The Nashville Predators are back with a schedule that’s so weirdly paced, you’d think the person who produced the NHL All-Star Skills Competition helped put it together.
The Preds finally end a 12-day break Tuesday, only to immediately go on a three-day break. Given Nashville’s less-than-stellar recent history of looking flat after extended periods of time off, that’s not exactly what you want to see in the midst of a playoff battle.
Still, this week should be a prime opportunity for the Preds to pick up four much-needed points if they play with the same intensity we saw them play before the break.
Tuesday, February 7 - vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Depending on how you look at these teams’ first matchup on New Year’s Eve, you could either say the Preds stole a point, or blew their shot at two points. The Preds controlled the game early, jumped out to a 2-0 lead, only to completely fall apart in the second period, leading to the Knights scoring four unanswered goals. Filip Forsberg single-handedly willed his team back in it and completed the hat trick with 5 seconds left on the clock to get the Preds a point before Nicolas Hague won it for the Golden Knights in OT.
The Knights, who could have been considered the Western Conference’s best team at Christmas, have been in a free-fall over the past month, and like last season, a lot of that can be chalked up to injuries. Jack Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo each missed significant time and have struggled to return to form since their respective returns. Captain Mark Stone, the team’s second-leading scorer, is out indefinitely after back surgery, and defensive stalwart Zach Whitecloud is approaching two months out of the lineup with a lower-body injury.
Still, Vegas is going to be a tough matchup, and the extra time off may be (injury pun intended) just what the doctor ordered. If Eichel and Pietrangelo are 100%, and if all-stars Chandler Stephenson (the team’s leading scorer with 44 points) and Logan Thomspon keep up their stellar play, the Knights’ depth could prove to be a challenge for the Preds.
Saturday, February 11 - @ Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers and the Predators have already met once this season, a 3-1 Philly win at Bridgestone Arena in October that was overshadowed by the Mark Borowiecki injury. Joel Farabee had three points for Philly.
Who knows what’s up with the Flyers this season? Just when it looks like they’re in the mix in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, they go on a decent run like the one they’re on now, a 5-3-2 stretch that includes shutout wins over Winnipeg and Buffalo, and another victory over the Capitals.
The Flyers certainly have some decent things going for them. Carter Hart, just two years removed from one of the worst statistical seasons EVER from a goaltender who started the majority of his team’s games, is having a decent year (.911 Save %). Rookie goalie Samuel Ersson has also impressed in his seven appearances since the start of December. All-star forward Kevin Hayes (45 points) and leading scorer Travis Konecny (24 G, 25 A) are also having decently good years.
If you noticed I used “decent” a lot in my assessment of the Flyers, well, yeah... that’s sorta why the Flyers are where they are. There are plenty of players playing fine, but there aren’t many true game-changers stepping up to actually carry the team. Which — if you think about it — kind of seems like where the Nashville Predators would be minus Juuse Saros and Kevin Lankinen.
Which game are you most excited to watch this week?