The Predators will look to build on some recent momentum today by welcoming the Edmonton Oilers to Bridgestone Arena for a matinee tilt. The Preds are fresh off an impressive 5-2 win over the Capitals on Saturday and are currently riding a four game point streak.
The Oilers come into town having just lost to the Capitals on Friday night and are 5-5 in their last 10 games.
The Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are battling for the Pacific Division title with San Jose, though they currently find themselves five points behind, having played one extra game than the Sharks. Regardless of whether they can pull out a division title, it looks likely that the Oilers will make the postseason for the first time since 2006, when they lost in the Stanley Cup Final against Peter Laviolette and the Carolina Hurricanes.
Scoring 2.79 goals per game, the Oilers are 12th in the league in scoring, mostly because of Connor McDavid. He leads the league in points with 69, two ahead of Sidney Crosby. He is everything when it comes to the Oilers right now and he makes everyone on the team, and the team itself, better when he is out there.
All those red circles are McDavid plus whoever he skates with. When he is out there, no matter who is linemates are, the team sees an increase in shots generated and a drop in shots allowed.
Speaking of his linemates, Leon Draisaitl is having a great year. The McDavid-Draisatl combo has been one of the best in the league, without question. While most of that is McDavid, Draisatl has taken a huge leap and is having a career year for himself. He is currently 18th in the league in points with 54, including 23 goals, and is shooting an insane 17.2%. In 10 fewer games, he has already surpassed his 2015-16 point totals and will easily reach the 60 point mark.
The Oilers are allowing the 7th fewest goals per game at 2.53. Most of that is because Cam Talbot is having a nice year in net. He ranks 13th in the league among regular starters in 5v5 save percentage at 92.9%. This is a big improvement from last year, where he finished 33rd in the league with a 92.1% mark. He is getting the lion’s share of starts for the Oilers, who have no real answers at the backup position, so it will be interesting to see if he can carry the load through the playoffs. If his performance declines at all, the Oilers could be in trouble.
Other guys on the team worth worrying about are Jordan Eberle, a great shooter who is only shooting 7.8% on the season and is bound to improve. Then there is Austin Watson’s BFF Milan Lucic, whose “style of play” earlier in the year gave the Preds headaches. Oscar Klefbom is the leading goal scorer from the blueline with 11 goals and tough guy Patrick Maroon has 20 goals on the season.
The Oilers are a fairly deep team this year, boasting some of the best talent in the league. The Preds will need to come out fast and ready to play.
The Nashville Predators
It’s interesting how everyone was eagerly awaiting the pairing of P.K. Subban and Roman Josi this past summer and now we hardly ever talk about it anymore.
That’s mostly because Subban’s partnership with Mattias Ekholm has been getting better every day and is now the best pairing on the team. Here’s a look at the Preds defense pairings and their overall performance in both allowing and generating shots on goal, courtesy of HockeyViz:
After a long first half of the season, Subban is finally starting to string together solid performance after solid performance. It would be foolish to think that Ekholm has nothing to do with that. Ekholm’s positioning and size, combined with his skating ability, gives Subban free reign to do his thing, while Ekholm can cover the back end. But it works the other way as well. Subban has the speed to drop back and recover in case Ekholm is taking a trip below the goal line, as he is want to do.
The pairing works very well and is a lot of fun to watch. Over the last few games, they’ve easily been the best defensive pairing on the team. Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis have played just fine, but Subban and Ekholm have been a bit better.
What’s also interesting is that the top four defenders are being deployed relatively equally whether the Preds are down a goal, tied, or up a goal. There are some small variations, but for the most part the Preds have a very evenly distributed defensive deployment across most game situations when it comes to their top four. Not a lot of teams have that balance. For comparison, take a look at the Flames, the Kings, the Blackhawks, or today’s opponent, the Oilers. A lot more variation in those defense crews.
A lot of teams would kill to have such a balanced top four. Just another reason to #StandPat.
Reasons to Watch
- Pekka Rinne has a solid career against the Oilers. He is 17-6-1 in his career against the Oilers, with a .917 save percentage. He also has four career shutouts against the Oilers. It seems likely that Rinne will start this game, given that Saros started last night and Rinne has a nice history against Edmonton.
- Watch to see if James Neal is still on the fourth line. My hunch is that he won’t be, that yesterday was just about matchups or about “Austin Watson impressing the coaching staff” as Laviolette said after the game. Neal belongs on the second or 3rd line with either Fisher or Jarnkrok as his center. Sticking him with Vernon Fiddler doesn’t help anybody.
- Watch Filip Forsberg to see if he can make it four consecutive games with a goal or five consecutive games with a point. Long live the prince!
The Important Details
Another afternoon start! 4:00 PM puck drop. See it on FS-TN and the Fox Sports Go App, while you listen in on 102.5 The Game.