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The Week Ahead: The Week Before Vacation

The Preds train is a-rollin’, folks. Where it ends up, who knows? We could be en route to another skin-of-our-teeth playoff berth; we could be speeding into a fiery abyss like the end of Bullet Train. One thing’s for sure, we’re just along for the ride at this point.

If you’re of the belief that the Nashville Predators’ recent struggles may be partially due to fatigue from their recent schedule, there’s good news for you. The Preds play just two games this week before embarking on a two-week break. Next week is their bye week, and the following week is the NHL All-Star Break.

Nashville still has some work before they can get to that point, however. Both matchups this week are against teams towards the top of the playoff picture.

Tuesday, January 24 – vs. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets have had the Preds number dating back to that epic seven-game series in 2018. Since that series, Winnipeg is 7-3-1 against Nashville, not exactly the type of record you’d want against a division rival if you’re a Preds fan. That record includes a 2-1 Jets’ win in overtime back in December; that game ended in heartbreaking fashion, as a Kyle Connor shot just squeezed through Juuse Saros’s pads and trickled into the net towards the end of the 3-on-3 period.

Since that game, the Jets have climbed to the top of the Central Division standings (they’re tied with Dallas with 63 points each.) The trademark defense and goaltending has spearheaded their success. Connor Hellebuyck is among the NHL’s best goaltenders again, he’s currently third in the NHL in Save Percentage, second in wins, and tied for third in shutouts. Hellebuyck, recently named an All-Star, is also a big reason the Jets rank 4th in the NHL in Goals Against Per game and 2nd in Penalty Kill.

However, unlike the past few seasons, the Jets offense has come to play this year. Winnipeg has a trio of 50-point scorers, the aforementioned Connor (57 points), Pierre-Luc Dubois (50 points), and potential Norris candidate Josh Morrissey (51 points). In addition, Mark Scheiffele’s 29 goals puts him 9th in the league in that category. So while a Hellebuyck vs. Saros goaltending battle might seem plausible, the Preds will need to be wary of the Jets’ ability to score.

Thursday, January 26 – vs. New Jersey Devils

And speaking of “having the ability to score,” we transition to the Devils — a team that, to be quite frank, is fun as hell to watch.

Certainly, Jack Hughes is a Connor McDavid-wonder season away from being a legitimate Hart Trophy contender (he’s in the NHL top ten for both goals, 30, and points, 58.) But what makes this Devils team so dangerous is the sheer amount of scoring depth coming from seemingly everywhere in the lineup. Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Tomas Tatar, Dawson Mercer, Yegor Sharangovich, Erik Haula (‘member him?), and defenseman Dougie Hamilton are all players who’ve put up great scoring numbers for their respective roles. To make things more challenging for the Preds, Ondrej Palat, New Jersey’s prized offseason signing, has returned to the lineup after a lengthy injury, and has found a scoring spark in his past five games.

The good news for the Preds is that they’ve already beaten the Devils once this season, a dramatic 4-3 overtime win that saw Mikael Granlund tie the game with 10 seconds left, then Ryan Johansen win it with a highlight reel goal. That loss was just New Jersey’s second loss in an 18-game span. Nashville also has history on their side, they’re currently on a 10-0-3 run against the Devils, and haven’t lost to New Jersey in regulation since Peter Laviolette’s first in charge of the Preds.

Which game are you most looking forward to this week?

Home vs Winnipeg Jets 10
Home vs New Jersey Devils 3
Give me that two week break, please 8

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