After two fairly abysmal performances against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Nashville Predators will hope for better fortunes as they travel from Central Florida to South Florida to take on the Florida Panthers (but the University of South Florida is in Tampa? Florida geography is weird).
Before the season kicked off, Sportsnet had the Florida Panthers ranked 23rd in their pre-season power rankings. So far, Nashville-villain Joel Quenneville has his Panthers surpassing expectations; they are among the top teams in terms of points in the Discover Central Division, and boast the group’s highest winning percentage. Florida has yet to lose in regulation, and goalie Chris Driedger has done an excellent job in net in the absence of Sergei Bobrovsky.
While the Panthers look good on paper, a closer examination of their seemingly flawless resume reveals some doubt. For one, the tweet from Hockey Reference below tells us that the Panthers have had the easiest schedule up to this point in the season. That schedule includes four combined wins against the Blackhawks and Red Wings, and a split series against the Blue Jackets that gave them their only loss of the season. Overall, not exactly a murderers’ row.
Toughest schedule faced so far:— Hockey Reference (@hockey_ref) February 2, 2021
3. Red Wings
3. Golden Knights
So where does this Panthers team rank amongst their peers, after all? It’s probably too early to tell; we haven’t even reached the tenth game, folks. Maybe they regress back to the mean and compete for a playoff spot alongside Nashville, or maybe they are a legit playoff lock right beside Dallas and Tampa. Either way, Nashville will need to play better than they did in Tampa if they want a shot at either of these games against one of the hottest teams in hockey.
After the opening two wins against Columbus, many jumped for joy, and to conclusions, about the state of their beloved Predators. Those feelings of optimism were quickly stifled by the inconsistency that we feared. These past two games against the Lightning were borderline hard to watch, and they reminded us just how far this team has to go if they want to make any sort of noise in the postseason.
The same problems that have been so glaring that my dog would think, “Hey, they should really fix their special teams play,” are still some of the main reasons that this team has been losing games. The penalty kill is the second-worst in the league, and Tampa made them pay for it by scoring three times in two games on the man-advantage. The power play is third to last in the league at 11.1%.
Can this team get better? Absolutely; there is too much talent on this team for there to be no hope of growth. The fixes are pretty clear (see Keys to the Game), and don’t really involve anything extraordinary. If this team was simply league-average on special teams, then we are having an entirely different discussion about this team. Hell, I’d even take top 20 in the league for special teams. But I digress. In summary, the same issues we have all seen occur in every game are still the issues going forward, and will continue to be unless we see something that tells us otherwise.
Three Keys to the Game
- Generate offense early—Echoing my thoughts in the last game preview, this team can’t wait until the final 20 minutes to get into an offensive rhythm. Florida is not a stellar first-period team themselves, so finally generating some shots early in the game could give the Predators an early lead. Nashville has scored first in only two of their nine games this year; that does not bode well for a successful hockey team, and the easiest way to fix that is to score early.
- Discipline—The Predators are eighth in the league in penalty minutes this year. Combine that with what can only be described as an embarrassing penalty kill, and you’ve got a lot of goals going against Nashville. 13 of them, to be exact. Stay out of the box, and keep the worst special teams unit in the league off of the ice.
- Get Matt Duchene a goal—I empathize with the “Duchene is actually doing a lot of good things for the Predators” crowd; I see it on a game-to-game basis. The problem I have is that none of those “good things” are scoring goals. When a team has the sixth-least amount of goals in hockey, the first players that you look for to light a spark are the ones on the top lines, and the highest paid. Duchene meets both criteria.
Where to Watch
Tonight’s game between Nashville and Florida can be watched on FS-TN, and heard on 102.5 The Game. The puck will drop at 6:00 Central, 7:00 Eastern.
Song of the Game
As the Predators travel to South Florida, it feels only fitting that we listen to Pitbull on the way. Here is his classic, nostalgic track, “Timber.”