Back before this season started, everyone circled December 14th on their calendars, and now most people who enjoy hockey, experts and fans alike, are sort of regretting that decision. Tonight is the first matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and your Nashville Predators, the two teams most of us predicted would be in the WCF. One of the teams playing in tonight’s game looks like they can be playing into June, but the other looks to be in shambles.
What happened to this marquee matchup? Let’s take a look.
The Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are 13-16-2, good for 28 points. That puts them in 7th in the 8-team Pacific, and with only the Arizona Coyotes behind them the Oilers are the division’s de-facto last place team.
Why is this team struggling so much?
First of all, this is an extremely streaky team. They took care of business against the division-leading Blue Jackets on the road with a 7-2 victory, but needed overtime at home a few weeks earlier to beat the Coyotes. And it’s not a “bad at home, great on the road” situation either, because they beat the Vegas Golden Knights 8-2 at home just days after losing in the Garden to a middling Rangers team.
The team having a streaky season in no way means that Connor McDavid has had a bad season so far. The Canadian wonder kid has 39 points so far, putting him on pace for 103 at the end of the season. There is really no way to completely shut down McDavid, because even if you can force him to make a few bad turnovers, which I expect Nashville to be able to do, and score off of those, he will still manage to make an assist like this:
Connor McDavid with a hell of an assist pic.twitter.com/n2kXbdtC9w— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) November 2, 2017
Or score a goal like this:
The good thing is, outside of McDavid, there really is no one who has played at a high enough level to be a threat to a team like the Predators. Interestingly enough, McDavid’s linemates may make things easier when trying to shut him down. His right winger is 19-year-old Jesse Puljujarvi, who is still technically a rookie according to NHL rules and has not found his consistency this season, and on the left side, McDavid is paired up with penalty machine Milan Lucic. If the Preds can get Lucic to the box, they will get to send their power play units out against the league’s worst penalty kill.
Outside of the first line, RNH, Strome, Draisatl, and the entire defensemen group have failed to produce at a high level.
Cam Talbot and Laurent Brossoit also both have a GAA over 3.00, which is not something that gives the team confidence when they are already struggling to score three goals most nights.
The Nashville Predators
Nashville is coming off of a thrashing of the Canucks in Vancouver last night, and they are looking to continue their winning ways in Edmonton tonight. With Pekka Rinne in net last night, expect Juuse Saros to make tonight’s start. Saros, despite having a 3.42 goals allowed average and a .890 save percentage, he has looked much better in his previous three starts, picking up a win in two of them and putting up at least a .917 save percentage.
The FiTS line is still churning, picking up six combined points. Johansen also picked up two points in his first game back from injury, and we should look to see both of those trends continue tonight and in the near future. It’s great to see the other top six guys like Smith (who passed his goal total for last season with his goal against the Canucks), Turris, and Fiala producing. Now all we need is more hugs!
As for the defensive side of things, the Preds have a surplus. Despite being out Ryan Ellis, arguably the team’s best D-man, for at least another few weeks, the team has seven defensemen that have been rotated through the active roster. Josi, Ekholm, and Subban have spent all season ensuring they will be part of the top two pairings, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen with that third pairing. Expect a lot of shuffling in these next few weeks as the team tries to figure out what the best everyday third pairing is, and know that when Ellis gets back this team will be able to use its depth to an even greater potential.
Reasons to Watch
- The team is almost completely healthy
- The new line combinations have worked well so far, how long will Laviolette keep them?
Sights and Sounds
As per usual, the game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports-TN, and 102.5 will have the radio call. Puck drop is at 8:00 PM CT.