2017 is almost done, and both the Preds and their fans have made some amazing memories this calendar year (along with some we’d like to soon forget). But before the ball can drop in Times Square, the Preds need to embark on a four game set of games against division rivals.
Tonight they face a team that has struggled to get in a groove, and even though they are not much of a threat in the standings, taking both points in Dallas tonight is critical in the race for the Central Division crown.
The Dallas Stars
These guys are a very streaky team. They are 4-4-2 in their last 10, 19-14-3 overalll, and have a goal differential of over three. None of those statistics scream Cup contender, but if they find their groove they have the talent to turn it around.
Well, sort of.
This team, as I said last game, is powered completely by its forwards. The top forwards on this team are some of the better players in this league. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have unbelievable levels of talent, and having someone like Alexander Radulov, who can be an extremely efficient wing, boosts not only a team’s morale but also their production. The other good forwards on this roster include Hanzal, Faksa, and Spezza.
After them though, it get’s bad. Fast. When Esa Lindell and John Klingberg are your top defensive pairing, there is not a great chance you will be in the best position to prevent easy shot attempts. The pairing of Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn is not any better, and neither is the one of Stephen Johns and Julius Honka.
In net, the Stars have an interesting situation. There is Ben Bishop, who has been praised ever since his top-tier season in Tampa Bay, but if you look outside of that season, he has hovered around the low .900s and high .800s for SV% with a GAA in the 2.5 range. He did pick up a shutout against the Blackhawks on Thursday (hurray), but in the games before that he allowed 4, 2, 4, and 3 goals respectively. That three goal game was the game against Nashville, where he was pulled for the backup: Kari “Lunging” Lehtonen.
Look, Lehtonen is putting up numbers this season that are better than his career averages. But that is not saying much, because his GAA is still a scary 2.59 and his SV% is a mere .907. The two goalies have Goals Saved Above Average numbers in the negative, with Bishop posting a -0.87 GSAA, and Lehtonen saving a whopping 1.55 goals less than the middle of the pack of NHL goalies.
With not much of a stellar defense or great goalie situation, this team will likely only win if the offense is putting up numbers. Or head coach Ken Hitchcock has a rabbit’s foot and a horseshoe to put all his luck towards whichever goalie starts.
The Nashville Predators
The Preds are coming off of two straight home losses, one against a very good Jets team and the other against a Hurricanes team that, despite its talent, should not have taken down the Preds so easily. Tonight is a big-time bounce back game for the boys in gold, especially as they head to St. Louis after Christmas.
Pekka Rinne was the victim of bad bounces, letting in four goals in just over 5:00 on a mere six shots. Were most of them his fault? Not inherently, but either way it left Coach Peter Laviolette no choice but to give Juuse Saros a try. Saros did his job, as his shutout performance shifted momentum in the positive direction. Although he played such a great game, do not expect Saros tonight with Rinne still the starting netminder for this team. Do expect Rinne to bounce back, though. It has been more than a year now since the last time he lost 3 straight in regulation.
In a dark loss to Carolina, Kevin Fiala was the only bright spot. The superkid is showing flashes of his potential, and he is starting to find a groove. We’ve struck gold with this one, and I can’t wait to watch him battle it out with teammates like Fil or Arvy for franchise records. For now, he just needs to focus on keeping his career-high point streak going.
The JoFA line being put back together has not done what we would have hoped. Rather than roll with what was working, Laviolette jumbled his lines once again, this time back to their original combinations. While they have not been awful together, the worse part is that the line Filip was on before this with Jarnkrok and Aberg has not been nearly as productive in the two games since Forsberg left for the top line.
Hopefully Craig Smith is back soon, because this team has a lot of talent, and we do not want it wasting away.
Reasons to watch
- Well, they are a division rival
- Maybe we can push Bishop out of the net again?
- It’s the last game before the holidays, take some time away from your relatives and spend tonight with your OTF family
Sights and Sounds
Still waiting for the next Preds game on NBCSports, but until then tonight’s game can be viewed on Fox Sports-TN. 102.5 The Game has the radio call with puck drop at 7 pm.