Nashville Predators vs. Carolina Hurricanes Preview 3/9/21: Eeli Goalvanen

Let’s hope that the rookie continues his recent tear.

The Nashville Predators are probably going to lose tonight to a very good Carolina Hurricanes team, but that doesn’t mean that nothing entertaining will happen. What should you be watching, what are the keys to the game, and why should you continue to follow the team in what’s likely a lost season? All of the above below.

The Hurricanes

This team is good. Really good. The Canes are top ten in the league in CF% and xGF% at 5v5, but they also boast a surprisingly deadly power play (2nd in GF/60). That bodes poorly for a Nashville team that struggles with...well, all of the above.

The Hurricanes largely don’t have a glaring flaw for a weaker team like the Predators to pounce on, although if I had to pick one it’d be their goaltending. Carolina has dealt with a rotating cast in net all year and hasn’t gotten consistent performance from any of the trio of James Reimer, Petr Mrazek or Alex Nedeljkovic. If the Predators can pepper the net early, they might be able to get out in front.

The Predators

There’s not a ton to say about this team at this point. They’re not very good, but they aren’t apocalyptically awful either. The Nashville Predators are simply unremarkable across the board, save for a few things. The main point of interest? Rookie Eeli Tolvanen’s recent explosion.

Tolvanen adds a spark to the offense not seen since the introduction of a certain Swedish rookie (no, not Pontus Åberg). The Predators have improved by leaps and bounds on the power play with the addition of Tolvanen as a staple on the top unit, especially recently (Tolvanen leads all rookies in power play goals with four). The young Finn continues to flash the incredible shooting talent that helped him dominate the KHL as an eighteen year-old.

I find myself struggling to stay engaged in Preds games on a frequent basis lately due to the lack of direction from the front office, but Tolvanen always makes at least one play in a game that gets me out of my seat. He’s playing remarkably smart, 200-foot hockey just like our very own Eric D. said he would, and that brings me joy.

A few other notable features in the lineup include rookie Rem Pitlick and the elder statesman Pekka Rinne in goal. Rinne is coming off a game where he frequently bailed out the team, so I don’t expect to see him in top form; still, despite his lackluster numbers, the 38-year-old continues to hold the net in Nashville relative to other options. It’s worth watching the team for him alone, as this is probably the last season Rinne will play in the NHL.

Three Big Things

  1. Can the power play keep this up? I still notice that the team is too tentative when attacking the slot with the man advantage, but it hasn’t mattered much thanks to the elite shooting of Tolvanen and Forsberg. Have the Predators finally discovered a fix for their long-unsolved problem? Going up against a Hurricanes penalty kill that’s fourth in xGA/60 will be a good test.
  2. Does Eeli Tolvanen score? I know that personally, I’m keeping a keen focus on his attempts to slingshot himself into the Calder discussion, so it’s clearly a point of interest. The rookie leader in goal-scoring currently sits at eight on the year, but Tolvanen is red hot lately with three goals in his last five games. If he scores again tonight, he’ll be tied with Tim Stützle and Kirill Kaprizov for second in goals among rookies, despite playing significantly fewer games.
  3. Do teams continue to take liberties with Nashville’s best players? The Stars are obviously a far more physical matchup than Carolina, but the Predators have experienced a number of cheap shots recently without responding too much. Do the Hurricanes continue the trend, or will the Predators get a clean game?

Gameday Jam

Who’s the live music for today’s game? Guess what, it’s you! Sing along to Eeli Tolvanen’s theme music:

Happy gameday everyone, and as always, go Preds.