Tonight the Nashville Predators (32-25-8) travel to Minnesota to take on the Wild (32-26-7) in a critical matchup for both teams’ playoff aspirations. While the Predators currently hold the second wild card spot, the Wild stand a mere point behind them. Additionally, both teams have been in good form of late as, despite the Preds' tough loss to the Oilers last night, both teams are 6-3-1 in their last ten games. Additionally, there is the underlying story of the trade of Kevin Fiala for Mikael Granlund. While Granlund has started to blossom under Hynes, the 23-year-old Fiala leads the Wild in points with 49 in 60 games, already setting a career high.
With the introductions out of the way, let’s look at our two teams for tonight.
The Minnesota Wild
This is the first meeting between the Predators and Wild since both teams changed head coaches. In addition to the replacing of Peter Laviolette with John Hynes, the Minnesota Wild fired Bruce Boudreau on Valentine’s Day. Instead of immediately hiring a permanent coach, the Wild named Dean Evason as interim coach, while the club’s search continues. Some of you may be familiar with Evason, as he was head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals for six seasons and is the second winning-est coach in Admirals history.
Accordingly, it makes sense that Kevin Fiala’s game has taken off under Evason, as Fiala would not only already be familiar with Evason’s systems, but also simply have that relationship and trust from playing for him previously. Since the coaching change, Fiala has found the back of the net in all but two games and has eleven points in eight games. It’s looked more and more like he was simply the project that the Predators gave up on too early.
The Nashville Predators
Meanwhile, the Oilers skated around the Predators like a Midget AAA team playing against some Pee Wees last night. The Predators did themselves no favors but, if you have a terrible game, guys like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will make it look significantly worse. Each player had five points last night and at least one of the duo played a role in every Edmonton Oilers goal.
The good news is that there’s no better way to move on from an embarrassing loss like playing as soon as possible. Losing 8-3 is never a desired outcome but, if there’s any time to have such a game, the best time is on the first half of a back-to-back. Hit the ice for morning skate, get in the standard routine, and forget about the night before.
With such a focus on Kevin Fiala tonight, there’s naturally an equal amount of attention on Mikael Granlund, the other piece of the Fiala trade. Like Fiala with Evason, Granlund has flourished since the coaching change made by the Predators. Since making the change, he has scored 15 points in 23 games. Nonetheless, with only 29 points total, he sits a whopping 20 points behind Kevin Fiala on the season. After Roman Josi, Granlund has been the best Predator since the coaching change, but there’s still a lingering “what if” had David Poile just been patient with a young 22-year-old kid in Kevin Fiala.
Reasons to Watch
- We know, it’s a Minnesota Wild game. They’re boring, we get it. But there are two big points on the line tonight, and the Wild could leapfrog the Predators in the standings should they win. It’s a pretty darn important game.
- Not to beat it into the ground, but hi Kevin!
- The Predators want to leave the game tonight with a better taste in their mouths after the game against the Oilers last night; you want that same feeling too.
Hockey Lingo of the Day
Definition: A fight.
Example: “Hey Jonesy, pretty good tilly we had against the Quebec Senior A squad last night, eh?”
Sights and Sounds
The puck drops in the Xcel Energy Center at 7:00ct this evening. You can catch the game on FSTN and, if you’re an Admirals fan in Milwaukee, all Wild games are on FSWI. If you can’t watch on TV but still want to follow the game, 102.5 The Game will call it on the radio.