The Week Ahead: Headed West
The Predators’ opponents this week are buried in the standings, but pack some dangerous players.
We’ve reached the point where almost nothing the Nashville Predators do on the ice will overshadow the main storyline off of it. The NHL Trade Deadline is now less than two weeks away, and it seems the Preds will be central figures in the deadline drama. Whether that means anyone actually moves is another story, but needless to say, it’ll be an interesting couple of weeks for both the Predators’ players and their fans.
Until we hit March 3rd, we’ll try to enjoy the action on the ice as much as we can. This week, that means enjoying a little hockey out west.
Tuesday, February 21 — vs. Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks are an enigma. On one hand, they’re a team in a free fall: down to sixth-worst in the NHL and losers of five of their past seven. On the other hand, they have a couple of things working for them, including one of the NHL’s best players in Elias Pettersson. The 2019 Calder winner has already passed his career high in points (71) and assists (44), and is tied for seventh in the league in scoring.
Pettersson and Quinn Hughes form the makings of what could be a fun, productive core for the ‘Nucks (JT Miller and Andrei Kuzmenko are also having great seasons, but their futures in Vancouver are a bit more uncertain). But they haven’t gotten much support this season. Many of the team’s highest-paid players, like Brock Boeser, Connor Garland, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, have grossly underperformed. Four goalies have started games this season; none of them have save percentages higher than .891. They’re also dead last on the penalty kill (an abysmal 65.4%).
This will be the second time these two teams have squared off this season. The first game was the “Jordan Gross Game” that saw the now-Milwaukee Admiral score his first two career NHL goals to help the Preds erase a 3-0 deficit. Matt Duchene then scored the lone goal in the shootout to help Nashville steal a win. Needless to say, a bad performance this time around would be a bad look for the Preds.
Thursday, February 23 - @ San Jose Sharks
This will be the first matchup between the Preds and Sharks since the season-opening Global Series games in Prague. The Predators won both of those games. Given all that’s happened since then, those games seem like a distant, happy memory.
For the Sharks, those games kicked off what turned out to be a fairly predictable “hard rebuild” season. The Sharks are fourth from the bottom in the league and prime contenders in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. But despite their poor record and lackluster roster depth, the Sharks still have some dangerous high-end pieces. Erik Karlsson, who just a season ago looked washed, is in the midst of a comeback story for the ages. He has 74 points, sixth-most in the NHL, and looks like a frontrunner for the Norris Trophy (whether he’s nominated as a member of the Sharks or with another team is a different debate). While we’re on the topic of players on the trade block, Timo Meier is another player to watch; he’s a crafty power forward on track to easily top 40 goals. Whichever team trades for him will have a legitimate building block in their forward core.
The Predators will absolutely need to be wary of the Sharks’ top stars (assuming they’re still on the team when this game is played). But the Sharks are where they are for a reason, namely a serious lack of depth. The Predators have the deeper roster, and if guys like Niederreiter, Ryan Johansen, Juuso Pärssinen, and the Herd Line can capitalize on some chances, the Preds should have a good shot at winning.
Sunday, February 26 - @ Arizona Coyotes
I needn’t remind you of what happened the last time these two played. The Coyotes beat the Predators 4-2 last week at Bridgestone Arena in what could easily be described as one of Nashville’s worst efforts of the year. It was Arizona’s first road win in 19 games, furthering the weird, unsavory history the Preds have with the Yotes.
The Coyotes may be firmly in tank mode, but don’t look now... they have points in 9 of their past 10 games. Clayton Keller, perhaps the only sure-fire “is here for the long haul” building block Arizona currently has, is leading the charge with 10 points (5 G, 5 A) in his past five games. Former Preds prospect Karel Vejmelka is upping his trade value with a strong run of play (4-0-1, .914 Save%, 1 shutout in his past six starts.)
Another fun fact here: this will be the Predators’ first ever visit to Mullett Arena. The 5,000-seat arena on Arizona State’s campus was the basis for a lot of jokes against the Coyotes, but the Yotes have turned the tables. A lot of teams who’ve already played there describe it as an incredibly tough venue to play in, the fans are rambunctious, and the Coyotes actually have a winning record (12-8-2) when playing there this season. So buckle up for this one.
Which game are you most excited to watch this week?