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Nashville Predators @ Minnesota Wild: Taking out the Trash

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Tied for second-worst in the Central Division, the Wild are a team that the Predators need to keep in their place tonight.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

What’s happened, Bruce?

Gaining a reputation for leading teams to division titles, Bruce Boudreau’s Minnesota Wild are following up last season’s Central Division title with what is tied for the second-worst record in the division. The Wild were dead last in the division as of a week ago, but Devan Dubnyk has managed to record three-straight shutouts. When the second-most overrated goaltender in the league (shout out to Frederik Andersen) is the reason that your team is not in your division’s basement, things are not going well.

On the other hand, the Predators are winners of five straight and have an offense that has been absolutely buzzing since Kyle Turris joined the Predators’ lineup. Let the record also show that it was a murderer’s row of teams - Anaheim, Los Angeles, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Washington - that the Predators have beaten, with the first three games all being on the road. Hopefully the Predators continue that streak tonight against the Wild.

The Minnesota Wild

The Wild, despite having a small handful of young pieces like Jason Zucker, Jared Spurgeron, Nino Niederreiter, and Mikael Granlund, have been feeling their age catch up to them. Players like Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, and Chris Stewart are all on the wrong side of 30-years-old and losing speed. Although the Wild do have some nice young pieces previously mentioned, they have yet to develop a new “gamebreaker” who can take over Parise or Suter’s roles. Injuries have played a large role as well, with numerous Wild players already missing significant amount of time. Zach Parise has yet to play a game this season due to injury. In a tough division like the central, the Wild’s lack of depth is beginning to show.

Devan Dubnyk is still between the pipes for the Wild. He began the season on a rocky stretch, but has balanced his stats out with three straight shutout performances. One of the weirdest stories over the last two years has been the historically inconsistent Dubnyk, average on a good day and terrible on a bad one, finding outstanding form with the Wild. He is clearly hot now, which could cause problems for the Predators if he maintains his form but, with goalies like Dubnyk, you just never know when he’ll regress again.

The Nashville Predators

One streak must end tonight, as the Predators come in on a five-game winning streak compared to the Wild’s three game streak. The Predators have been playing some of their most offensively inspiring hockey in a long, long time these last two games as Kyle Turris’ impact has already been made.

Nevertheless, there are still definite ways in which the Predators could improve. Since they have been playing so well, some self-critique is probably a good thing.

Courtesy of hockeyviz.com

The fourth line has been a point of critique since January 13th last season. Cody McLeod has been a black hole on the fourth line ever since putting on the Predators’ sweater, posting possession numbers that clearly indicate that he is a burden, rather than a blessing, for his teammates. Even with Nick Bonino centering him on Tuesday night, McLeod played miserably.

Courtesy of hockeyviz.com

Genuinely not one player performs better with McLeod than without him. Nevertheless, Frederic Gaudreau and Pontus Aberg sit in the minors. There are no more excuses for McLeod. If Peter Laviolette wants to roll four lines and contend for a Stanley Cup, McLeod cannot be a part of this hockey team’s lineup.

Furthermore, some people have been critiquing P.K. Subban as he has made some turnovers lately. While some of them have been inexcusable (how did Pierre Luc-Dubois pick his pocket in Columbus?), the reason P.K. has turned the puck over so many times is because he always has it. Why does he have the puck all the time? Can Alexei Emelin not handle the puck?

Courtesy of hockeyviz.com

Yes. That is absolutely the case. That “outlier” is Emelin, P.K. Subban’s defensive partner. Alexei Emelin hasn’t been bad with the puck, he may be the worst defender on the Predators with it. There is no player on the Predators under more pressure to perform than P.K. Subban, being the odd horseman out with Ryan Ellis injured, being expected to play world class hockey with the weight of Alexei Emelin holding him down. Sure, fewer turnovers would be nice but, when you can not make a D-to-D pass without confidence that your partner knows what to do with the puck, hockey becomes hard.

If the Predators can get McLeod out of the lineup and get Emelin to find his game, they will be able to win many more games at a time than just five.

Reasons to Watch

  • God, I hate Ryan Suter.
  • Kyle Turris and his line with Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala have been playing great hockey. Fiala has been looking like he was due for a breakout for weeks; Turris was just the trigger to set him off.
  • What will the lines be? Will Nick Bonino be moved up from the fourth line? Right now, with his contract, seeing Bonino on the fourth line is giving me Paul Gaustad flashbacks.

Sights and Sounds

The Predators play in Minneapolis at 7:00ct. FS-South will have the game on television with 102.5 The Game covering it over the air.