The hits just keep coming for the Nashville Predators. Last week started with a five day break in action, but each day has seen either a loss or a major player transaction, so things have started happening - and quick. But after starting with a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, and last night’s dismal 0-1 overtime loss against the St. Louis Blues, the Predators get just 24 hours before facing it’s most dominant opponent in recent seasons: the Edmonton Oilers.
The Edmonton Oilers
Overall Record: 16-13-0 (4th Pacific)
Last 10 Games: 6-4-0
Last week’s results:
Dec. 5th vs Washington Capitals - 3-2 loss
Dec. 7th vs Arizona Coyotes - 8-2 win
Dec. 9th vs Minnesota Wild - 5-2 win
Dec. 12th @ Minnesota Wild - 2-1 loss
While the up-and-down Oilers sit just 5 points ahead of Nashville in the standings, this Oilers team has dominated Nashville as of late, and their stars might be getting better - at least against the Preds. The Oilers have beaten Nashville seven straight times, and eight of the last 10. Oddly enough, that tenth game was the end of a thirteen game winning streak for the Predators over Edmonton, but the memory of that seems far, far away (2018, to be exact).
The Oilers have offense, and plenty of it. They have four players with double-digit goals, but that’s underselling it. Led by the ever great Connor McDavid (25 goals, 55 points), the scoring threats continue with Leon Draisaitl (19 goals, 46 points), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (14 goals, 33 points) and Zach Hyman (10 goals, 29 points). Both McDavid and Draisaitl have more goals than Nashville’s leading scorers Filip Forsberg (8) and Nino Niederreiter (10) combined. After that top four, the scoring drops off with Evander Kane (5) at fifth on the team - but three of those, if you recall, were in a hat trick earlier this season against Nashville. Despite the lack of depth scoring that has left the Oilers in a rut without the stars, the Edmonton power play is the best in the NHL at 30.2% - with Draisaitl and McDavid combining for 22 power play goals - 7 more than Nashville as a team.
Defensively, Edmonton has holes, with a tendency to allow a lot of attempts against, but they’re betting on average goaltending in Stuart Skinner (9-7-0 91.9%) and Jack Campbell (7-6-0, 87.2%) to play just well enough so the offense can outscore opponents.
Player to Watch: Edmonton F Leon Draisaitl
I know, I know. But his career against the Nashville Predators is simply incredible, and it would seem probable that he’d have another incredible game after last night’s disappointing loss to Minnesota. But I digress.
In 21 career games against the Nashville Predators, Leon Draisaitl has 20 goals, 10 assists and 30 points. That is a pace of nearly a goal per game (0.95 G/GP) and 1.43 points per game. And it’s not just at even strength (8), but 11 power play goals, 1 shorthanded goal and four have been game-winning goals against the Predators. He has at least one point in 13 of those games, three games each of 2- and 3-point games, and two games where he’s scored five points against Nashville - in the last matchup this season with one goal and four assists, and two years ago, with a four goal, one assist effort. And that is just one of two hat tricks Draisaitl has against Nashville.
Overall Record: 12-11-3 (5th Central)
Last 10 Games: 5-3-2
Last week’s results:
Dec. 8th @ Tampa Bay Lightning - 5-2 loss
Dec. 10th vs Ottawa Senators - 3-2 loss
Dec. 12th @ St. Louis Blues - 1-0 OT loss
Nashville’s momentum to start the month of December with wins over the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders came to a screeching halt with a five day break before three straight losses that saw the offense diminish more and more with each period of play.
Nashville’s last four goal scorers are Yakov Trenin and Nino Niederreiter vs Ottawa and Mark Jankowski and the now-injured Alexandre Carrier against Tampa Bay. Not a great look when bottom six forwards and a defenseman getting his first point of the season makes up 75% of your offense in the last week. Especially since they have been outscored 9-4 in those games.
The power play has been dismal at 16%, the third-worst in the entire league, and the penalty kill has dropped from a top-ten ranking coming into the month to just 18th, but injuries to defensemen have made changes necessary. The defensive injuries and overall defensive effort from the forwards have led to a barrage of shots against Juuse Saros, who is 0-1-1 in the last three games, coming in at roughly 0.4 goals saved below expected - which is still more than the defense in front of him deserves, but Saros has continuously improved over the season. It’s just even his best effort against the Oilers may not be enough for the Predators’ 29th ranked goal scoring team. The main issue is that the Preds can’t hit the side of a barn right now. last night only 43% of their shot attempts got on net, and they average just 51% on the season, 27th lowest in the NHL. They proved last night they can get quality chances (picking up 11 against Edmonton per Natural Stat Trick), but far too many shots are sailing wide or hitting the Edmonton players, and usually ends the possession.
Nashville is a team with a defense corps decimated by injury, a forward group relying on an undrafted free agent (Tanner Jeannot), a 7th rounder (Juuso Parssinen) and a 2nd rounder (Yakov Trenin) to carry the offense (as they did last night against St. Louis), and a usually excellent Juuse Saros playing average in net. There’s not much hope that Nashville can keep the Oilers from winning their eighth straight game, but stranger things have happened - the Predators may decide to finally start scoring.
Player to Watch: Nashville D Mattias Ekholm
There’s been little to be happy about at this point in the Nashville season, but the play of Mattias Ekholm has been a welcome sight, now on his new contract. In his last five games, the Predators have outscored opponents two to zero at five on five, and the Predators have dominated the shot attempt, shots on goal and expected goal shares in three games each with the “Swedish Redwood” anchoring the defense. Last night, he and Dante Fabbro were excellent, allowing the Oilers to just 17% of all shot quality, and 18% of all shot attempts.
Ekholm has vastly improved since the disastrous experiment on his offhand with Ryan McDonaugh (both have improved quite a bit), and the defensive effort on this team is led by the veteran Swede, so they’ll need him tomorrow more than ever, especially with three players that have spent most of the year in Milwaukee in the starting lineup.