The Nashville Predators look to get some momentum going after a thrilling win Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens in overtime. It’s been awhile since the team has been able to string together a few wins in a row and they need to do just that if they want to assert themselves as a team that must be reckoned with in the Central Division.
Father-son duo Shaun Smith and Jeff Middleton are tag-teaming this preview. Shaun will cover the Predators while Jeff handles the Red Wings.
The Nashville Predators
Although it was a thrilling overtime victory against the Canadiens, that makes two contests against the struggling franchise this season with results of a loss (6-3) and a win in the last seconds of overtime (3-2). I’ve said all season that if the Predators are going to be a team that can make the playoffs and make some noise once they’re in, they’ll need to be able to make light work of the teams in the bottom of the standings. Instead, they tend to have a grab bag of performances: a soul-crushing defeat of Columbus, but a devastating loss to Montreal, followed by barely eking out a win over them a few weeks later.
The Predators, of course, have done a lot of work to change their team identity to that of a team that’s hard to play against. What that means is that they want to finish their checks and make their opponents earn every inch of ice they gain. It means clogging up the neutral zone defensively, while trying to transition through it offensively with speed. They’ve got the checks and the grit down, but the neutral zone is a work in progress. When it’s good, it looks great. When it’s not good, it’s, uh, not good. The Predators’ red hot power play has cooled significantly, but Filip Forsberg (who’s recently returned from injury) is playing like a man in a contract year. Mikael Granlund has been serving up delicious, juicy apples like Thurman Merman’s grandmother served up sandwiches in Bad Santa, Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen are earning their salaries, and Roman Josi is making a case for the Norris Trophy once more. The team is looking for goal support from the bottom half of their lineup, but once that happens, this team will turn some heads. Will the Detroit Red Wings be the team that allows this to happen?
The Detroit Red Wings
Out of the gate, the Red Wings have been one of the most intriguing teams to watch over the first quarter of the 2021-22 NHL season. Despite not having one of their top-six forwards in Jakub Vrana, they’ve found ways to make up for his scoring like the Oakland Athletics had to do in Moneyball after losing some key players. It starts with the young rookie Lucas Raymond, who is looking to end up a Calder Trophy finalist by the season’s end. He has some stiff competition with Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras—and even his own teammate Moritz Seider, although Seider is a bit farther down the list. But both have been able to produce points, and both of them have taken home awards for being rookie of the month. In October it was Seider, and in November it was Raymond.
Of course, we can’t forget about the captain of the team in Dylan Larkin, who set a record in the fastest skater competition in Nashville during the All-Star weekend in 2016. The Red Wings’ goaltending, too, has been strong, led by another rookie who was a finalist for the Calder last season.
The Red Wings are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, but they’ve lost both Tyler Bertuzzi—an offensive catalyst on the top line that isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas—and Marc Staal—an okay shutdown defenseman with excellent physical capabilities—to the Covid-19 protocol. The news about Staal, in particular, happened on the sixth of December, one day before the game.
UPDATE: The #RedWings have placed defenseman Marc Staal in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol.— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) December 6, 2021
It doesn’t appear that the team has skipped a beat even with one of their top contributors out until his quarantine is over. With a great backbone in the net and a strong presence in the offensive zone thanks to a couple of young players and some decent depth, the Red Wings are starting to become a true threat. We will see what they can do tonight against a Predators team coming off of a big overtime win against the Canadiens.
# How to Watch
The game airs at 6PM Central on ESPN+ and 102.5 The Game.