The Week Ahead: A More Normal-ish Road Trip
Three rematches and an old rival highlights the Preds’ slate of games.
With another weekend in the books, a new week begins for the Nashville Predators. After a solid week that featured two wins and a loss that easily could have been a win, the Preds are headed back on the road for a week-long slate of away games.
Let’s take a look at this week’s slate of games.
Tuesday: Predators @ Detroit Red Wings - 6:00 PM CST
I could care less that this hasn’t been a division rivalry since 2013, or that the Predators have since developed fiercer rivalries with other NHL franchises. The Detroit Red Wings are always a team I have circled on the calendar. It kind of has the feel of a Yankees-Mets Subway Series; the bragging rights around Nashville that this matchup offers is always fun to play for.
And, to up the ante this season, the Red Wings are actually fun again! Detroit enters the week on a five-game win streak fueled by the strength of their youth. They have the runaway Calder Trophy favorite in Lucas Raymond (his 22 points in 25 games leads all rookies) and the guy who may very well be his runner-up in Moritz Seider (17 points while averaging 22:31 TOI as a 20-year-old rookie). Alex Nedeljkovic — who, yes, is still eligible for the Calder somehow — may also have a case by the end of the year. After a slow start to the year, the goalie who dashed the Preds’ playoff run last season has hit his stride; going 7-2-1 in his last ten starts with a .929 save percentage.
When you add in the fact that mid-20s players Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi are on pace for career seasons, and depth players like Vlad Namestikov are providing timely scoring as well, the Red Wings are proving to be a more potent team than many expected at the start of the season. The Predators dominated this matchup during last season’s COVID-adjusted season, winning 6 of the 8 games, including two shutouts and two 7-1 thrashings. But it won’t be a cakewalk this season. Especially since the Red Wings have been nearly invincible at Little Caesar’s Arena this year, where Tuesday’s game will take place.
Thursday: Predators @ New York Islanders - 6:30 PM CST
This will be the second (and final) matchup of the season between the Preds and Barry Trotz’s new boys. Nashville won the first meeting at Bridgestone Arena 3-2 thanks to two Tanner Jeannot goals and a Roman Josi shootout winner.
A trendy pick for Eastern Conference Champs just a couple of months ago, the Islanders suddenly look like a team out of sorts. As of this writing — which happened BEFORE Sunday’s game against the Blackhawks — they haven’t won a game since November 6th and sit dead last in their division. Many of the key cogs of the core expected to carry this team have been mediocre at best this year, including Matt Barzal (5 G, 6 A) and Anthony Beauvillier (3 G, 4 A). Other key pieces Brock Nelson, Ryan Pulock, and Anders Lee have all battled injuries this season, making it harder for the Islanders to find their chemistry.
The one bright spot has been the play of young goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who enters the week with a respectable .923 save percentage and 3 shutout statline. Much like Juuse Saros did for the Preds last season, Sorokin has played well enough to at least keep Long Island New York in most, if not every, game they play. If he’s on his game, the Predators could likely find themselves in a low-scoring, sluggish sort of contest that may come down to a single goal.
Friday: Predators @ New Jersey Devils - 6:30 PM CST
This game will take place exactly two weeks after the first matchup, which saw the Predators fiercely dominate the Devils from start to finish at Bridgestone Arena. Things haven’t improved much for New Jersey since that tilt; the Devils only have two wins in their past ten games and enter the week on a three-game losing streak.
The Devils have been a bit of a weird bird this season. They got off to a hot start, but the usual suspects weren’t the ones carrying the team. Jesper Bratt, historically a middle-six guy, is leading the team with 19 points (6 G, 13 A). Right behind him on the scoresheet is Andreas Johnsson, who only had 11 points all of last season.
The positive for the Devils is that former #1 pick Jack Hughes is back in the fold after missing more than a month due to a shoulder injury. His return to the top line should provide a boost to another former top guy, Nico Hischier, who’s been hot-and-cold to start the year.
The guy who dominated most of the headlines before the season, Dougie Hamilton, is so far living up to his $63 million mega deal. He has 15 points in 19 games from the blueline, and leads all Devils skaters in ice time. Meanwhile, Smashville’s former beloved citizen, P.K. Subban, has started to adjust to a more supportive role.
Sunday: Predators @ New York Rangers - 6:00 PM CST
Hey look! Another rematch! The Blueshirts got the best of the Predators back in the second week of the season, a 3-1 game most notable for Philip Tomasino’s first NHL goal.
Of all the games on the Predators’ slate this week, this might be the toughest. The Rangers are perhaps the league’s hottest team at the moment, with 10 wins in their past 11 games. New York has the look of a complete team: dangerous goaltending, stingy defense, and a goaltender who might be a Vezina front-runner.
Adam Fox, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, is proving every bit to be one of — if not THE — best defensemen in the league at the moment. His 25 points is second among all defensemen, and he’s the cornerstone in the NHL’s fifth-stingiest defenses this year. The rest of the Rangers big guns are firing full force as well. Artemi Panarin leads the team with 26 points, Chris Kreider’s 16 goals is tied for third best in the league, and Mika Zibanejad has found the scoresheet in some fashion in seven of New York’s past ten games.
The big question mark for this game will be whether goaltender Igor Shesterkin (.937 save percentage) is ready to go. The NHL’s co-leader in wins is currently on IR with a lower-body injury. However, he’s eligible to return to the lineup two days before this game, and Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant expressed confidence Saturday his starting goalie will be ready by then. It’s just a matter of how quickly the Rangers want to push him back into game action.
How do you see this week playing out, Preds fans?