Game Preview: Nashville Predators vs Florida Panthers 4/9/2022

The Preds look for two points against one of the NHL’s top teams.

We’re approaching Game Three of John Hynes’s 14-game “playoff mindset-paloozathon,” and it’s one of the toughest remaining games yet. The Nashville Predators host the Florida Panthers tonight for an early-evening tilt at Bridgestone Arena.

After a dismal loss to Buffalo left Preds fans a little more anxious about their playoff prospects, Nashville has rebounded with back-to-back wins: a 6-2 beatdown of the Minnesota Wild and a 3-2 road win over the Ottawa Senators. Their next test comes in the form of the Panthers, owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference and winners of six straight games (which included not one, but TWO four-goal comebacks). Florida is proving themselves to be a legitimate Cup contender with each passing game.

This will be the second time these two teams have played this season. The Predators won the first showdown back in late February by a score of 6-4. Nashville scored three goals in the third period to cap off a comeback. But as any hockey fan can tell you, games this late in the season just hit a little differently, and today’s Panthers lineup features some notable additions who weren’t around the first game (including Claude Giroux, who has 11 points in 9 games since coming over from the Philadelphia Flyers.)

What to Watch For

Survive, if they let you...

The Florida Panthers have the NHL’s best offense this season at a whopping 4.15 goals-per-game. They have the NHL’s second-leading scorer and six players who have 20-plus goals this season. Meanwhile, the Predators’ defense has lately been... uh... a little porous to say the least. The Preds have allowed 35 or more shots in six of their past nine games, including 49 against the Wild this past Tuesday.

Unless they can significantly tighten things up in their own zone, this has the makings of a game in which the Predators will simply have to survive. The Panthers are likely going to get their chances; it’ll be the defense’s job to keep those chances as tame as possible, and Juuse Saros’s job to shut the door on any high-danger opportunities that DO get through. If there are a rash of breakaways, defensive lapses, or careless turnovers in the neutral or defensive zones — a common occurrence in the past couple of months — this could be a loooooong night for the home team.

A Lot of Hart on Display

Tonight’s matchup will also be a showdown of two players who should be front-and-center of the Hart Trophy conversation at year’s end: Roman Josi and Jonathan Huberdeau (the aforementioned “NHL’s second-leading scorer”).

The argument for Josi as the league’s most valuable player is picking up steam with each epic performance he provides. Thursday’s three-point performance put him at the 87-point mark for the season, a new record for any Predators player, and the most by ANY NHL defender since Ray Bourque got 91 in 1994. The fact that Josi’s racking up these numbers as a blueliner is impressive enough, but the fact that his play has also helped the likes of Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene to record-setting seasons of their own means it’s not unfair to argue that no other player in the league has been more central to their team’s success as The Captain.

At the same time, you can’t understate what Huberdeau has done this season in South Florida. His 77 assists is second in the NHL (nine ahead of Josi, who’s third), his 103 points is one behind Connor McDavid for the league lead, and... like Josi... the bulk of the Panthers’ offense runs through him. Huberdeau is the blueprint for what a playmaking winger should be: an elite skater, excellent vision, and the ability to create his own space.

Regardless of who your Hart favorite is right this second, both Huberdeau and Josi are two of the most fun players to watch in the NHL right now, and the Bridgestone Arena crowd should be in for quite a treat.

The Shake-Up is Paying Off

There was a lot of skepticism at the start of the week when John Hynes rolled out his revamped line combinations. But so far, they appear to be working. Several players had a little juice to their game, something the Preds desperately needed after a string of rough play.

One player who’s looked especially rejuvenated is Ryan Johansen. Joey has six points (4 G, 2 A) in his past three games, including his first career hat trick Tuesday against the Wild. Johansen’s year has been a bit overshadowed compared to other Preds, but after two career-worst seasons, his level of play on both ends of the ice this year has been a complete 180.

Another player to keep an eye on tonight is Eeli Tolvanen. After being a somewhat surprising healthy scratch against the Wild, Tolvanen returned to the lineup Thursday against Ottawa and delivered a solid performance. He’ll likely get more top-six minutes tonight, which will be another chance to show his coaches he can still be a danger to other teams when he has the puck.

How To Watch

  • Puck Drop: 5:00 PM CDT
  • TV: Bally Sports
  • Radio: 102.5 The Game/