The Week Ahead: Hockey, But Make It Dry
With the water main break (hopefully) fixed, we can see the Preds back in action
There’s hockey at Bridgestone Arena this week. We think.
After a water main break that may or may not have been caused by a Matt Duchene Crash Davis-style rain dance postponed two games this past weekend, Bridgestone is expected to be good to go for the next Nashville Predators’ home game on Tuesday. That game just so happens to be the last in a three-week run that saw the Predators play all but one game on the road.
As we shift into December, the Preds’ schedule looks a little less holly jolly. Not only are the majority of the games on the road (9 road contests as opposed to just 5 home games,) but in terms of both current records and overall team quality, December may yield the toughest slate of opponents out of any other month for the Preds this season.
Tuesday, November 29 - vs. Anaheim Ducks
It’s the first meeting of the season between the Preds and Ducks, who — as we TRULY hate to see — currently own the worst record in the NHL. Anaheim’s slide combined with the departures of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler have dampened what was arguably the Preds’ most intense rivalry of the 2010’s. But that doesn’t mean this game still can’t get spicy.
After being shut out in the last game, the Preds’ offense will be licking their lips at the thought of this matchup. The Ducks own the 4th worst 5v5 defense in the NHL and the 6th worst statistical goaltending combo. John Gibson, who just a few years ago could have been considered the league’s BEST goalie, has a putrid .895 save percentage. The one caveat is that Gibson has been slightly better over the past couple of weeks, with a .914 in his last five starts.
The Ducks haven’t done much on the offensive zone either, but they do have a handful of weapons the Preds will need to be wary of. Troy Terry has followed up last year’s breakthrough 37-goal season with 21 points in his first 21 games this year. Meanwhile, last year’s Calder runner-up, Trevor Zegras, is a little behind last year’s scoring pace, but is shooting 16%, which means if he gets a good look at the net, he can make Nashville pay.
Thursday, December 1 - @ New Jersey Devils
Very few people predicted the Devils would be tied for the NHL’s best record come December, but here we are. New Jersey is off to a scorching start at 18-4-0, and at one point owned a 13-game winning streak.
Many have been waiting for the Devils to “fall back down to Earth,” but a peak at the analytics show the Devils’ hot start isn’t just puck luck, it’s sustainable good play. They’re the NHL’s third best team at generating offense (65.6 CF/60) and the league’s second best at preventing opposing chances (50.8 CA/60.) Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Jesper Bratt are the stars up front (each averaging a point-per-game or better this year,) but depth scoring from the likes of Tomas Tatar, Dawson Mercer, and Yegor Sharangovich have helped elevate the Devils in tough games.
The biggest change from last season, however, is in New Jersey’s defensive end. The top pair of Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler has arguably been the league’s best this season, and new additions John Marino and Brendan Smith have added solid stay-at-home defensive play. In net, Vitek Vanecek is beginning to look like one of the league’s best offseason pickups. Since allowing five goals in the season debut, Vanecek is 10-1-0 with a .936 save percentage.
The one thing working in the Preds’ favor is history. Nashville has won the last six meetings against New Jersey and haven’t lost to the Devils in regulation since 2015. The Preds could use some of that momentum to pick up a big road win this time around.
Friday, December 2 - @ New York Islanders
This will be the second and final matchup of the season between the Preds and Isles. The first one, two weeks ago at Bridgestone Arena, was a wild game that saw the Preds go up 4-1, only to hang on for a last-second 5-4 win. Juuso Parssinen, in what was just his third NHL game, had two goals and assist while Roman Josi tallied four assists.
The Islanders lost the next game to Dallas, but have since rattled off four straight wins. Goaltending has been a big reason why. Ilya Sorokin may be the Vezina front-runner at the moment with two shutouts and a .933 save percentage. The previous matchup with the Preds was a rare hiccup for Sorokin this season, but he’s stopped 103 of the 107 shots he’s faced since that game (all wins,) so there’s a decent chance he regains his form.
Mathew Barzal is the NHL’s assist leader with 23 (and has six points in the five games since the Preds game) and Brock Nelson has a respectable 11 goals. But beyond those two, the Isles foundation is built on role players contributing by committee as opposed to relying on a few superstars. Anders Lee, Jean Gabriel Pageau, and Zach Parise (wait... checks notes... really?) are all in the midst of good goal-scoring runs, while 22-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom is on pace for a breakout season.
The Predators survived the last game despite 17 giveaways. This time on Long Island, a very tough place to play, the Preds will need to be a bit sharper to escape with two points.
What game are you most excited to watch this week?