After a Florida road trip in which the Nashville Predators went 1-3, with their only win coming in overtime against the Florida Panthers, the Preds are back home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning again.
As some of you may be aware, the city of Tampa celebrated a sporting event yesterday (and that’s all I have to say about that), but although Steven Stamkos said the Lightning players were enthusiastically cheering on their adopted city’s representatives, I doubt they celebrated to the excess of many other Floridians. Sadly, this means that the Predators are not going to get off easy in that respect.
The Nashville Predators
The biggest game-day storyline for the Preds is Ryan Johansen’s continuing absence—he has been moved to IR and was described by John Hynes today as “week-to-week.” With Johansen gone, and based on lines in practice, Calle Järnkrok will once again be centering a second line of Viktor Arvidsson and Rocco Grimaldi—not a recipe for success last game, and not likely to be a recipe for success again tonight.
The line simply did not mesh well, and it’s not surprising. Despite his defensive skills and consistently smart play, Järnkrok has never excelled at creating offense. Meanwhile, Arvidsson is a defensive liability whose primary offensive skill is shooting the puck at the goal often and with enthusiasm. Grimaldi has struggled across the board this season. Also, although I hate to act as if player size must be a liability, every player on this line is short, slight, or both (at least in NHL terms), which makes team play even more essential. That was not on display in Friday’s game as Järnkrok—the only player on the line consistently trying to make defensive plays—got outmuscled several times without support.
We’re likely to see a mid-game line shuffle, as Nick Cousins, who has had an effective season thus far, and Eeli Tolvanen, who’s showing a lot of promise, skated in practice with Erik Haula, who’s been struggling so far this year. It’s possible one or both of the wingers might move to Järnkrok’s line; it’s also possible that Haula will have a better game.
Pekka Rinne looks like he may start tonight. It’s a smart move based on the goalies’ play so far this season, but it raises concerning questions about load management going forward.
The rest of the questions for the Predators—power play, penalty kill, transition through the neutral zone and keeping their opponents from doing the same, offensive generation, aiming their pucks along a clear line to the net itself, and so forth—remain open. They’re sources of frustration to the team; we may find out tonight whether players and coach are working on them effectively.
The Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have gotten exceptional goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has started all nine of their games this season and is the only player on the roster without at least one point. The team as a whole is playing a fairly uptempo, even-handed game this season, relying on their excellent goaltending and shooting talent to win games rather than tilting the ice like the deck of the Titanic.
The Preds, meanwhile, have struggled to score at all. It’s not an ideal matchup, though this early in the season the fact that the teams have already played each other twice can’t be overlooked as a possible confounding factor.
Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos have identical statlines of 4G/6A, while Victor Hedman shares the team scoring lead with 3G/7A. Even without Nikita Kucherov, this team still contains a lot of threats to score.
Reasons to Watch
It’s a Monday night. What else are you going to do?
How to Watch
The game airs at 7 PM Central on FS-TN, or you can listen to the radio call on 102.5 The Game.