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Minnesota Wild vs. Nashville Predators: Northern Exposure

Divisional rivals to play for first time this season.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight at 7:00ct the Minnesota Wild (1-1-2) make their first trip of the season to Bridgestone Arena to face the Nashville Predators (4-1-0). The Wild return a similar cast to last season with not many new names on their roster. Nonetheless, they have been unable to pick up some early season wins, as they sit at 6th in the Central Division.

Despite perennially participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Wild have never played the Predators in a series, so tonight is an odd battle of division rivals that have been either good or great the past few seasons, yet never have played late April games against one another. With the two teams now trending in opposite directions, will the Predators be able to claim a third straight home victory?

The Minnesota Wild

There has not been much turnover in this season’s iteration of the Minnesota Wild, as the WIld returnnearly the same lineup. Their roster, managed by Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, finished third in the Central Division last season before falling to the Winnipeg Jets in the first round.

Nonetheless, this is a team that, in some ways, has already begun to regress and is starting to see their playoff window close. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk came back down to Earth last season, going from a Vezina contender to posting a 2.52 goals-against-average. His .918 save percentage was alright, but a step down from his .923 percentage from the previous season. Furthermore, Eric Staal had a career year at 33 years old, scoring 42 goals. However, like William Karlsson last season, that goal total was inflated by an absurd 17.4 shooting percentage. Previously, Eric Staal’s career shooting percentage hovered around 10%. Add another year on his body, too, and the Wild would be foolish to rest their hopes on him carrying the team again.

That being said, the Minnesota Wild still have some nice young players. Matt Dumba will soon overtake Ryan Suter as the best defenseman on the Wild as he continues to be one of the best young players who is never talked about. Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker, both 26 years old, each contributed over 60 points last season. Eyes are going to be on them and Nino Niederreiter to start carrying this team as Ryan Suter and Zach Parise struggle to maintain their health.

The Nashville Predators

After losing their home opener to the Calgary Flames, the Predators defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-0 and the New York Islanders 5-2. After looking absolutely abysmal on the power play against the Jets (and, for that matter, the other games so far this season), the Predators picked up two power play goals against the Islanders. The second power play goal came on an empty net with the game winding down, so there are not any takeaways from that goal, but the first goal showed better awareness and transition than what the Predators have shown in a long, long time.

In a broken play, the puck bounces to Roman Josi. Now, instead of just backing up and setting up the Predators’ classic “one-timer from above the circle” strategy, he hovers in the slot. Kyle Turris recognizes the defensive coverage and slips in the deep slot right in front of the Islanders’ net. Josi, instead of firing a rising slapshot, notices Turris and dishes him a pass up front that catches the Islanders by surprise. Turris’ skill does the rest as he drops the puck five-hole for a goal.

This goal is such a good sign for the Predators because of how bad every defenseman not named P.K. Subban has looked on the power play. Subban does a phenomenal job of moving his feet and swapping positions with other people at the top of the “umbrella.” Furthermore, he’s always looking for low, hard shots from the blue line, which is the only kind of shot that should be coming on net from that far out. Pucks are harder to see and easier to reach goaltenders when shot low. Furthermore, they generate the rebounds that are so critical to beating the best goaltenders in the NHL. It comes as no surprise that P.K. Subban led not only the Predators’ defense, but the entire team in power play points. Hopefully we see fewer high shots from the points and more low, hard shots and backdoor “slap-passes.”

Reasons to Watch

  1. Remember how this team signed Ryan Suter?
  2. Longtime ally of Predators’ playoff hopes Bruce Boudreau is back in the building.
  3. Minnesota is one of the few teams, perhaps the only team, that still plays a trap. Come and watch a strategic innovation on its final, dying legs!

Sights and Sounds

The game is at 7:00ct and will be televised on Fox Sports South. 102.5 The Game will have the radio broadcast.

Pregame Meal

Ever hear of hot dish? Minnesota’s all-purpose meal can be tailored for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Furthermore, it’s amazing. French toast with northern woods maple syrup, candied sausage, hashbrowns, and whatever else your heart desires all in one casserole-esque dish? You’d have to be Gary Bettman not to like it. Here is a classic, mouth-watering hot dish recipe.