Nashville Predators vs. Florida Panthers Preview: Cat Fight

In the battle between a jungle animal and a prehistoric beast, who wins?

The Predators come back from a split in Canada to open a four-game homestand against the Florida Panthers. If you're already thinking of the two points or categorizing this game as a "should win against a lesser opponent," stop right now. This isn't going to be an easy game.

The Florida Panthers

The Kitties must feel like having last year's first-overall pick was enough, because they certainly don't seem to want to have anything to do with the Connor McSweepstakes. If they are offended people lumped them into the lottery pile, they aren't showing it, but are just quietly hanging around. With 19 points on the season, they may be 7th in the Atlantic division, but are only 4 points behind Ottawa for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

Tonight marks the end of a four-game road trip that has seen them run the gauntlet of California. In that time, Florida smoked the Ducks, got smoked by the Kings, and left San Jose with a shootout victory. Leaving the west coast with a 2-1-0 record is impressive in its own right, so the Panthers will be more than motivated to stamp that accomplishment with one final win.

This will also be the first time we'll have seen Aaron Ekblad since the rookie tournament in Antioch this past September, and he's been establishing himself as a legitimate defensive wunderkind. 2014's top draft pick is tied for second on the team in points with 10, but after notching six points in four games he has been held off the score sheet in his last two. Still, for an 18-year-old to be making such an impact on his team, you can forgive him for that since, you know, he's a defenseman.

Good ol' Bobby Lou is doing a fine job in his return to Florida. He's a big part of the reason the Panthers have allowed the 10th fewest goals in the league, and has a 6-4-4 record to go with his .922 SV%. Should the Cats decide to play their backup though, (c'mon, you're all thinking it) then former Grounded for Life co-star, Al Montoya could see the action. He's 5-1-1 with stats mirroring his career average. We'll probably know the matchup minutes after this publishes.

The Nashville Predators

The Preds need to pounce early and often. Florida does not score a lot of goals, and they've yet to win a game this season when trailing after two periods. In contract, six of their seven wins have come when they've scored the first goal. Given the strength of Nashville's defense, as well as Pekka Rinne's inhuman puck-stopping abilities, they will be playing with house money if they can score the first couple of goals.

Despite losing to Ottawa in the most infuriating of fashions, Taylor Beck, Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen should have rejuvenated confidence after the road trip. The latter two finally broke their goalless drought on the season, and for Jokinen, it was his first point (!) all year. The power play has also started to show some life as of late. Think of how much damage Nashville could do with even a mediocre man advantage? It's kind of scary to think about.

And, if you didn't realize it, Roman Josi and Shea Weber are rolling right now. Captain Obvious has six points in his last four games, and Josi has seven in his last seven. Don't forget to tell your defenseman you love them on a regular basis, because some teams aren't as fortunate as the Preds are.

Reasons to Watch

  • Well, this is awkward.../

Sights and Sounds

If you have NHL Center Ice or Game Center Live, hooray! You'll be able to watch at home or on the go! For the rest of you poor souls, just come out to the game. Or, in the event you live a few hours away, try not to go into hockey withdrawals. No local TV tonight, but you should be able to catch in on 102.5 The Game. Only three more embarrassing no-coverage nights after tonight, though! Puck drops at 7 p.m. CST! Prep the spray bottles and laser pointers!

And Now, This...