Oh how preseason predictions can falter.
It feels like only yesterday that Michael, Hayley, and myself all predicted a Lightning-Predators Stanley Cup Finals, but as the halfway mark of the season approaches, neither team looks to have the strength to come within reach of the finish line. The Predators (16-14-7) sit five games under .500 while Tampa Bay (19-14-6) are one under .500. Obviously points are what really matter, but neither team is playing particularly good hockey at the moment.
The Predators will be getting another crack at an injury-depleted lineup, as Tampa Bay will be without the stellar Ben Bishop in net and their superstar captain Steven Stamkos at center. Nevertheless, the Lightning were without Stamkos for their run into the Eastern Conference Final last season, so who’s to say they can’t win without him.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have not had as easy a path as some predicted this season. This is due partially to the Canadiens playing fantastic hockey, but the Lightning have yet to find their mojo from the last two seasons. Prior to this year, they had been one of the most dominating teams in the league, but it has simply not been the case this year.
Their sluggish play is no fault of the young Jonathan Drouin who, since his attitude issues a few seasons ago, has done a full 180 and is now a key member for the Lightning. Nikita Kucherov similarly cannot be blamed, for all he has done is post 38 points in 32 games this season.
Alas, in an odd turn of events, the goaltending for the Lightning has been suspect this season. With Bishop out of the lineup, backup Andrei Vasilevskiy has taken over duties. With a GAA of 2.63, he is not always putting the Lightning in a position to win. Nevertheless, his GAA is better than Bishop’s, who has posted a 2.70 GAA through 21 games. Pekka Rinne gives the Predators a chance to win every night and his strength in goal will be the biggest mismatch tonight.
As per far too many game previews, the Predators are coming off of another overtime loss, this time at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens at Bridgestone Arena. The 2-1 defeat came from the hands of former Predators Shea Weber and Alexander Radulov. Each received wildly different receptions from the fans, as while Weber will always be loved for really putting the Nashville Predators on the NHL map, Radulov left behind a different legacy.
Nevertheless, Pekka Rinne made 41 saves before Montreal scored in overtime to win the game. There is no reason why, when Pekka makes 41 saves, that the Predators should not win a hockey game. Rinne is not getting any younger either, and it feels as if the Predators could be wasting one of his last good years. However, for tonight, Juuse Saros may start instead, as the Predators have another game tomorrow against the Florida Panthers.
If one is more of an optimist, the Predators have earned three of six possible points against Chicago, St. Louis, and Montreal in their last three games. That is by no means a bad sign. Furthermore, they played well against each team and just as easily could have taken the full six points. However, there’s little time left for moral victories. The Predators need all the points they can get, and that’s done by winning, not losing in overtime.
Reasons to Watch
- As stated earlier, many people, even outside of us here at On The Forecheck, believed that these two teams would meet up this June in the Stanley Cup Final. Despite each team not performing up to their expectations, there is more than enough talent in each lineup to provide an explosive game.
- Fiala looked like a man possessed last game against Montreal, getting the opportunity of his life to score on Carey Price just to be denied and then later finally putting one past him. Maybe he’s reading a self-help book by Viktor Arvidsson.
- Will we see Rinne or Saros? Pekka Rinne has been putting on a goaltending clinic this season, but Juuse Saros has more than earned his keep as well. “Little Bear” will play either tonight or tomorrow, so we will get more of a glimpse at the future.
Gameday Hockey Lingo Word of the Day
Hospital pass, noun.
Definition: When a player, in order to receive a pass, has to stop or place themselves in a vulnerable position where an opponent can demolish them with a body check. Such hits may result in the pass recipient going to the hospital.
Example: “Ooh, looks like the guy from Case Western really rocked Bobby’s head after that hospital pass from his Wooster teammate.”
Sights and Sounds
You can watch the game on FS-TN or on your computer, as the game is NHL.com’s free game of the day! [Note: this is subject to blackouts.] If you’re out on the road, tune in to 102.5 the Game. Puck drop is at 6:30 CT.