Nashville Predators vs Detroit Red Wings Preview: Hockeytown comes to Smashville

The rebuilding Wings have had the Preds’ number. Is this the year that changes?

[Charles Xavier voice] Hello, old friend.

A one-time division rival turned twice-a-year opponent you love to squabble with, the Nashville Predators’ relationship with the Detroit Red Wings has become more like a relationship between two high school foes who have grown more mature in their time apart.

Gone are the days of “fight night,” now are the days of a healthy battle — occasionally with a fight mixed in.

Since leaving the Western Conference at the end of the 2012-13 season, Detroit has had Nashville’s number.

The Wings have won nine of their 12 two-a-year meetings.

The Preds began the new relationship with Detroit by besting them in their first two matchups before going on a losing streak that didn’t end until Feb. 20, 2018. However, the Wings once again have the advantage, winning the last two matchups last season.

Nashville Predators

The Preds have a leg up by already having played and won a game, with the Wings having to wait three extra days to begin the season on the road in Smashville.

Though they got off to a slow start against the Minnesota Wild, Nashville showed why they’re once again predicted to be a top contender in the Central Division.

No one scored in the first period and only Ryan Ellis scored in the second period as Nashville then fell behind by a goal, but the real power of the Preds was shown in the third period — all hail the rally-pedal-wagon.

The Preds scored four times in the third period and ended the game with 11 players earning at least one point.

Ryan Ellis, Mikael Granlund, Austin Watson, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg all scored with Matt Duchene, Nick Bonino, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Craig Smith, and Ryan Johansen tallying an assist.

Expect to see the same lineups in Smashville with new-300-point-club-member Smith joining Johansen and Arvidsson on the top line — JoSA, anybody? — and Forsberg giving current-points-leader Duchene a boost on the second line with Granlund.

Detroit Red Wings

Though the Preds are coming into the game with momentum and a new offensive weapon, Detroit has a not-so-secret weapon of their own: new General Manager Steve Yzerman.

No, the longtime captain isn’t lacing up for another go-round, but players are feeling the pressure of performing their best in front of the team legend. Alternate captain Frans Nielsen told the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James during training camp that the guys were ‘really on their toes’ around him.

It’s no secret Detroit has been rebuilding for the past few seasons, but this season the pieces appear to be coming together with their new, young core leading the top line.

Expect to see alternate (future) captain Dylan Larkin at 1C with Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha on the wing for Detroit’s top line. Nielsen is still projected to center the Wings’ second line, as usual, except with Adam Erne and Valtteri Filppula at wing. If he’s healthy, Andreas Athanasiou is expected to join fellow-wing Taro Hirose on a line with new alternate captain Luke Glendening and Jacob de la Rose will center the fourth line with Christoffer Ehn and Justin Abdelkader at wing.

Detroit’s biggest remaining weakness continues to be their defense. Though  Niklas Kronwall was riddled with injuries, he was still the leader of Detroit’s D-corps and his absence on-ice will be felt this season.

Defensive pairings are projected to be: Danny DeKeyser with highly-touted young defender Filip Hronek, Patrik Nemeth with Mike Green, and Dennis Cholowski with Trevor Daley.

Though the third line would appear to be an unexpected spot for a young star like Athanasiou — he’s coming off a 30-goal scoring year and he was second on the team in points — it’s where coach Jeff Blashill says he fits best. Athanasiou ended last season on the same line, combining his fast, high-skilled offensive power with Hirose, who plays a similar style. They stand as a finesse-type contrast to Glendening’s physical, defensive style of play at center.

Red Wings beat writer Ansar Khan reports Athanasioiu will be a game-time decision.

Players to watch

  • Larkin — He is Detroit’s most important player and he’s coming off a team-leading 32-goal, 41-assist, 73-point season. He’s settling in comfortably to his 1C role.
  • Mantha — Mantha went on a tear at the end of the 2018-19 season after missing significant time due to an injury. He averaged a point-per-game in nearly all of the final eight games of the season to reach a career-high 25 goals and tie his previous season record of 48 points. He is expected to score at least 30 goals this season...and if the preseason is any indicator, he will surpass that.
  • Athanasiou — At the end of a throw-away season for Detroit, Athanasiou and Larkin were in a battle to see how many goals they could score. Though Larkin came out on top, Athanasiou’s 30 goals isn’t anything to mock. There’s a reason they call him Greece Lightning.
  • Bertuzzi — He amassed 20 goals in a season for the first time in his career last season, proving to himself and fans, he’s not just a pest on the ice. However, lets be clear, he is a pest. Bertuzzi loves to get under the skin of opposing players — he is a Bertuzzi after all — so watch out for that.
  • Duchene — The current Preds point leader. He tallied three assists in Thursday’s win against Minnesota. While that’s not too shabby, the forward is still on the hunt for his first goal, and he looks hungry for it, even if it’s only the second game of the season.
  • Arvidsson and Forsberg — The (for now) former line mates finished first and second in scoring last season. Many, including many here at OTF, expect the ‘FA’ members of what used to be JoFA to once again compete for that top spot. Detroit’s defense is their weak-spot. This would be the time to start.
  • Johansen — Preds fans are hoping their beloved ‘Joey’ shoots the puck more this season, but as a reliable passer, Johansen racks up points in the assists category. As mentioned above, there could be many opportunities for assists in this game if things fall apart for Detroit’s D./


Are words necessary here?

Things to expect

We have the potential for the first catfish throwing of the season.

Detroit is an old rival, and considering the tradition appears to be inspired by Detroit’s octopus-throwing and how much it invokes the ire of Wings fans that Nashville has such an eerily similar tradition, Saturday could be the night.

What to drink

A fishbowl — get it, because the catfish and octopus? No? O.K., I’ll see myself out.

Seriously, fishbowls are great, but please drink responsibly and limit yourself to one and don’t drive if you’ve been drinking.

Where to watch

In person, duh! — but if you can’t join Smashville, FOX Sports Tennessee will carry the game. Puck drop is at 7 PM Central.