The Predators have not won a game against a good team in over a month (their 6-5 OT victory over the Florida Panthers was on February 4). The Stars beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-0 last night, but their season has been mostly losses—after a red-hot 4-0 start to the season, they’ve gone 3-8-4. One of these teams is definitely going to win tonight, and I’m sure both teams are hoping it will be them.
The Nashville Predators
Matt Duchene is hurt. Ryan Ellis is hurt. Luke Kunin is hurt. Juuse Saros is hurt. And nobody wants to be the first one to say it out loud, so I’ll be the one to take the heat: Pekka Rinne is done. He’s 38 years old and the fact that he’s been this good for this long is already incredible. He’s struggling. The team can’t rely on him to bail them out, they’re not playing well enough in front of him to shelter him, and the fact that John Hynes currently has a choice between Rinne and fourth-string goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo means that Rinne is being asked to shoulder the starter’s workload without hope of relief. It is an awful situation for him to be in, and I hate it more than anything else about this season and the looming rebuild.
We do not yet know whether Rinne or Kaskisuo will start in net tonight. Either way, the depleted Predators will almost certainly need to score a lot of goals to have a chance at a win.
The Dallas Stars
Joe Pavelski has 22 points (11G/11A) in the 19 games the Stars have played. John Klingberg is next, with 15 (3G/12A). Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, and Miro Heiskanen have also been key offensive contributors. The Stars are missing Alexander Radulov to injury and Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop to recovery from surgery.
In Bishop’s absence 22-year-old rookie Jake Oettinger has been fantastic, and Anton Khudobin has also been solid. The goalies have been helped out by excellent team defense at even strength, though the Stars’ penalty kill has not been good. Their power play, despite looking bad on paper, is converting at an above-average clip—enough to make up for their extremely inefficient penalty kill.
I’ll be honest, it’s hard to get excited about this one. Still, injuries have forced the Preds to give younger players a chance, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Eeli Tolvanen and Alexandre Carrier—and Jérémy Davies or Yakov Trenin, if either of them gets the call—can do. (I’d really like to see Davies. Maybe we’ll get lucky.)
Here are the playoff implications, depending on whether or not you’re still rooting for the Preds to make it:
The game starts at 7PM Central and will air on FS-TN, or you can listen to the radio call on 102.5 The Game.