The Stars and Predators are just 18 days away from the Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl. But before the showdown in front of a boozed-up crowd in the middle of a chaotic, party-like atmosphere, the two meet in Nashville, where... well... I guess it’s kind of the same thing.
Predators’ Projected Lines
Forsberg - Johansen - Jarnkrok
Granlund - Turris - Duchene
Grimaldi - Bonino - Smith
Carr - Sissons - Watson
Josi - Ellis
Ekholm - Fabbro
Hamhuis - Irwin/Weber
Rinne/Saros (Starter TBD)
Stars’ Projected Lines
Benn - Janmark - Seguin
Pavelski - Hintz - Radulov
Cogliano - Faksa - Comeau
Gurianov - Dickinson - Perry
Lindell - Klingberg
Oleksiak - Heiskanen
Sekera - Polak
Shades of the 2019 Playoffs
The last time these two teams were on the ice together, the Predators were gathered at center ice, watching Dallas celebrate a 2-1 overtime win that clinched the first-round series.
The loss itself was a tough pill to swallow, but what made this particularly ugly was HOW the Predators lost. The Stars had the better team defense, the edge in goaltending, and got more reliable scoring from the depth players in their lineup.
You know which team used to win big games with that combination? The Predators.
It’s a new season with a clean slate, but some of the storylines from that series are still finding relevancy in tonight’s matchup. The Predators went 0 for 11 on the power play in the series. This season, they’re among the league’s worst again (converting on just 15.3% of their chances), and in their past ten games, they’ve scored just 3 goals in 41 power-play opportunities.
The Stars’ defense and goaltending frustrated the Preds last spring, and this year, it appears Dallas’s corps is picking up where they left off. They’re third in the NHL in goals allowed per 60 minutes (2.31) and eighth in expected goals allowed per 60 (2.48). And when their opponents DO unleash the rubber, the Stars’ goaltenders have been there to cork the barrage. Ben Bishop has the third-best save percentage in the league (.934), while backup Anton Khudobin has been fantastic in relief (.922 save%, 2.39 GAA in 12 appearances.)
Preds’ Big Guns Heating Up
As fun as it is to see the Predators’ third line go on their random high-scoring tear, the team could use more consistency from their top-six forwards. And these past few games have been a step in the right direction.
Ryan Johansen has scored in back-to-back games after scoring just twice in his previous 24 games. Calle Järnkrok has five points (2G, 3A) in his past four games, while Filip Forsberg has four (1G, 3A) in his past three.
The second line of Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund, and Kyle Turris have played well in the two games they’ve been together. The scoring hasn’t been as prolific as the top line, but they’re generating some high danger chances (7.90 xGA% relative Thursday against Buffalo).
There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but if you can get this kind of contribution from the top six in addition to the scoring Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and Nick Bonino have been throwing in, you’ll have a chance to win.
Stars’ Big Guns Cooling Down
While the Preds’ stars are starting to find their groove, the same can’t be said for Dallas’s key players.
Tyler Seguin leads the Stars with 23 points, but he has 5 points in his past 10 games, and hasn’t found the back of the net since November 21st. His linemate, Jamie Benn, is also having an off season by his standards, with just 7 goals this season, and points in only three of his past ten games.
Two recent exceptions to the trend have been Alexander Radulov (....yay....) and Miro Heiskanen. Radulov has responded well to his one-game benching last week, posting four points (1G, 3A) in his three games since his return to the lineup.
Heiskanen, meanwhile, is proving last year’s stellar rookie season was not a fluke. The 20-year-old is on pace to surpass last year’s scoring totals by the end of January, but what’s been more impressive is his development on the defensive end of the ice.
You can see opponents don’t get a ton of great scoring opportunities with Heiskanen on the ice, especially around the front of the net. He’s starting to put the different pieces of his game together, and if he can keep making small improvements like those over the next few seasons, the Stars are going to have a dangerous weapon in their arsenal.
Tonight’s Song to Get You HYPEDDDDD
The Preds have some demons to exorcise after last year’s playoff series. So they’re in need of some...
How to Watch
Heads up! We have an early start time tonight!
Start Time: 5:30 P.M. CST
TV: Fox Sports Tennessee
Radio: 102.5 The Game