Nashville Predators vs San Jose Sharks Preview: Defense, Please!

The Predators have a high-flying offense to start the year off, but have been struggling in their own end, helped out by a performance to forget from Juuse Saros last Saturday.

The San Jose Sharks come to Bridgestone tonight still looking for their first win of the season. They’ve lost three straight in regulation—to Vegas twice, then to Anaheim—scoring only one goal in each while allowing, er, numerous goals. Not to make a bad shark joke about it (I’ve used up all my bad shark jokes over the last few years), but they’re definitely hungry for a win and for something to feel good about.

Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators will look to rebound from yet another loss to the Detroit Red Wings, who if you go by the Preds’ record against them under Peter Laviolette are still the dynasty that terrorized the Central for years.

The San Jose Sharks

New captain Logan Couture leads the team in points, with two—a goal and an assist. Barclay Goodrow and Marcus Sorensen are the team’s other goal-scorers, while Joe Thornton and most of the defense corps have chipped in an assist each. They certainly have known offensive talent—not just Couture himself, but Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl, both of whom have been held off the scoresheet so far, as well as Kevin Labanc, who shows potential. Evander Kane, also a key part of the Sharks’ offense, will return tonight from the suspension he got for shoving a ref during the preseason.

It’s also important to remember that John Gibson, the Ducks’ goalie, is extraordinarily good at goaltending—he stopped 35 of 36 in the Sharks’ last game—and that Marc-Andre Fleury, in seeming defiance of aging curves, isn’t bad either.

Defensively, the Sharks’ problems have partly been due to Martin Jones, partly to some, uh, exciting team defensive play. Bad things happen when you can’t trust your goalie, and bad things have been happening to the Sharks a lot in their own end. Jones has allowed eight goals in five periods of hockey, while backup Aaron Dell has allowed four in four—better, but still a little more exciting than Sharks fans would probably prefer, especially with their stagnant offense.

Former captain Joe Pavelski departed the team over the summer to try his luck in Dallas, and Joonas Donskoi—a very solid two-way forward—is currently in Colorado. Pavelski in particular is a loss to the Sharks’ offense; he was great around the net, where they’ve struggled badly so far this season.

The Nashville Predators

The Predators’ offense, in contrast, is off to a roaring start. The Preds put five goals up on the Minnesota Wild, four of them on Devan Dubnyk, and added another three in their loss to Detroit. They’ve scored one legal power play goal already in the regular season, and only seven players on the roster don’t have a point yet—two of those are the goalies.

Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are tied for the team lead in goals, as is right and good in the world, with two each. New acquisition Matt Duchene, as you may have heard once or twice a minute, leads the team in points with five, all assists. Forsberg is tied with Mattias Ekholm (1G/2A) for the team lead in primary points scored, with three each (matching their point totals), while Arvidsson’s two goals and Ryan Ellis’s goal and primary assist put them right behind.

The Preds have struggled to get to the inside of the ice so far, but they have the shooting talent to convert when they do, and hopefully as the season progresses they’ll spend more time in prime scoring areas.

Defensively, there have been breakdowns and disappointments, and Juuse Saros has to take some of the blame for Saturday’s game as well. Dan Hamhuis or Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber aren’t the third pairings we want, and they might not be the third pairings we deserve unless we’ve been very bad, but with the Predators’ current NHL roster they’re the third pairings we’re going to have. It is looking as if Irwin will make his 2019-20 NHL debut tonight with Weber, while the rest of the lines remain unchanged. Pekka Rinne is expected to start in goal.

Reasons to Watch:

  1. Will Duchene’s extravaganza of assists continue? He’s on pace for a 205-assist season, you know; Wayne Gretzky’s record is a mere 163 (set in 1985-86).
  2. Dante Fabbro is quietly having a decent start to the season, though playing with Ekholm helps. Will he continue to do well?
  3. Honestly I just really like watching Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson play hockey—and in a different way used to like watching Marc-Edouard Vlasic play hockey, though he had a brutal 18-19 and isn’t looking better this year—so if you share this feeling, that’s a great reason to watch.

How to Watch:

The game starts at 7 PM Central and will be at Bridgestone Arena. If you’re not able to make it, it will [sigh] be on NBCSN, featuring fan-favorite Pierre McGuire, or you can listen to the radio call on 102.5 The Game.

Statistics from Thanks also to Micah Blake McCurdy and for background, referenced in descriptions of team play.