The floundering Nashville Predators’ northern road trip continues tonight, as they face the foundering Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. For large stretches of this season, the Preds and the Wild have been the Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man .gif, and tonight continues the trend.
The Minnesota Wild
Less than three weeks ago, the Wild had a better-than-even chance of making the playoffs. Things were going well. Their pair of shootout losses to the Preds were the only two blips in an eight-game point streak. They followed up those shootout losses and capped the point streak by shutting out the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa, winning 3-0 on a Jason Zucker hat trick.
Then it all went wrong. They’ve gone 2-5-1 in the eight games since then; in their most recent game, on Saturday, they got dunked on by the Carolina Hurricanes, and then they actually got dunked on by the Carolina Hurricanes. Like the Preds, the Wild have something to prove tonight as well as some playoff seeding to fight for.
Unlike the Preds, the Wild have almost no margin for error. They have yet to be eliminated, but they’ll need to pass a resurgent Avalanche team and stay ahead of the Arizona Coyotes as well. They can’t finish last in the division thanks to the disaster that has been the Los Angeles Kings’ season, but they could be anywhere from second-last to in the playoffs, if they get some help.
Mikko Koivu is still on IR, as is Matt Dumba. Shutdown center Joel Eriksson Ek is also out of the lineup. The team’s leading scorer Zach Parise (26-33–59) was injured in a collision with Tom Wilson and missed Saturday’s game; his status as of the time of writing is uncertain for this one. Eric Staal is second on the team in points with 50 (21G/29A), having finally passed Mikael Granlund’s 49-point mark on Saturday night. Ryan Suter, with seven goals and 39 assists, is third on the team and first among its defenders.
Devan Dubnyk is not having his best season, with only a .911 sv% behind the Wild’s stifling defense, but Alex Stalock is having a worse one. In the nineteen games he’s played—coming into five of them in relief—Stalock has a .893 sv%. He was signed to a three-year extension on January 29th of this year.
The Nashville Predators
The Predators were last seen getting shut out in a critical game after their 1-0 lead was overturned.
This sentence could be from 2019, or 2018, or 2017, or...
There’s been a lot of debate over what’s to blame for how easily the Preds’ spirit seems to break when they don’t get the first goal. This season, their win percentage when scoring first is 86.5%, good for second in the league; their record when scoring first is 32-4-1, which puts them third in total wins when getting that first goal. When their opponent scores first, though, the Preds have only won 25.6% of those games—their record is 10-24-5. Both the number and the percentage of wins have them in the bottom third of the league. They have the talent to overcome a deficit, but something isn’t working.
There’s been a lot of debate over who to blame: David Poile, for assembling the team; Peter Laviolette, for coaching it; Roman Josi, for wearing the C for it; Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, for playing in goal behind it. Kevin McCarthy coaches the power play, which has been egregiously bad, and he’s accompanied Laviolette through his whole NHL career. New acquisitions Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds—both gained at the cost of a young player with a lot of potential—have struggled to produce in the month since the trade deadline. Kyle Turris, who centered a bad Senators team to one goal away from the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, had an underwhelming postseason last year and has struggled this year since coming back from injury.
You could throw a dart at the roster, is what I’m saying here.
I don’t think there’s a definitive answer on who is most to blame. A lot of different things have contributed, from bad luck to bad play. What is clear is that the Preds are treading water in a very weak division—the Jets clinched their playoff spot on Saturday night, but the Preds, like every other team in the Central, have yet to lock anything down. They had a couple of good games, then a couple of less-good ones, then a very bad one. If they want a deep playoff run, let alone a chance at the Cup, they’re running out of time to get back into good habits.
Reasons to Watch:
- We already did the whole Milwaukee Admirals reunion last time, but some of the familiar faces are always good to see.
- And a new face, too! Rem Pitlick will make his NHL debut with the Preds tonight.
- Maybe this one won’t go to a shootout?
- Also, not to get anyone’s hopes up, but:
Sights & Sounds:
The game will air on NBCSN at 7 PM Central. If you prefer not to subject your ears to that sort of thing, 102.5 The Game will have the radio call.