After closing out a two-game road trip with a 5-3 loss to division rival St. Louis, the Nashville Predators return home tonight to face the Vancouver Canucks. Nashville sits third in the Central Division with 51 points through 40 games and tenth in the NHL; Vancouver sits seventh in the Pacific Division with 37 points in 38 games and 22nd in the NHL.
Looking to break a three-game losing streak, Nashville will turn its attention to the mildly resurgent Vancouver Canucks tonight. The last time these two teams met (in November) the Predators left Canada with a 3-2 win but lost the possession battle to Vancouver, especially in period three. Otherwise, it was a tight battle when it came to scoring chances; Vancouver took the edge in high-danger shot attempts (seven to six), but Nashville had the advantage in expected goals-for percentage (53.07% to 46.93%).
At the top of the lineup, Nashville is relieved to have Filip Forsberg back from the league’s COVID-19 protocol as he recorded one goal in his return against St. Louis. On the blue line, the Predators will be without Mattias Ekholm (COVID-19) and Dante Fabbro (week-to-week with an upper-body injury). David Rittich will likely get the start giving Juuse Saros rest after a less-than-stellar night against the Blues; Rittich has allowed 3.50 goals above average this season.
Since firing head coach Travis Green after an 8-15-2 start to the season, Bruce Boudreau’s Canucks have gone 9-3-1, including a 4-2 win over the Capitals on Sunday.
Vancouver’s scoring attack up front has been led by J.T. Miller and Conor Garland, who have 38 and 24 points, respectively. Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson have struggled to make the most of their seasons, but the latter scored twice on Sunday at the Capitals. On the backend, Quinn Hughes leads an otherwise thin blue line with 30 points in 37 games. But, former Predator Brad Hunt and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have also been positive players this season when it comes to expected goals-for (57.42% and 52.79%).
In net, Thatcher Demko, who will likely get the start, leads all NHL goalies (who have 540+ minutes of ice time) with 11.96 goals-saved above average (GSAA), and he’s saved around ten goals above expected.
It’s also worth noting that the Canucks have the league’s worst penalty kill at a staggering 67.6% success rate, so drawing penalties could be a key to success tonight.
The Canucks are relatively healthy when it comes to injuries, but backup goalie Jaroslav Halak and forward Conor Garland are both currently in the league’s COVID-19 protocol.
Prospects to Watch
If I’m doing a game preview, there’s going to be a “prospects” angle. On the Vancouver side of things, keep an eye on Vasily Podkolzin. The Russian forward was the tenth overall pick in 2019 and has seven goals and nine points in his first 36 NHL games this season; he comes from the same St. Petersburg organization in Russia as Yaroslav Askarov and Fyodor Svechkov.
For Nashville, I’m focusing on Jeremy Davies. The former Northeastern defender, who was acquired in the P.K. Subban trade, could make his season debut tonight after being recalled to the taxi squad on Sunday and with Ekholm and Fabbro out of the lineup. Davies played in 16 games for Nashville last year and has recorded 51 points in 103 AHL games.
Where to Watch
Puck drop is at 7:00 pm CT tonight, and you can watch on Bally Sports South or ESPN+. As usual, the Nashville radio call will be on 102.5 The Game.