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Nashville Predators vs. San Jose Sharks: Diving Back Into the Tank

San Jose is not a place that Predator fans exactly associate with success.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators end their three game tour through California tonight as they face the reigning Western Conference Champions, the San Jose Sharks. Building off of their success from last season, the Sharks are in first in the Pacific Division and heavy favorites to retain that pole position come the playoffs.

On the other hand, the Predators have been backsliding recently and, although they are still currently third in the Central Division, they are not inspiring confidence in anyone watching them. In the midst of a four game losing streak, the Predators are now tasked with getting back on track against one of the best teams in the NHL, not to mention a team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season.

There are a lot of questions for the Predators right now. After tonight, there will either be a lot fewer questions or, depending on lineup choices and the ability to play a full 60 minutes, a lot more.

San Jose Sharks

After making the Stanley Cup Finals last season, San Jose has not let their foot off the gas pedal this season. They are 7-1-2 in their last ten games and are on a two game winning streak, having just beat the powerhouse Washington Capitals 4-2. Currently, they are first in the Pacific Division with 87 points, seven points up on second place Anaheim.

What is interesting about the Sharks this season though is that, even more so than the Predators, they are incredibly dependent on their stars for offensive production. They only have five players with more than thirty points on the season, compared to eight on the Predators. Granted, both Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski have more points than any Predator, but that’s a heavy burden placed on five players.

Their defense, lead by Burns, has been what is keeping this team afloat. Brent Burns has been an absolute monster for the Sharks this season and is a runaway favorite for the Norris Trophy. The voting shouldn’t even be close. He has 27 goals and 70 points in 66 games played. Burns isn’t even known for his goal scoring prowess, instead more famous for his beard and hard-hitting style of play. Nevertheless, Burns can do it all and is having a phenomenal season.

Nashville Predators

Unlike the Sharks, the Predators have not been having success recently. In the past four games, the Predators are 0-2-2, blowing numerous leads along the way. They suffered last-minute defeats to both Montreal and Chicago before losing in overtime to Anaheim and Los Angeles. It feels like this team just lacks the killer instinct to finish an opponent off. Only two points up on the Blues, who have a game in hand, the Blues would pull ahead of Nashville with a simple win and knock the Predators into a wild card spot.

It should be interesting to see what lineup the Predators roll out tonight. They lost Ryan Ellis to injury again in the pregame skate before playing the Kings on Thursday. He did not skate in practice yesterday and is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury. Both Vernon Fiddler and P.A. Parenteau are listed as having upper body injuries and are also day-to-day. However, both players practiced yesterday. Parenteau still has yet to make his debut with the Predators, hopefully he can inject a sense of urgency if he cracks the lineup tonight.

Juuse Saros is also due for a start. A lot of people expected him to start the last game against the Kings, but perhaps tonight will be his chance.

As rotten as the recent losses have been, perspective is still important. This is a rough part of the schedule, and the Predators have trailed for fewer than three minutes over that span. They’re playing pretty darn good hockey for that to be the case. There’s obviously reason to be concerned about their ability to finish a game off but at least when the playoffs come around there won’t be 3v3 overtime. With a few better bounces, the Predators record over the last few games could be looking a lot different. There’s certainly reason to have a sour taste over the last few games, but they aren’t playing bad hockey.

Reasons to Watch

  • The JOFA line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson is still playing extremely well. I would like to see them get a sponsorship and all come out wearing Teemu Selanne style Jofa helmets.
  • What fourth line will the Predators play? Will McLeod finally be a healthy scratch, or will the fourth line still be a possession black hole?
  • Former Predator Joel Ward is still a Shark and is sixth on the team with 25 points. I always liked him as a Pred, so hopefully he loses but still plays well.

Gameday Hockey Lingo Word of the Day

Candy cane, noun.

Definition: A stick where a player has taped the entire shaft diagonally to get more grip. Current “grip” style sticks have caused some candy canes to go extinct, but they’re still spotted from time to time.

Example: “Of course the bender would show up to tryouts with a candy cane and bad lettuce.” (Bonus points for remembering past word of the days).

Sights and Sounds

The puck drops at 3:00 PM CST in San Jose. The Predators will be televised on FS-TN or you can catch them on the radio at 102.5 The Game.