Tonight the Nashville Predators will face a new “modified Central Division” rival: the Tampa Bay Lightning. This Predators team is still looking to solidify a team identity, and what better opportunity to test their mettle than against the reigning Stanley Cup champions? What are the Preds up against tonight? Let’s take a look.
Tampa Bay comes into this contest with a 3-2-0 record. Despite their early schedule being affected by opponents’ COVID outbreaks, the Lightning have put together a solid start to their 2021 season. The defense, headed by Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman and with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, has played well defensively, with the exception of their loss to Columbus Blue Jackets (in which they allowed 5 goals). Despite an at-times-shaky second defensive pairing, the Lightning still rank high in the league in defense.
Ondrej Palat leads the Lightning in goals with three. Steven Stamkos leads the team in total points with two goals and three assists. Stamkos is coming back after an offseason surgery to address a torn muscle in his groin, and if he can remain healthy it’s likely his game will only improve as the season progresses. Stamkos along with his linemates Palat and Brayden Point are a top-producing line in the league and will require a solid defensive stand as Stamkos continues to add to his TOI.
The Lightning are returning to the ice after an 0-1 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night.
The Preds’ 4-3 record reflects a start to their season that has been anything but linear. The Nashville Predators are heading into Tampa Bay with two hard-fought overtime wins over a pesky Chicago Blackhawks team. Unfortunately all seven of the Predators’ outings so far this season have revealed their Achilles heel—special teams.
Nashville’s power play percentage sits at an abysmal 7.14%. This essentially means when an opponent commits a penalty against the Predators, the Preds reward the team with a better-rested player after two minutes (I secretly wonder if there is sweet tea in the opponent’s penalty box Gatorade bottles as an extra gesture of Southern hospitality). The power play was a challenge pre-John Hynes, so that sound you hear as a gold jersey heads to the box is probably a general gnashing of teeth in Smashville.
As disheartening has been Nashville’s penalty kill. With a 61.54% kill percentage, it is imperative that the Predators stay out of the box.
The Predators did show special teams improvement in their matchups against Chicago. Head Coach John Hynes addressed some of the tweaks the team worked on in this presser on January 26.
While the Predators have so far been able to avoid an outbreak of COVID, the team does seem to have an outbreak of another kind. Several players are suffering from, in the words of Matt Duchene, being “snakebit”. He isn’t wrong. There have been good looks but no luck when it comes to lighting the lamp for a few of the players. It would be great to see Ryan Johansen, Erik Haula, and Matt Duchene record their first goal of the season against the Lightning. Add a little “puck luck” for the offensively-minded defenders on the Preds roster and the potential for a solid offensive game is there. The bounces just haven’t been.
Three Keys to the Game
- There are no snacks in the sin bin. Nothing good can be found in the penalty box except shame and regret. The Predators need to avoid going there.
- The slot is not lava. Getting shots in the slot and crashing the net for any rebounds Vasilevskiy might cough up will be the antivenin the Predators need.
- Put on your lucky jersey, grab that magical rabbit’s foot, and cross what your mama gave you. It’s time for the Predators to get some lucky bounces.
How to Watch
The Predators and Lightning game will be on Fox Sports TN and 102.5 The Game at 6:00 PM (Central).
As homage to the “trust the process” mantra, goal celebration inspiration, and Filip Forsberg 100% magical mustache, tonight’s mood music is brought to you by Matthew Wilder.