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Game Preview: Nashville Predators @ Montréal Canadiens 11/20/2021

Can the suddenly-surging Predators bounce back from a beating in Toronto?

NHL: MAR 10 Predators at Canadiens Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Nashville Predators came crashing back down to Earth during the loss to Toronto, and with an unexpected off day (with the NHL postponing Ottawa Senators games due to COVID protocols), the question remains: which Preds team is this? Is it the mediocre team trying to fend off a rebuild like most expected? Or are they the high-flying machine that rattled off win after win in October?

Tonight's matchup in Montréal may not be a great barometer of playoff-worthiness, but the 4-13-2 Canadiens may be just what the doctor ordered.

The Nashville Predators

As mentioned above, the Nashville Predators' brand of low-event, defensive hockey was rolling until it ran into the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs and its deadly power play unit. However, there are plenty of encouraging signs this season that should work in Nashville's favor against the Habs.

Juuse Saros continues his full-time emergence in the starter's crease, and was perhaps the only Predator playing at the top of his game against Toronto. The brief early-season stumble ended as quickly as it began, and Saros is once again finding himself among the top goaltenders in the NHL. His 92.8% save percentage ranks 14th in the league, and Evolving-Hockey has Saros 9th in Goals Saved Above Average with 5.87 GSAA, and 10th in Goals Saved Above Expected with 5.43 GSAx.

Despite still being without Flip Forsberg and Nick Cousins, another player looks to return from injury in Alexandre Carrier. Carrier is having a tremendous season after a short run with the club last season, and has a solid argument as the team's most impressive rookie.

Speaking of rookies, the product of GM David Poile's so-called "Competitive Rebuild" has been a bright spot this season. The Predators have leaned on the new guys much more than Montreal, but as you can see below, it's paying off.

Rookie Scoring Comparison - Nashville vs Montreal
Viz: Bryan Bastin | Data: Evolving Hockey

And of course, there's the captain, Roman Josi. The Swiss blueliner leads all defenders with 16 points (a number shared by teammates Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund) and 6 goals. I could go on, but I think this tweet sums up how Josi's season is going:

If there's one thing dragging the Predators down, it's their inability to stay out of the penalty box. Nashville has 177 penalty minutes so far this season (7th in the NHL), which translates to the sixth highest penalty minutes per game, with over 11 minutes per contest. As if to add insult to injury, the Nashville penalty kill hasn't followed the suddenly-rejuvinated power play—the Predators sit at 21st in the league with a 79% penalty kill percentage.

The Montréal Canadiens

Like the Preds' previous matchup against the Arizona Coyotes, a struggling Habs team could give Nashville a boost after the loss earlier this week. The Canadiens enter the contest with a 4-13-2 record—the last 10 games have resulted in a 2-6-2 record (after a 2-7-0 start), so if nothing else, Montreal is consistent. While Nashville’s tough, defensive style of hockey and excellent goaltending gave up only 2.1 goals per game—resulting in a 7-2-1 record over the last 10 - Montreal has been bleeding goals (averaging 3.2 goals per game over the last 10).

The Canadiens are also prone to going into the penalty box as well, and while their 11.1 penalty minutes per game in the last ten games is better than Nashville, it’s still not great. The Predators should be able to take advantage of the extra-man advantage, as Montreal sits at an awful 29th best penalty kill, just 71.0 percent. And do you remember how I said (tongue-in-cheek, of course) that Montreal was consistent? Same story, they also sit at 29th in the NHL on the power play—a paltry 13.6% power play.

Pre-game Material

Want to dive deeper into this matchup before puck drop? The staff here at On The Forecheck has been busy this week, and there’s plenty of both audio and video content for you to enjoy.

Renegades of Puck - Toronto Review/Montreal Preview (Shaun Smith & Bryan Bastin)

Locked On Predators - Thanksgiving Episode! (Ann Kimmel & Nick Morgan)

Music City Gold - Predators News, Analysis and Montreal Preview (Guest: Bryan Bastin)

Behind Enemy Lines - Locked On Canadiens (Lara Saba & Scott Matla)

Where to Watch

You can (attempt) to watch the Predators and Canadiens on Bally Sports South, with a 6 PM (Central) puck drop. You can also tune in to 102.5 for the radio call; however, the legendary Pete Weber did not make the trip due to a non-COVID sickness, so we’ll see who pairs with Hal Gill in the booth (please be Crispy, PLEASE by Crispy).