We’ve reached the home stretch to the playoffs and the Nashville Predators are gaining some momentum going into the second half of the season. They even managed to claw their way into the 3rd playoff spot in the central division.
Nashville still has a lot of work to do and hopefully the NHL All-Star break brought some much needed rest to those who have been struggling.
As for the Pittsburgh Penguins, they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions and they’ll be looking to redeem themselves after the 5-1 beating they took at the hands of Juuse Sarros and half of the Milwaukee Admirals back in October.
Buckle up folks, now the fun really begins.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins have picked up right where they left off after winning the Stanley Cup already going 30-13-5 already this season. With 65 points in 48 games the Penguins are the 4th best team in the league and are currently sitting in the 3rd playoff spot in the metropolitan division behind the Washington Capitals and to everyone’s surprise, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
To no one’s surprise, captain Sidney Crosby leads his team and the league in goals with 28. He also leads the Penguins in points with 55. Say what you will, Sidney Crosby is still ridiculously good at professional ice hockey.
Evgeni Malkin is right behind him with 22 goals and 54 points. Followed by unsung hockey hero Phil Kessel with 15 goals and 46 points.
Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel might be performing to their standard but the rest of Pittsburgh’s talent seems to be having trouble breaking through. Justin Schultz leads their defense with 8 goals and 35 points in 48 games, Kris Letang has 4 goals and 23 points in 30 games and Trevor Daly has 4 goals and 16 points in 43 games. Their defense is nothing to write home about, but we’re biased in Nashville.
Pittsburgh’s on-going saga of which goalie is better has been a story to watch since the emergence of Matthew Murray last year. Murray and veteran Marc-Andre Fleury have split their number of starts almost completely down the middle with Fleury getting the starting nod in 27 outings while Murray has started 26.
Murray’s numbers have the edge over Fleury which is to be expected. The ten year age gap between the starting netminders has started to show in the numbers. Murray has a SV% of .921 while Fleury’s is .904. Some tough high goal scoring losses against Detroit and Washington are partly to blame for that percentage, but Fleury hasn’t seemed to prosper splitting starts like Murray has.
Fluery hasn’t played since December 28th with a shutout win against the Carolina Hurricanes and Murray is coming off a big win over the Montreal Canadiens. Rumors have been circulating that the Penguins are looking to trade Fluery and if there is any spark to those rumors Nashville should expect to face Murray tonight.
The Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg has arrived.
James Neal is as hateful as ever.
Viktor Arvidsson is Nashville’s hero.
And...we have a real life Craig Smith sighting.
Snipeeee. #Preds #CBJvsNSH pic.twitter.com/Yjv9zWwJ6n— Thomas Willis (@TomAWillis) January 27, 2017
The real question still remains...is he here to stay?
It’s a question that’s plagued the Nashville Predators all season. Glimpses of players looking to be ignited only to fall back into a hole of loss and despair. That might be a little dramatic but if there is one thing Nashville does well it’s subtle dramatics.
Ryan Johansen with a bank shot off of the glass into the empty-net. Insane. #Preds pic.twitter.com/uy2MZGkfdY— Mark Harris (@MCHisTweeting) January 23, 2017
"You're a wizard, Harry!!" #Preds #CBJvsNSH pic.twitter.com/V0jPMUZU82— Thomas Willis (@TomAWillis) January 27, 2017
While it’s enough to make you want to rip your hair out at times Nashville has learned how to milk the entertainment factor whether they win or lose. It’s definitely easier to appreciate it when they’re in a playoff position that’s not a wildcard spot and they’re not in a scoring drought that makes the Mojave Desert look like an oasis.
The road to this part of the season has not been easy. Nashville has been plagued with injuries and bad calls. There have been positives, they’ve finally learned how to win on the road but they still have inconsistencies they have to work on.
If they’re going to follow the pattern they followed last year, streaking into the playoffs, now is the time that all eyes will be on Nashville. Now is the time where the sleepers start to make their moves. Craig Smith might have been awakened before the break, but the verdict is still out on if that version of Smith is going to stick around for a while. As for Colin Wilson he’s played much better in the regular season than he did last year, but he’s still MIA compared to his playoff performance.
Where are you Playoff Colin Wilson? Nashville needs you!
Reasons To Watch
- Craig Smith has fought all season to prove himself. If he’s finally found his groove Nashville could be on the brink of the level we’ve been waiting for all year.
- Viktor Arvidsson, 2016-2017’s permanent reason to watch this team.
- 4th Line Bangers! It might be gritty but Colton Sissons, Cody McLoed, and Harry Zolnierczyk have been getting stuff done out there. I’m throwing in Austin Watson here too because wow, he’s having himself a season and deserves recognition for it.
Song of the Game
Nashville gold, not that Pittsburgh stuff.
The Important Details
6:00 PM (CST) puck drop. TV: FS-TN, Radio: 102.5 The Game