The Nashville Predators are about to embark on a five-game road trip. This road trip will set the tone for the rest of their season.
Here’s the details:
Thursday, 5 January at 6:00 CST against the Carolina Hurricanes
Friday, 6 January at 6:00 CST against the Washington Capitals
Monday, 9 January at 6:30 CST against the Ottawa Senators
Wednesday, 11 January at 6:30 CST against the Toronto Maple Leafs
Thursday, 12 January at 6:00 CST against the Montreal Canadiens
Wow. That’s a stretch of hockey. The first thing I notice are the back-to-backs. This is where Kevin Lankinen will be relied on, and it’s up to Nashville’s defenders to protect their Finnish goalies.
The Carolina Hurricanes are, predictably, quite good. They made several excellent offseason acquisitions, including Brent Burns. Burns has 4 assists over the last five games, but so does Mikael Granlund. They’re a great team that is competitive in the Metropolitan Division. I had to do a double take because Carolina is quietly in second place in the entire NHL. Boston receives a lot of hype, but Carolina puts together solid strings of games and they’ll be a tough challenge. I’d expect Juuse Saros in net against Carolina with Kevin Lankinen taking Friday’s start against Peter Laviolette’s Capitals.
The Caps floundered a bit at the beginning of the season, but as they always do, they’ve ridden Alex Ovechkin’s goal scoring superpowers into contention. While Ovechkin has 8 goals in the last five games, Nashville’s Filip Forsberg has 5. The Caps are on a nice winning streak and they’ll be looking for a strong home showing to add some points to their back pocket. Carl Hagelin, John Carlson, and Connor Brown are on injured reserve. If there’s ever a game to get Tanner Jeannot going, this would be it. His physical presence is absolutely critical, but a goal or two would certainly help his confidence.
After a weekend off, the Predators will face off against the Ottawa Senators on Monday evening. The Senators are fun, and there’s a lot of “fun” in Canada’s capital. Tim Stützle has 5 goals in his last five contests, and he’s already got 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) over 34 games. What about Claude Giroux? The former Philly captain has been thriving with his hometown team - he has 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 38 games. Former Blackhawk Alex DeBrincat has 13 goals and 23 assists in 38 games. Ottawa’s forwards are scoring, and they’re scoring in bunches. With Saros in net, Nashville’s penalty kill will have to be stronger than they’ve ever been to face Ottawa’s power play - 28%. A big win against the Senators will provide confidence, momentum, and probably a lot of attention.
In the first game of the second set of back-to-backs, Nashville will face the Maple Leafs at home in Toronto. The Leafs are 23-8-7, and their gamble on goaltenders Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov seems to be paying off. If they can remain healthy as we inch toward April, the Leafs might actually make it out of the first round of the playoffs. Michael Bunting, surprisingly, is a player to watch for the Leafs. He has 5 goals in the last five games. We’ll see Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and former Predator Calle Jarnkrok in white and blue. The Leafs get so much Canadian media attention, and a big win against the Leafs will again provide momentum for Nashville as the road trip draws to a close. We’re counting on players like Roman Josi and Cody Glass to make a statement against the Leafs.
Finally, Nashville will have a rematch against the Montreal Canadiens. If that game could mirror Tuesday’s high-powered goalapalooza, Nashville could end the road trip on a very positive note.
Taking points in four of the upcoming five games would surely be a positive sign for a team struggling with consistency and goal-scoring. Nashville is five points out of a wild card position in the Western Conference. Some might argue that Nashville needs to miss the playoffs to ensure a better 2023 draft. However, I don’t get the impression that Nashville’s front office is trying to tank. It’s entirely possible that a strong road trip sets up Nashville to climb the standings as the weather turns warmer.