The good news: the Nashville Predators have a chance to wash the bad taste of last night’s game out of everyone’s mouths with strong play and a win tonight. The bad news: the Montreal Canadiens are a tough opponent this year, with good goaltending, sound defense, and multiple lines that are threats to score.
Winning the second half of a back-to-back is tricky, winning on the road is tricky, and doing both at once is extra tricky. It’s not that the Predators can’t do it, but they’ll have to put in more effort than we saw last night.
The Montreal Canadiens:
Jonathan Drouin, while not the 1C the Canadiens hoped he would be, has been an enormously key part of the Canadiens’ offense this season. He leads the team in primary assists, is scoring goals himself, and is second on the team in points with 13-20–33. Recent acquisition Max Domi is still being given a chance at center and leads the team in points with 14-24–38. Brendan Gallagher’s fifteen goals lead the team, with Domi and Tomas Tatar tied right behind him. Jeff Petry leads Canadiens defenders in scoring with 8-21–29.
At the other end of the ice, Brett Kulak has probably been the most shutdown of their defenders, though in limited minutes. Nicolas Deslauriers and Kenny Agostino have been even better shutdown forwards. Shea Weber has also been very good at both ends of the ice since returning from injury. Also good at both ends have been the Finnish forwards, Artturi Lehkonen and especially rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Carey Price had an awful start to the season but seems to be rounding back into form over the last few games. A healthy Carey Price is nothing to sneeze at—or to not bother shooting the puck at—but Price did leave practice early yesterday, reporting light-headedness. He was still expected to play today. Hopefully, if he is sick or injured, he takes a rest instead. If Price can’t play, it will be Antti Niemi, who has been Antti Niemi this season—though even that is no guarantee, since the Preds were barely able to score on Niemi the last time they faced him.
The Canadiens’ power play is bad, but that’s the only real obvious weakness to the team. As for injuries, if Price is healthy the only key player they’re missing is Andrew Shaw, who is being treated as if for a concussion (the team has not confirmed that he has one, which is an interesting bit of nitpicking).
The Nashville Predators:
Last night’s game was awful. There’s no way around it. The Predators got outshot, outchanced, outworked, and outplayed. Pekka Rinne took the loss despite a valiant one-man effort. Calle Järnkrok, Rocco Grimaldi, and new acquisition Phillip Di Giuseppe were about the only skaters on the Preds roster who seemed as consistently engaged as their goalie, and none of the three are great finishers. Mattias Ekholm wasn’t too bad either.
I could go through a list of everyone else’s flaws—though I do need to point out that we shouldn’t be letting Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis off the hook because their goalie got lucky when they made mistakes—but I don’t want to think about that game any more. It’s a nice Saturday morning and I have things to do.
Juuse Saros will presumably start tonight, since making the 36-year-old Rinne start two nights in a row after the mess that was last night would just be cruel. Saros had a rough start to the season but has been steadier recently, and it would be great if his team gave him some help tonight.
The Predators need to start off by making Price—or Niemi—make saves.
They need to keep the pressure on after they score goals, instead of taking their foot off the pedal as soon as they have a two-goal lead. Last night they started turtling, ooh, about three minutes into the second period, and it went about as well as you’d expect it would.
They need to make an effort to get to the front of the net, where the goals happen, and they need to keep the Canadiens away from Saros, because that’s also where the goals happen. In particular, Saros is more inclined to give up rebounds than Rinne is, so the Preds defenders need to be aware of that and clearing pucks out.
They also really need to not give up a game-tying or game-winning goal in the last minute and a half like they have done three of the last four, and four of the last six, times these two teams have met. Play until the very last whistle, gentlemen. Buckle down and try to win a hockey game.
Reasons to Watch:
- It would be great to see the Preds really internalize their frustration from last night and work to improve their play. We know they’re capable of playing better than they have been.
- Di Giuseppe was pretty good last night. Ekholm and Viktor Arvidsson also both had some chances, as did Järnkrok.
- Maybe this game will be the game that P.K. Subban shows his old team what they’re missing, especially now that Habs fans are feeling pretty good about the trade. Subban has had some notable success in unfriendly arenas in the past; maybe this is what he needs.
How to Watch:
The game starts at 6PM Central and will air on FS-TN. You can also listen to the radio call on 102.5 The Game.