Tonight features a matchup between two Southeastern teams clawing to get into a wildcard spot, which means it’s going to be as exciting as it gets when those teams have no particular animosity for each other.
The Nashville Predators
Both the Coyotes and the Flames won last night, keeping the Predators’ wild card race the nervous kind of exciting. The Preds do still have three games in hand on the Flames and four games in hand on the Coyotes, while trailing both teams by only three standings points, but it would be nice for them to pull ahead. The Jets, meanwhile, are keeping pace, with a win Sunday night making the Preds’ tiebreaker edge over them stay relevant.
The Predators have been doing a lot of things right the last few games, not least among which has been getting some bounces and some saves. They’ve made their share of mistakes, too; playing Dan Hamhuis and Austin Watson remains an interesting choice with skilled and capable players like Frederic Allard and Yakov Trenin in the AHL. Still, on balance, things are looking better than they’ve often looked in the past this year.
Kyle Turris and Mikael Granlund have seemingly come back to life, and it’s to be hoped that Matt Duchene soon will too—all three players were recent acquisitions who thrived in a more creative environment than the one Peter Laviolette promoted, and have the fewest bad habits to unlearn. It would be even nicer to see something out of Filip Forsberg in this so-called month of Filbruary; he’s been helping generate shots at a terrific clip lately but hasn’t been converting, and neither have his linemates.
Craig Smith, Nick Bonino, and Rocco Grimaldi continue to be the Preds’ most reliable forward line. I get that this worked for the 2016 Penguins, but I don’t love the idea of Offense-Driver Nick Bonino as an actual game strategy.
The Carolina Hurricanes
Someone is in real danger of finishing sixth in the Metro, where they are (outside the playoffs entirely), or third in the Atlantic (divisional spot secured). Right now, the Hurricanes have that distinction locked up, but that can change quickly—right now they trail the Flyers by one point with one game in hand, the Blue Jackets by two points with two games in hand, and the Islanders by two points; they have the tiebreaker on the Flyers and the Islanders.
Right now, officially, the Islanders have the third Metro playoff spot because they’ve played fewer games than the Blue Jackets, but they have fewer regulation wins than any of those three teams piled up right behind them. Either way, the Hurricanes will have to jump at least one team to make it in, and this year the Metro is a brutal and merciless division.
The Hurricanes have a good offense, a capable defense, and—drumroll, please—close to league-average shooting and goaltending! The goaltending is shakier, especially 4v5, but they’re actually continuing to get the puck into the net, after years of struggling to convert on the chances they were piling up.
Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teräväinen, and Andrei Svechnikov are all scoring at nearly a point per game while massively tilting the ice, with Aho’s 33 goals and Teräväinen’s 44 assists leading the team in each category as they sit tied at 56 points. Teräväinen has added some excellent defense to his production, while Jordan Staal is doing a great job at impacting play without much luck converting. The Canes are still suffering from the loss of Dougie Hamilton, who experienced a season-ending injury a month ago and still leads their defenders in points with 40, but they still have Jaccob Slavin and an assortment of other defenders.
James Reimer has stopped some pucks this year, while Petr Mrazek hasn’t had as much luck.
Reasons to Watch:
Tonight is the Preds’ fifth (!) annual Pride Night. As a queer hockey fan, I don’t know that rainbow stick tape once a year fixes much of anything about hockey culture right now—but I do still appreciate that the NHL has decided that, once a year, it’s worth it to them to make some bigots angry in order to show support for people like me. Also, every time a player leaves the grip tape on for the game itself after warmups my cold dead heart thaws a little. This year the funds raised from Pride Night sales are supporting You Can Play; the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce; and Launch Pad, a nonprofit which works to provide shelter for LGBTQ youth in Davidson County.
I always look for rainbow grip tape in-game on Pride Night, which is a fun search as long as you spot at least one person who’s using it. (Last year I didn’t see anyone, but the year before that three players left theirs on and two of them scored that game, which clearly means it’s good luck.) As for other reasons to watch:
- The Preds have been playing some very watchable hockey lately, even winning both a matinee game and a weekend home game in recent memory.
- The Hurricanes play exciting, enjoyable hockey, and it should be a fun game with the extra intensity of both teams badly needing both points.
- Filbruary? Please?
How to Watch:
The game starts at 7 PM Central and will air on FS-TN and on ESPN+. You can also catch the radio call on 102.5 The Game, or head downtown and watch the game itself live.
Numerical statistics are from hockey-reference.com. Other information is referenced from hockeyviz.com. Standings and tiebreaker information are from NHL.com and are current as of Monday night.
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