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Boston Bruins vs. Nashville Predators: Battle of the Top Lines

The Bruins travel to Bridgestone Arena tonight to face the Predators.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

A clash of titans occurs tonight in Bridgestone Arena as the Nashville Predators (10-3-0) host the Boston Bruins (7-3-2) in what could be a Stanley Cup Final preview. Both teams are deep, talented, and have gotten to the final round before; the Bruins did so in 2013.

The Bruins are perhaps one of the few Eastern Conference teams that bring the same “grit” and sandpaper to their roster as most Western Conference clubs. Patrice Bergeron is still somehow underappreciated for his two-way game, while guys like Brad Marchand make people question if the Anaheim Ducks changed their sweater colors. Paired with David Pastrnak, the three forwards have been the best line in hockey for the last two seasons.

Of course, the Nashville top line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson has been on fire to start the season too, with Johansen piling up primary assists at rates reminiscent of Joe Thornton in his prime. In this battle of contenders, one could not ask for stronger top lines facing off against one another.

Boston Bruins

The big bad Bruins have started their season just as they have the last two years: rising in the standings to just below the Tampa Bay Lightning. Obviously, the Atlantic Division is crowded at the top with the Bruins, Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs, but the Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres both also possess a playoff spot right now.

The Bruins are still set up extremely well for success due to the depth they have past their famous first line. David Krejci is an extremely talented player: a Kevin Fiala who’s got a little more muscle. Defender Torey Krug, who has only played in one game so far this season, will also be back in the lineup tonight after making his debut on October 30th.

What has been particularly interesting about the Bruins is their goaltending situation this season. Whenever Tuukka Rask looks like he’s going to overtake Pekka Rinne as the premier Finnish goaltender in the NHL, he seems to falter. This season, Rask has a .902 save percentage and 3.15 goals against average. Those numbers are simply atrocious. In fact, backup Jaroslav Halák has started more games than Rask and put up phenomenal numbers, boasting a 1.52 goals against average and .947 save percentage. One would imagine that Rask won’t be unseated by the aging Halák, but when one compares their numbers, there certainly are questions to be asked.

Nashville Predators

Has the best team in the NHL ever looked so mortal? The Predators did the Bruins a favor by taking down the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 the other night, but did so despite being heavily outplayed for most of the game. After scoring two quick goals, the Predators seemed to turtle for two whole periods, scoring two very opportunistic goals in the third period. Pekka Rinne was incredible and Ryan Johansen dropped jaws with his passing, but the style of play was reminiscent of the 2011-12 iterations of the Nashville Predators. The Predators, right now, are unbelievably more talented than those former teams. Why aren’t they playing like it?

Graph from @chartinghockey.

The most frustrating thing about the Predators is that everyone knows that they are oozing with talent. This team can be so unbelievably good. They have all the talented pieces for a great power play, strong defenders for a penalty kill, and players with enough individual skill to change the outcome of a game by themselves. Yet, it seems like they are only winning games through the latter—through individual effort. They are not playing well as a team, are not jelling together as a cohesive, dominant unit, and, quite frankly, they play to the level of their opponents.

It’s a double-edged blade. One can say that, once the Predators get their act together, they could become unbeatable. On the other hand, if the Predators do not fix their problems, they will be exposed as a team that became complacent because they were “good enough” instead of focusing on their issues and becoming great.

Reasons to Watch

  1. Battle of the top lines. Hoooooo boy, could we see some fireworks tonight if both of these top lines hit the ice at full throttle.
  2. Finnish duel. If Rask plays tonight, he and Pekka Rinne will be unofficially playing for the crown of Finnish goaltending, as is the case every time these two play one another.
  3. Power up-ing their play? The Predators’ puck movement has improved a little bit on the power play the last few games, even if it has not amounted to much. Nonetheless, they’re being a little more creative. Hopefully it pans out more tonight.

Sights and Sounds

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

Pregame Meal

It’s cold. Well, here in Ohio it’s cold. Unfortunately I don’t know of anywhere in Columbus that serves Boston clam chowder off the top of my head, so I’ll probably just have my own corn chowder.