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Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Nashville Predators Preview: Microscope on Kyle Turris

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Elite Leafs travel south to play Predators

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Nashville Predators (41-27-5) host the Toronto Maple Leafs (43-24-5) in a battle of major NHL powers. The Predators are second in the Central Division while the Leafs are third in the Atlantic; however, the Leafs have four more points than the Predators in the standings.

Lead by centers Auston Matthews and John Tavares, the Leafs boast a one-two punch down the middle akin to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It should be interesting to see how the Predators hang with that power down the middle, considering that Kyle Turris is returning to the lineup, but is being placed on the fourth line. This means either Colton Sissons or Nick Bonino is going to be responsible for one of those two superstars. Will the Predators be able to keep up with the Leafs’ offensive talent?

The Toronto Maple Leafs

While there has been a sense of doom and gloom around the greater Leafs community, the team is still 5th in the entire NHL. A 5-4-1 record in their last ten games certainly will not inspire confidence, but perhaps the bigger concern among the Leafs faithful is yet another first round match-up against the Boston Bruins. Such an encounter is unavoidable at this point, barring a major collapse by the Leafs. As it is, the Leafs are four points behind the Bruins, meaning they would not have home ice advantage in that series. Should the series go to game seven, there are a couple of examples why the Leafs would prefer home ice advantage.

While this core for the Leafs feels different, there are a lot of the same issues that persist. There are defensive issues for the Leafs and, although they acquired Jake Muzzin, he was not the right-handed shot that the Leafs were probably looking for. Muzzin, Jake Gardiner (not playing tonight due to injury), and Morgan Rielly are all left-handed shots. As a result, the Leafs have had to choose between one of their defenders playing suboptimally on the right side of the pairing or consigning a top-four defender to the bottom pair.

While seeing a left-handed shot play right wing is not unusual, on defense it is bizarre to see a player on a side of the ice that means they must use their opposite hand. When pinching in to stop a puck along the boards from exiting the zone, players typically want to have their forehand on the boards. If a player is on the other side, then their back will be turned to the ice and play when corralling the puck off of the boards.

The Nashville Predators

Returning home after the SEC Basketball Tournament, the Predators must be thrilled to be back on their own ice. The Predators are 5-5-0 in their last ten games; consistency is not an adjective that would be used to describe their play. However, the Predators have won two straight games and have a chance to make it three tonight.

Interestingly enough, the Predators found those two wins without the services of Kyle Turris in the lineup. A healthy scratch the last two games, Turris will return to the ice tonight to play on the fourth line. It should be interesting to see how Turris’s on-ice response to his benching will manifest, since both Turris and the Predators need him to be his best.

The first two periods in the last game against San Jose were some of the most sound periods that the Predators have played in what feels like months. They controlled play, made the right passes, and, most importantly, made the smart plays. Hopefully that level of play continues over into tonight.

Reasons to Watch

  1. The Leafs have a star-studded lineup that fans outside of the Atlantic Division do not get to see all that often. They play a fun, up-tempo brand of hockey that’s easy on the eyes.
  2. Because the Leafs have such a strong lineup, the Predators have an elite opponent in Bridgestone Arena tonight.
  3. How will Kyle Turris perform? How does he respond to being benched?

Pregame Meal

Tonight I will be having a healthy, Greek rice bowl meal. After returning from vacation where I was not exactly the healthiest eater, I know I’ll just feel better if I rinse my system out with some greens and clean rice.

Sights and Sounds

The puck drops in Bridgestone Arena at 7:00 PM. The game will be televised through ESPN+ and FS-TN, while 102.5 The Game will carry it on the radio.