The Predators will look to break out of a slump agains the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues this weekend. Nashville will face the Blues on Saturday at Enterprise Center and then travel home for a rematch on Monday night at Bridgestone Arena.
The Blues won the Stanley Cup in surprising fashion in June, shocking Boston in a Game 7 victory for the ages. The city of St. Louis celebrated accordingly, singing “Gloria” for the franchise’s first Cup in over 50 years. Many Predators fans were neutral, but seeing a division rival win the Cup left some a bit bitter. St. Louis’s story, as they went from last place in the League in January 2019 to Game 7 of the Cup Final, was incredible.
The Predators have lost six games in a row. They need a bounce-back win in a very bad way, but can that come against the Blues? I’ll preview the series below, and then update it with some more thoughts after the road game as the Predators head back home.
Thoughts After the First Game:
As we said, the Predators were bound to win another game, and they came through in a big way. Their victory over the Blues was a strong, comprehensive, clean win, despite allowing one early goal (on Juuse Saros’s fourth shot faced) and yet another goal on the penalty kill. The Preds got the scoring started early and then kept it up.
Even more encouragingly, they made a real effort to get to the front of the net and to the slot this game, in spite of the fact that they’ve struggled with that and the Blues have excelled at keeping players out of that area. That’s a good look for the Predators’ systems and their coaching, which has been an area of concern over the last little while. The team’s very strong play at both ends of the ice on Saturday night probably helped cool off Peter Laviolette’s already-chilly seat.
The big problem on Saturday, of course, was Viktor Arvidsson’s injury. A fantastically dirty play by Robert Bortuzzo, followed up by another fantastically dirty play from Jordan Binnington, resulted in Arvidsson leaving the game, and also the calendar year, while Bortuzzo was only suspended for four games.
The Blues won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup by gooning it up, and bragged about their strategy of making their opponents sorry to be playing against them. It’s disappointing but unsurprising to see that victory hasn’t changed their style.
Kyle Turris looks to be a healthy scratch again tonight, with Admirals callup Daniel Carr replacing Arvidsson. We'll have more on this situation as it continues to develop, but at this point it's difficult to imagine that we see Turris play in gold again.
We can, however, expect to see the Predators out for revenge in the second half of the home-and-home—hopefully just revenge on the scoreboard. Now that they’ve gotten one win under their belts, stopping the skid in a spectacularly dramatic way, they might have found the morale boost they needed. If that morale boost is now going to be regularly combined with a more effective carving-apart of their opponents’ defensive systems, watch out Central Division.
A reminder that the game starts at 7:00 PM Monday night, airing on FS-TN and ESPN+ if you aren’t able to watch in person at Bridgestone Arena. Hopefully the home crowd will be loud, stubborn, and inspiring.
Thoughts Before the First Game:
Nashville Predators (9-9-3)
The Predators need something...anything...to go right. With Kyle Turris spending time as a healthy scratch, AHL call-up Mathieu Olivier has skated in two straight NHL contests on the fourth line. Predators fans can’t help but wonder why Turris has been held out of the lineup, whether for a pending trade, punishment, or some still-unknown reason.
Goaltending for Nashville has been rough. Pekka Rinne has been pulled in three of his past four starts, and Juuse Saros has not received the effort and defense that Rinne typically sees on a regular basis.
Mikael Granlund, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Craig Smith have been largely absent from the scoresheet. Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi are having incredible seasons on the blue line, but the boys in gold seem snakebitten in November.
Frustration is evident in the locker room, but head coach Peter Laviolette does not feel any pressure from Predators management in this current losing streak.
I asked Peter Laviolette how much pressure he’s felt from above as this slump has progressed: “I haven’t felt any.”— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) November 22, 2019
There’s something going on with this team, a team far too talented (and expensive) to be struggling on a consistent basis. One can’t help but feel that changes are coming sooner than later to a team that’s underperformed in November.
Nashville is second-to-last in the Central Division with 21 points.
St. Louis Blues (14-4-5)
There’s been no Stanley Cup hangover for the Blues. They added Justin Faulk at the beginning of the season from Carolina to bolster their defensive depth, but the usual names are continuing to perform for St. Louis. Even without Russian sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, who had shoulder surgery a month ago and will be missing most of the rest of the season, the Blues remain at the top of the Central Division and are tied for second in the league.
David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, Alex Pietrangelo, and Brayden Schenn continue to pile on goals for the Blues, including some big ones in Thursday’s shutout of the Calgary Flames. Goaltender Jordan Binnington has shown his critics that he’s the real deal, going 11-3-4 in 2019-20. The 26-year old has an incredible .926 Sv% and is most definitely not nervous.
The Blues’ special teams are clicking along successfully, with the power play converting well despite not taking many shots or many particularly dangerous shots. The penalty kill has been lights-out, with great defense and good goaltending combining to keep the Blues from facing many consequences for getting penalized.
At even strength, their roughly average offensive success has relied heavily on their shooting talent. The Blues are playing low-event hockey at both ends of the rink, and have yet to find either the net or the slot. Key contributors Perron and Schenn are both riding Stamkos-esque shooting percentages, though, so don’t write their offense off entirely. Meanwhile, Robert Thomas is developing into a great two-way player with no sign yet of a sophomore slump.
The Blues are good defensively at even strength, which is a bad matchup for the Predators:
Still, they can be beaten; they had a rocky start to the season and they’re still relying to some extent on luck.
Whether at even strength or on special teams the Blues have relied on sacrificing their own offense in order to stifle their opponent’s. What that means is that all it takes is a couple of pucks not bouncing their way to change the whole complexion of the game, and the Predators are past overdue for some good luck of their own. If putting four pucks into your own net in one game doesn’t run up a debt from the hockey gods, nothing does.
Reasons to Watch
- I feel it now. Nashville is an angry team and they’re going to be in the mood to prove themselves against the defending Cup champions. There’s going to be more than a few shoving matches, ill-advised penalties, and general frustration on the ice.
- Will another loss or two make Peter Laviolette’s seat any hotter? Will it force GM David Poile to make a trade?
- Can ANY TEAM in the Central be relied on to beat the Blues right now? The answer is a most definite NO. Wouldn’t it be great to see the Preds successfully challenge them anyway?
- Seriously, they’re going to win another game at some point, and when they do it’s going to be amazing. Getting that win against a division rival and the defending Stanley Cup champs would be a huge morale boost for a team that badly needs one of those.
Series Theme Song
“Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting” by Elton John
How to Watch
Saturday and Monday’s games are both at 7:00 Central. Fox Sports-TN and ESPN+ have the broadcast and 102.5 The Game has the radio call. If you’d like to attend Monday’s game at Bridgestone and you haven’t yet bought tickets, you can get those tickets here.
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Statistics cited or referenced in this piece are from nhl.com, hockey-reference.com, and hockeyviz.com.