The hope is that the latest gap doesn’t derail any of the momentum the Preds have right now. They have three straight wins, including a 4-3 win over the Devils that was just New Jersey’s 2nd loss since October 24, and are 7-1-1 since the end of their two-week road trip in November. A lot of the issues that plagued the Preds during their slow start the season are starting to get fixed, and cautious optimism about the season is slowly, but surely starting to creep back into the fanbase.
The weeks ahead will be both a challenge and an opportunity for the Preds to show they’re actually turning a corner. As mentioned before, the December schedule is a gauntlet for Nashville. One of their tougher tests will come this week.
Thursday, December 8 - @ Tampa Bay Lightning
This will be the second and final game between these two teams this season; Tampa Bay won the first matchup at Bridgestone Arena 3-2 in overtime. If you’re a hardcore analytics person, you might look at that game and think Nashville were lucky to earn a point. However, it should also be noted the Preds had a chance to win that game outright in regulation. A late turnover and a wild deflection allowed the Lightning to tie the game with just three minutes left in the game, and a Mattias Ekholm high-stick penalty that looked more like the Shiba Inu “bonk” meme opened the door for Tampa to win it in OT.
Getting a result this time around will be even more difficult. The Lightning are starting to look like... well... the Lightning. They’re in the midst of an 8-2-0 run with their only losses coming to the first-place Bruins. The Lightning’s key guys are cooking; Steven Stamkos currently has a 10-game point streak, Nikita Kucherov has 8 points in 5 games, and Brayden Point has 4 goals in his last 5 as well. However, the one question mark this season, almost surprisingly, has been goaltending. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a little slow getting out of the gate, with his .909 Save% way below his career average (although he has had a couple of good games over the past few weeks). He hasn’t been bad, per se, but he hasn’t displayed that world-beating type of goaltending we’re used to seeing from Tampa’s backstop.
This will be another game in which the Preds may need to tweak their “identity” to find a win. Tampa Bay has won 10 of the past 12 meetings against the Preds, and Nashville’s physical players have had a tough time trying to contain the Bolts’ speed. If the Preds want to hang with Tampa punch-for-punch, they’re going to need big games from their top players, and perhaps another game-stealing performance from Juuse Saros.
Saturday, December 10 - vs. Ottawa Senators
They may someday be the stars of a Ryan Reynolds-produced FX series, but for now, the Ottawa Senators are just a rebuilding team trying to figure out if they’re on the right track to success. The Sens have a lot going for them despite their 10-13-1 record. They have a legitimately high-end top scoring line led by Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle (and Josh Norris, who’s unfortunately out injured.) Their prized offseason pickups, Alex Debrincat and Claude Giroux, are playing well. And they’re getting relatively solid goaltending from Cam Talbot and Anton Forsberg.
The problem for the Sens is that beyond those highlights, there’s a black hole when it comes to talent, and that’s what’s keeping Ottawa from excelling this season. The bottom half of the Sens’ roster is packed with either role players who don’t contribute much to the statsheet or AHL-level players.
Still, that doesn’t mean this won’t be a tough test for the Preds. Four of the past five games against the Sens have been decided by one goal, and last season’s contests got spicy at times.
Which matchup are you most looking forward to this week?