After a head-scratching, heart-stopping, “Can you believe this actually happened?” 6-5 overtime win by the Predators last night, the Panthers and the Predators are right back at it tonight. The overnight turnaround hardly gives the Predators time to process any praise or utter an intercession to the hockey gods before the puck drops tonight. What can fans expect after that miraculous comeback?
The Florida Panthers
Florida went into last night’s contest with an impressive 5-0-1 record. There were, of course, murmurs that the team was “overhyped” and that an easy early-season schedule rocketed the Panthers to the top of the Central Division. Truth be told, they dominated play against the Predators for most of the game last night.
Despite coming off what must be a disheartening loss, the Panthers return with offensive weapons Patric Hörnqvist, Alexsander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, and Jonathan Huberdeau (who scored a somewhat anti-climactic hat trick on Thursday). The Panthers are likely to give Sergei Bobrovsky a rest and start goalie Chris Driedger in net tonight. Driedger has had a pretty successful three games, recording two wins and the team’s one previous overtime loss.
If the Panthers can do the mental work to bounce back from a bizarre end to a game, they have an opportunity to put a dent in their “overhyped” reputation.
The Predators have found magic with the Filip Forsberg–Matt Duchene–Mikhail Granlund line, so expect to see that trio working together again. It is likely the bottom six configurations will look slightly different as players move on and off the taxi squad for fresh legs and fresh perspective, with perhaps Matthew Olivier in for Rocco Grimaldi. The bigger question is what Ryan Johansen’s injury means for the team, and whether he’ll be able to play tonight.
Although Pekka Rinne stepped in Thursday night for Juuse Saros at the start of the third period, it is likely Rinne will return tonight in between the pipes. With Mark Borowiecki currently listed as “day-to-day”, expect to see Jarred Tinordi pairing up again with Matt Benning.
Coach John Hynes has focused a lot of time and attention on building character with this team. How the players channel the chaotic energy from last night’s victory could reveal how deep the team’s belief goes.
Three Keys to the Game
- Start as you mean to go on. The Predators dug themselves a quick hole last night and spent the remaining 57:35 clawing their way back into the game. While the team has been able to put together strong third periods, there is no reason to wait until then to play solid hockey.
- Clean up your game. The Predators need to focus on better passes, getting through the neutral zone efficiently, limiting turnovers, staying out of the penalty box (can I get a witness?), and better shot selection. Sowing little bits of improvement in each of these areas will reap large dividends for the team.
- Follow the leader(s). After incredible play from both Forsberg and Duchene, it is time for some other Predators to elevate their game. If two or three more players hit that next gear, the Predators could build valuable momentum as they return home to challenge the Goliath Tampa Bay next week.
How to Watch
You can catch the Predators take on the Panthers on FS-TN and listen on 102.5 The Game. Puck drop is scheduled for 6 PM Central, 7 PM EST.
In honor of Matt Duchene’s love for country music, the grief he has taken over recent weeks, and his two-goal game, I’ve selected this Toby Keith classic. I’m hoping Duchene can return to the ice tonight with this kind of swagger.