March has definitely come in like a lion for the Nashville Predators, devouring the team’s early hopes with a record of 1-5 since the calendar turned. Is there any chance the Preds can get things back on track tonight in Tampa Bay?
If you’re looking for a team to rebound against, the Tampa Bay Lightning might not be the first team you’d think of, but here we are. The Lightning are second in the modified Central division with a record of 18-5-2, sitting only one point behind the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes.
With a strong lineup of talent including Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Mikhail Sergachev, there will be a lot for the Predators to handle. Unfortunately, the Lightning have had the Predators’ number, winning all four matchups so far this season and outscoring the Preds 19-7 in those twelve periods.
The good news (and oh, how Predators fans need some good news!) is that this team is not infallible. The Lightning are coming off a two-game struggle-bus series against the Detroit Red Wings, one of the only teams to whom the Predators could talk smack (in a whisper). The Lightning needed overtime on Tuesday to defeat the Red Wings 4-3 and then dropped a rough loss to Detroit 4-6 on Thursday. If the last-place Red Wings can capitalize on a few Tampa Bay mistakes and come away with a win, it stands to reason that the Predators could too.
The Predators find themselves navigating recent games in a swirling hot mess of challenges. The injury report reads nearly as long as War and Peace, and each game seems to add to the list. In the last two games the Predators have lost Brad Richardson to a lower-body injury and Mark Borowiecki with an upper-body injury. With Dante Fabbro out Saturday serving the second game of his two-game suspension, the defense is filling holes left by Fabbro, Borowiecki, Ryan Ellis, and Roman Josi. Jérémy Davies and Alexandre Carrier have jumped into the lineup, and both have held their own on NHL ice.
The youth will also be filling spots on the forward lines. Michael McCarron, Mathieu Olivier, Rem Pitlick, Eeli Tolvanen, and Yakov Trenin all saw ice time in Thursday’s match up against Carolina. Their performances overall have been a little bright spot in an otherwise dark and dreary stretch of hockey.
If Saros, who is traveling with the team, remains out with an upper-body injury, expect to see Pekka Rinne again in net tonight. The elder statesman has seen a lot of time in goal, but after being relieved by Kasimir Kaskisuo in the third period Thursday, Rinne is likely to return slightly more rested and recovered than he has been of late.
My Three Things:
1. The youth movement needs to transition into youth momentum. If your blood pressure is rising during these games, focus on the young guns. While there have been a few missteps by the new players, they are energetic and eager to prove they belong on NHL ice. It is about time for a few of them to break through, and if they do, that could be the spark this team desperately needs right now.
2. For the love of all that is good and right in this world, stay out of the penalty box. Nashville saw clearly what Carolina’s top-ranked power play can do. They need to not test the Lightning on special teams. With a power play percentage of 28.1%, Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the league. The Predators cannot give away goals a man down.
3. Capitalize on Tamp Bay mistakes. The Lightning are a strong, healthy team, but they struggled in Thursday’s game with turnovers and a lapse in focus during the second period. If the Predators can kick in any door that opens even a crack, they can stay in this game.
How to Watch
You can watch the Predators take on the Lightning on FS-TN or listen on 102.5 The Game. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 Central.
Let me let you in on a little secret. No one (and I mean no one) so perfectly expresses the inner cries of the disheartened hockey fan like Barry Manilow. Find a quiet corner before puck drop and let this song wash over you.