predators’ lineup for the first time in 2017. The rumors of his injury were that he once more had a herniated disk in his back. Granted, the official record will forever say “upper body injury”, but that can mean many different things. Although it is wonderful that P.K. Subban is back on the ice, one has to ask if it is too soon. Is he just playing through the pain, or is he actually okay? If it is a rumored herniated disk in his back, there is a high chance that surgery would be needed to repair it. If P.K. Subban does have this rumored herniated disk, would it be better for him to simply have surgery and end his season for his long term health?
That question coincides with another “upper body injury” of Roman Josi, which is rumored to be his seventh concussion. SEVENTH. The question really shouldn’t be when he will be able to play hockey again, but if Josi should ever be able to play hockey again. If it is his seventh concussion, as much as I would love for him to return to the Predators and have him and P.K. lead a “healthy” Predators back to the playoffs, everyone would be lying to themselves in saying that it would be a wise decision.
The long and short is that the Predators’ playoff window is open for a number of years, especially with Juuse Saros living up to his hype and the emergence of Viktor Arvidsson. The question that I ask is, considering the potential seriousness of P.K. Subban and Roman Josi’s injuries, is it worth risking further damage by rushing them back this season? As much as one would like to see this team build off of last season and make a run once the team is “healthy”, it would be much wiser to give Subban and Josi the time needed to properly heal if their injuries are as rumored. That being said, if the rumors are wrong and they are fine and ready to play, then there’s no problem having them in the lineup.
In December, a lot of criticism fell on this team for lacking a “next-man up” mentality when dealing with their swath of injuries. The great news is that, ever since January has begun, that mentality has finally reached the team. Some nights Austin Watson is scoring big goals. Other nights Ryan Ellis is willing the Predators to victory. And, thankfully, the goaltending duo and Viktor Arvidsson are putting the men in gold in a position to win every night.
This five game road trip has been a true test of this team’s character. Injury laden, the Predators have been forced barrel through northwest Canada and conclude the trip against the best team in their division. Nevertheless, before the trip the Predators sat outside of a Wild Card spot, and they now are tied for third in the division. Regardless of Subban and Josi’s injuries, this team is coming together and using raw willpower to win games.
Reasons to Watch
- Booooooooooooooooooooooooooo (for those under a rock, Ryan Suter is on the Wild, and we don’t like him very much).
- We enjoyed seeing the Predators beat Bruce Boudreau last year, I’m sure we could enjoy it again.
- The Predators could go on a winning streak! No, for real! Seriously! It’d be three games straight!
- Who will step up and lead the Predators tonight? It’s a different player every night, which is exactly how one should want a team riddled with injuries to be playing.
Gameday Hockey Lingo Word of the Day
- A plastic mask on a helmet, also often referred to as a “bubble mask.”
Example: “When Colin Wilson finally returns to the lineup, will he be wearing the fishbowl again?”
Sights and Sounds
The game will be on on FS-TN and you can listen to it on 102.5 The Game. Puck drops at 7:00pm central.