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Nashville Predators @ Colorado Avalanche Preview: Mile High Hopes

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The Predators get a look at a potential first-round opponent in tonight’s game.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The night after their first win in Glendale in three years, the Nashville Predators hope to keep building on that. Like the Preds, the Colorado Avalanche are on the second half of a back-to-back, having beaten the St. Louis Blues handily on Thursday night.

Both teams are tired and both teams are fighting for positioning—the Predators want home ice in the playoffs, and the Avalanche want to make the playoffs. There’s a lot on the line in this divisional matchup.

The Preds have won their last nine games against the Avalanche, with the most recent of those wins coming in OT. They’ve done well recently against the Avalanche goalies as well, scoring at least three goals in every game since the Ryan Johansen trade.

However, this one isn’t going to be a gimme. The Avs are a very young team with a lot of talent and have been playing successfully of late, coming into tonight’s game on a nine-game point streak, 6-1-3 over their last ten.

The Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche’s recent success isn’t entirely backed up by shot metrics—they’re giving up more shots and better chances than they take, while scoring and getting saves. Their average PDO over their last ten games is almost 107, which is the highest in the league by a wide margin and is bound to catch up to them soon. “Soon” might be tonight, or it might not be for a while longer. This is a talented young team still working on finding their feet.

Nathan MacKinnon is making an outstanding case to be the 2018 Hart Trophy winner. He’s been phenomenal, breaking games open on a nightly basis with the help of his linemate Mikko Rantanen. MacKinnon has 85 points (35–50) through 62 games, and Rantanen has 74 (25–49) through 69.

Also, there are some other guys.

Rantanen has over twenty more points than Gabe Landeskog, the third forward on that line and third on the team in scoring. Tyson Barrie has been having a great year offensively, but they’re not getting much production from the rest of their healthy defensemen. Erik Johnson, still out with a shoulder injury, is a major loss to their blueline, but his injury might not be the Avs’ biggest problem right now.

Due to a sequence of goaltending injuries 22-year-old Spencer Martin, who has yet to play a NHL game this season, is the Avalanche’s current backup. Martin has a career NHL SV% of .865 (3 GP) and an AHL SV% this season of .895 (31 GP). It’s up in the air whether Semyon Varlamov will be starting his sixteenth straight game tonight.

We can also expect to see plenty of special-teams action—the Avalanche, like the Predators, both draw and take a lot of minor penalties. While shorthanded, the Avalanche like to freeze out the netfront area while allowing the opponents to blast away from about Roman Josi’s usual spot. Their power play against the Predators’ penalty kill will be more of an interesting strength-against-strength matchup, with the Avalanche shooting a lot from the left circle (the Ovi Spot™) and the Predators doing well at keeping the opponent away from that side.

The Nashville Predators

The Predators are still pushing for the Presidents’ Trophy, with the Tampa Bay Lightning as their biggest challenger. They’re also working to secure their lead in the Central Division and Western Conference. If other games work out, they could clinch a playoff spot tomorrow—halfway through March. These are exciting times.

Calle Järnkrok is out, but the Predators finally have the forward depth and even the center depth to manage without him. This is the kind of luxury we couldn’t have imagined just a couple of years ago.

Lines might look something like they did last night, but hopefully we won’t see the Emelin–Subban, Josi–Bitetto experiment again. It doesn’t bring out the best in either Subban or Josi, and it doesn’t set Emelin and Bitetto up to succeed. If Laviolette goes with the third-period lines, we’d be looking at:

Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson
Fiala – Turris – Smith
Hartnell – Bonino – Hartman
Watson – Sissons – Salomäki

Those are some solid lines. Juuse Saros will presumably start in goal.

Reasons to Watch:

  • If you missed watching Samuel Girard, this is your chance! Vladislav Kamenev is back from IR but not yet back in the lineup, and Colin Wilson is still out with a concussion, so it’s not a full reunion, but there will be at least one familiar face.
  • The Colorado Avalanche have given up a league-leading 12 shorthanded goals. The Preds’ penalty kill has cooled from white-hot to merely red-hot, but that could be a fun combination.
  • There are probably going to be a lot of goals scored in general.
  • This could be a preview of the first round!

How to Watch:

Puck drop is at 8 PM Central. You can watch it on FS-TN or listen on 102.5 The Game.