Martel's Musings: Game 8 - Nashville vs Pittsburgh
What do you get when you combine a surging team like the Predators and a team in Pittsburgh that can't find the back of the net? Why, a "golden" Saturday match-up, of course!<em>NOTE: I do not condone Nashville's yellow helmets.</em>
Nashville is finding ways to win. On Thursday night, they blitzed past a struggling Anaheim Ducks team for a 5-1 win. Tonight is another circumstance along the same lines.
Sooner or later the Predators will most likely stumble, but will it come against a team like Pittsburgh who have only forced 11 total goals in seven games?
Projected line combinations based on morning skate:
NOTE: Victor Bartley participated in morning skate in place of Jarnkrok, who did not skate.
Forward Line One: Filip Forsberg / Mike Fisher / James Neal
Forward Line Two: Colin Wilson / Mike Ribeiro / Craig Smith
Forward Line Three: Gabriel Bourque / Cody Hodgson / Calle Jarnkrok
Forward Line Four: Eric Nystrom / Paul Gaustad / Austin Watson
Defensive Pair One: Shea Weber / Roman Josi
Defensive Pair Two: Barret Jackman / Seth Jones
Defensive Pair Three: Mattias Ekholm / Ryan Ellis
Predicted Goaltender: Pekka Rinne
SCRATCHES: Victor Bartley
Three Things vs Pittsburgh
James Neal against his old team
Last season, Neal had two opportunities to face off against his former team. Both times, Neal was held off the scoresheet.
Against the Penguins on Saturday night, it may give Neal the best opportunity of adding to his early-season team-lead in points.
In his last four games, Neal has collected five goals and three assists -- remaining just four points off Boston Bruins forward David Krejci's 12.
It's important that all of Nashville's offensive weaponry fire on all cylinders against a team like Pittsburgh. Every goal is going to count and having Neal factor into the scoring could go a long way towards a Predators victory tonight.
James Neal on playing Pittsburgh: "It's definitely a different feel this year than last year. Last year was pretty fresh, playing them right after a trade. You have to be through it to understand it. It's tough playing against your old team. Everything feels a little weird and a little off, but this year is different. That team has changed a lot and a lot of new faces over there. It definitely won't be as weird for me."
Capitalizing against struggling teams
Three straight losses to start the year, followed by three straight wins and finally a 4-1 loss this past Thursday against the blazing hot Dallas Stars has Pittsburgh a bit discombobulated coming into Nashville on Saturday.
As the Penguins struggle to find their identity, head coach Mike Johnston has already begun to implement an array of sweeping changes to Pittsburgh's lines in an attempt to jumpstart an offense that is currently ranked 29th in the NHL.
On the flip side, the Predators have an opportunity to sweep its current three-game homestand tonight.
Nashville found itself dismantling a struggling team in Anaheim on Thursday evening, one just as elite as Pittsburgh with similar offensive stars.
To do so again tonight, they'll have to score early and force the Penguins to make mistakes. With players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang in tow, it's easier said than done.
Sidney Crosby on finding offense: "You have to score to win. We've had some low-scoring games. Defensively, we've done a fairly good job, but we definitely need to find a way to put more pucks into the net. Even if that means creating more chances or burying the ones we get. We've got to score more. We'll be looking to do that as soon as we can."
Fourth line power
One of Nashville's concerns over the previous seasons has been depth scoring and finding ways to exit the defensive zone without its bottom-six getting hemmed inside.
Thursday against Anaheim could have been one of the better performances by the Nystrom, Gaustad, Watson line -- taking the Getzlaf line completely out of the equation.
That's not something that can easily be done by most teams.
Stopping one line in one game doesn't make a season. Nashville's bottom six forwards, especially the Gaustad line, have to consistently be a destructive force every single night.
A tall order, for sure, but one I've been more confident as of lately based on how they've performed in the most recent games.
Eric Nystrom on playing well every night: "We know that we're going out there for defensive zone face-offs and, for the majority of that, teams are going to put out their top lines. We just have to be prepared and ready to battle pucks out, try to get it down to the other end and maybe kill some time on the clock or get a face-off down there so we can get our top guys out there. That's our job on the team.
"That's what we're here for. We take tremendous pride in that. [Gaustad] being as strong on face-offs as he is makes it a huge advantage. I was telling [Watson] before that shutting down the top line in the last game doesn't mean anything unless you do it again the next night and then the next night, over and over and over again. That's the kind of mindset that we have."
Player to Watch
James Neal: Neal's offensive output has been phenomenal to start the season. What better way to keep that going than against his former team? Look for Neal to power Nashville's offense again tonight.
(Game 7 Prediction: 3-2 Predators win. Result? 5-1 Predators win. CURRENT RECORD: 5-0.)
I flipped back and forth on this one. Pittsburgh is going to have to strike gold eventually, however I don't believe it happens tonight. Nashville wins, but it's close. 4-3 Predators.