Nashville Predators vs. Carolina Hurricanes Preview: Intensity

At least Jeff Skinner isn’t going to be able to score on the men in gold tonight.

If rest or home ice were the only factor, the Nashville Predators would have tonight’s game in the bag, as the Carolina Hurricanes enter Bridgestone Arena on the second half of a back-to-back. But if the urge for immediate redemption were the only factor, we could just give the two points to the Canes right now—the first half of that back-to-back was a stinging defeat, an 8-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in front of a fanbase that’s finally started to be able to hope for good things from its team.

The Carolina Hurricanes (36-24-7)

Greg McKegg had the Hurricanes’ only goal last night, while the forward line of Sebastian Aho (the Finnish one), Nino Niederreiter, and Justin Williams took the brunt of the damage in goals-against—especially Niederreiter, who was on ice for six of the Jets’ even-strength goals. He’s been a great surprise for Hurricanes fans since being traded from the Wild, and he and Aho are probably going to be out for some revenge of their own.

Curtis McElhinney was left in net for all of last night’s disaster, which means the Predators can expect to face Petr Mrázek tonight. Mrázek has a sv% of .904 this season, but he also has a career sv% of .933 and record of 7-0-0 against the Nashville Predators, so it will be interesting to see which Mrázek the Preds get.

Aho leads the Canes in goals with 29, assists with 46, and points with 75. It’s his third year in the NHL, and each season he’s been better than he was the last. He’s the centerpiece of this Hurricanes offense, along with fellow Finn Teuvo Teräväinen, second in assists with 43 and third in goals with 18. Niederreiter, with 19 points in 21 games for Carolina, would probably be in this conversation as well if he’d been traded sooner. Justin Williams (19-24–43) and Micheal Ferland (17-18–35) are the team’s other leading scorers and key offensive contributors.

Or maybe I should say “offensive producers”—the Hurricanes as a whole team do a great job of getting to the front of the net and shooting from there, early and often. They’ve struggled to finish plays over the last few seasons, piling up shots and expected goals with little to show for it, but their luck has finally turned this season.

The Canes have made a strong push since the New Year, working their way into the playoff conversation. Even with last night’s loss, the Hurricanes are still holding on to a wild-card spot in the cutthroat East, but every point counts. They’ll be looking to make up for last night tonight.

The Nashville Predators (39-25-5)

After a pair of déjà-vu shootout victories over the Minnesota Wild, the Predators had a long break between games. Hopefully they’ve been using this time to help new additions Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund get used to playing with their new linemates, as well as to rest up and heal up.

The Jets’ victory last night over the Hurricanes pushed them further into the lead for the Central; they now have 84 points to the Predators’ 83, and still have two games in hand. The Preds will have to work harder to make up ground if they don’t want a first-round divisional series against—probably—either the new-look St. Louis Blues, who they haven’t solved yet, or the Dallas Stars. The Predators have played more games than almost anyone else in the West and squandered some of their earlier opportunities to make their own playoff destiny, so every point counts.

Ryan Johansen still leads the Preds in points with 54 (11G/43A), but Roman Josi is just one point behind with 15G/38A. Viktor Arvidsson’s 28 goals lead the team, while Filip Forsberg’s 22 are second. Forsberg, who missed the last two practices for maintenance days, skated this morning and will hopefully be able to play tonight.

What’s more of a puzzle is the Predators’ situation in net. Pekka Rinne, who started the season off with an outstanding stretch of play while Juuse Saros struggled, has had a rough 2019. More rest would definitely benefit the 36-year-old Rinne, and by extension the rest of the team. The Predators are in a position to be able to do that, as Saros has been playing better as the season progressed. Saros can take some starts, hopefully win some games, get more practice to help him eventually transition to the starter’s role—and Rinne can be rested for the playoffs, where I expect he will be starting again. It will be interesting to see how Laviolette chooses to use his goalies going forward.

Reasons to Watch

  • Wasn’t your Thursday horribly empty with no hockey? Mine was./

Sights & Sounds

The puck drops a few minutes after 7 PM Central. You can watch in person or on FS-TN, or listen to the call on 102.5 The Game.

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