Predators vs. Kings Preview 12/17/21 - Watch the Throne

Primetime hockey, so of course it’s a late game.

The Predators will be playing a game on ESPN tonight in front of the eyes of the nation. Is that a good thing? Who can say. Nashville hosts California’s premier hockey team (I said what I said, Ducks and Sharks) with John Hynes and co. looking to get things back on track after a pair of beatings at the hands of the Dallas Stars. Can this veteran group handle the plucky, speedy Kings? Let’s take a look.

The Kings

Los Angeles is a young team, the eighth youngest in the NHL to be precise, and with that comes positives and negatives. While the Kings have always been driven by their veterans in recent years and will likely continue to go as Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty go, the bottom six and defensive pairings are all a tad unseasoned.

For Nashville, that presents a threat or an opportunity depending on how John Hynes prepares his players and whether or not they execute accordingly. What Quinton Byfield and Brandt Clarke lack in experience, they make up for with mounds of raw talent. The Kings will possess a decided advantage along with wings and shouldn’t have much trouble converting successful breakout passes into entries, especially against the likes of Michael McCarron.

Playing smart and avoiding hunting for hits will be critical. Nashville will likely lose the Corsi battle by a large margin unless they manage to hamper LA’s breakouts and pin the Kings deep consistently. Winning the xG contest and overall game is within reach, however. LA is 18th in the league in 5v5 xGF%, evenly matched with Nashville (17th), so this will probably come down to a few key players. More on that in a moment.

The Predators

Any shine for the Preds after a 2-0-0 start to the year has worn off quickly thanks to a pair of wallopings against the Stars. Mediocre or worse even strength play is once again the culprit behind Nashville’s inconsistency, with the lineup largely being carried by high-end talent (Forsberg and Duchene) as well as Nino Niederreiter’s unsustainable shooting percentage. Dallas is the only team not in the bottom ten of the league’s even strength xGF% rankings that the Predators have faced, and the results speak for themselves.

The bottom of the lineup struggled even against lesser competition, so they’ll need to step up tonight against a group that has the capability to make them look foolish. Quinton Byfield can and will turnstile you on his way to the net; he did that plenty in his juniors career. Being physical but restrained is important, but ensuring that the low slot is clear might be even more critical. Los Angeles likes to take shots from there.

Nashville’s scoring threats at the top of the lineup and play in net will dictate how this game plays out. Cal Petersen hasn’t had an auspicious start to the season, so taking advantage of his shortcomings and burying goals with shooting talent and expert playmaking is the path to a win here.

Three Big Things

  1. After an excellent 2021-22 season, John Hynes’s progress on the power play has regressed back into the sunken place, where the Predators have been for essentially their entire existence. Both of these teams are stellar at drawing penalties (LA ranks first in power play opportunities, Nashville third) and both aren’t great at converting their chances (combined four goals on 34 tries). Special teams can be difference makers and the Preds need theirs to start doing so.
  2. Eeli Tolvanen and Cody Glass grade out as the best two forwards for Nashville through four games according to their underlying results. Sample size aside, the pair of youngsters have looked as good as their numbers suggest. Tolvanen is simply building upon an underrated 2021-22 season where he developed into an above-average defensive forward by adding an offensive component to his game (helped by some puck luck and a great new linemate). Glass is something new. Keep an eye on them.
  3. Brandt Clarke is making just his fourth NHL start. He’s a wonderful prospect whose hockey IQ is off the charts. Keep a shot handy for when he inevitably scores his first NHL goal (I’m only half joking).

Game Day Tunes

We haven’t seen a home game win yet, so here’s hoping these are the vibes tonight after the game.

Happy game day folks, and as always, go Preds.