Predators vs Hurricanes Preview 1/18/21: A Storm’s Brewing

The Hurricanes will be a good test to see if this Nashville team is for real or not.

Hello there folks; hope you’re enjoying MLK day wherever you’re reading from. It’s Eamon here with another preview, this time taking a look at the game tonight against another new addition to the Central division: the Carolina Hurricanes. After a pair of wins at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Nashville Predators will get a back-to-back against a very difficult opponent. How do the Raleigh Ravagers match up with our Predators, who should you be paying special attention to when the puck drops, and what kind of music will I be forcing on you today? We’ll cover all of that (and more) in this here article.

The Hurricanes

Carolina is a very intriguing team to me for a lot of reasons, chief among them being that they’re built very similarly to our very own Preds. The Canes have an excellent top four on the blue line, a deep forward core, and goaltending that’s been a mix of promise and inconsistency.

The key difference between the two? Carolina has forwards that can actually score, and Nashville (at least last year) didn’t. The Hurricanes are driven by Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov, with plenty of support in the form of Jordan Staal, Vincent Trocheck and Nino Niederreiter. Let’s also not forget young Martin Necas, who quietly had 16 goals and 36 points as a rookie for the Canes. The bottom line is, the Hurricanes probably will give Nashville their most difficult test when it comes to team defense; they have guys who can break open games single-handedly, something Columbus clearly lacks.

The Hurricanes are clearly behind Nashville in one area, at least so far this year: goaltending. Juuse Saros has looked incredible for Nashville (fourth in GSAx through two games) while Petr Mrazek has been...fine for Carolina, albeit against a much weaker opponent than Nashville’s. Carolina also suffered an embarrassing loss to the lowly Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night when a normally solid defense allowed four goals, so Nashville can certainly win both of these games to start the year 4-0-0.

The question will be how the Predators attempt to slow down Carolina’s superior top six while simultaneously exploiting the weakened depth that the Hurricanes have on their bottom two lines; does Coach Hynes gamble and attempt to let the bottom of the line up win these matchups, or does he attempt to go head-to-head with Carolina’s firepower and come out on top? It’ll be interesting to watch either way.

The Predators

Nashville has a few ways that they can look to dominate the Canes in this game, chief among them being a simple mantra: shoot the damn puck. The Preds had some lulls in shot attempts during their past two games, particularly in the second game of the back-to-back; Columbus played positionally sound throughout the lineup and did a good job of making zone entries or creating high danger shots a real pain in the rear.

The Hurricanes have plenty of ability to do the same with that stacked top four (Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei, if you couldn’t recall), but they have a questionable ability to have the same fundamental soundness when their bottom two forward lines are out on the ice. Jesper Fast and Warren Foegele are both solid enough defensive players, but Morgan Geekie is largely an unknown and could be a weakness to exploit; the fourth line features Ryan Dzingel, Jordan Martinook and Brock McGinn, all of whom are coming off of mediocre or worse years (Dzingel in particular was horrific last season). Nashville could attempt to key in on this flaw and blitz that unit like it’s the exhaust port in this metaphorical Death Star, but I have a feeling John Hynes will trust in his lineup and attempt to go toe-to-toe with Carolina.

In net remains the biggest question for Nashville: what will Pekka Rinne look like this year, and when will we see him? My gut tells me that Rinne starts this game to give Saros a reprieve; Saros has never been a full-time NHL starter, after all. Will Pekka look like a good backup, or will he remain a shell of himself like he was in the later parts of last season? When it comes to the earlier games this year where he’ll still be well-rested, I’d bet heavily on the former; let’s not forget that Rinne was hotter than the Mojave out of the gate last year before Peter Laviolette ran him into the ground. If Rinne and Saros can be a good tandem this year, the Preds will go far; it’s as simple as that.

Three Big Things

  1. How does the JOFA line look against a team that can actually punch back harder than they can? I didn't love what I saw from Viktor Arvidsson in these opening games, but Ryan Johansen has looked markedly more engaged and even laid out to block some big shots, something that he didn’t do a whole lot of last year. If that group can have somebody besides Filip Forsberg that’s consistently firing on all cylinders, they should handle this team; if not, get ready for the all-Finnish Carolina first line to take over the game.
  2. Which version of Dante Fabbro are we getting? If Fabbro can look like the promising rookie we caught flashes of from these past few seasons in a full game, the entire defensive unit becomes undeniably top-flight; if he continues to look hesitant and pedestrian or worse offensively, I’ll remain skeptical of how far this team can really go.
  3. What adjustments do we see from John Hynes to correct the defensive lapses in front of the net from these first two games? The Predators had a few instances where the forwards got caught standing around in the defensive zone, something that drives any coach up the wall; will Hynes hammer home the importance of staying engaged in all phases of play, and—more crucially—will his message have tangible impact? Be sure to pay attention to how the Predators look in this respect.

Gameday Tunes

Tell me that this song doesn’t put you in the mood to be productive/happy and I’ll call you a psychopath.

That’s all for now; be sure to catch the game on Fox Sports TN or listen in with Pete Weber calling all the action on 102.5 The Game Nashville. Don’t miss out on all the fun in game discussion that’ll go on in our Game Thread; conversation is hard to come by in a pandemic, and there’s plenty going on over there. Let’s hope for a good game; go Preds.