The Week Ahead: It’s Giving Thanks
With four games on the schedule, there’s no room for tryptophan in the Preds’ locker room
Unless you’re in charge of your family or friends’ Thanksgiving feast, this probably isn’t going to be a productive week for you. It’s a week to coast through work, stock up on sweatpants, and gear up for that sweet, sweet tryptophan coma come Thursday afternoon.
The Nashville Predators, just like your Uncle Kevin who doesn’t understand the concept of portion control at Thanksgiving dinner, have too much on their plate. There are four games on tap this week, each bearing significance as the Predators try to extend their current four-game points streak and regain some ground after the slow start to the season.
Monday, November 21 - vs. Arizona Coyotes
The consensus among most of pre-season was that the Coyotes would be the bottom-feeders of the entire NHL this season. Thus far, yes, they are, but... they — and I can’t quite explain why I feel this way — are somehow not as bad??? All of the stats, both traditional and advanced, show Arizona is the scum of the Western Conference. Yet, there have also been pockets of play this season that have made you go “...huh,” like beating Florida, Washington, and the Islanders in a span of a week.
The Coyotes’ big mission this season is to try and get some of their younger blue-chip stars up to speed. Their centerpiece right now is Clayton Keller, who last season just barely missed becoming the first Coyote to top 70 points in a season since 2012 due to a season-ending injury (currently the longest such streak in the NHL now that the Preds’ slump ended.) Keller has goals in four of his past five games, including his last three, and doing so without much playmaking help from anyone else this season.
However, that may change in this game with the reported return of Jakob Chychrun. The 24-year-old defender could potentially make his season debut tonight after missing the bulk of the past year with various injuries. In the COVID-delayed 2021 season, Chychrun’s last full season, he tallied career-highs in goals (18) and points (41), so the potential is there to facilitate some chances from the blueline when #6 is in the lineup.
Considering the recent history between these two teams, including last season’s cringe-worthy season finale, you can never really tell which way this game is going to go.
Wednesday, November 23 - @ Detroit Red Wings
This is the Predators’ only road game for the rest of the month, and their first since the end of their five-game road trip ended on November 10th. It also happens to be one a lot of old-school Preds fans will have circled on their calendars. Seriously, there’s still some magic in these Preds-Wings matchups.
The Red Wings enter this game in the midst of the best start in years (9-5-4,) but there’s some debate about how sustainable their play has been. Their 14th in the league in goals-per-game with 3.28, but are 30th in CF% at 43.9% at 5v5— which for those unfamiliar with advanced analytics, means Detroit’s opponents are statistically controlling the majority of their games. A lot of their success has come from strong special teams play and hot goaltending from Ville Husso (7-2-3 this season with a .916 SV% and two shutouts.)
Still, that doesn’t mean Detroit’s not a dangerous team. Dylan Larkin (22 pts) has been one of the league’s most impactful players over the past two seasons, and ex-Blackhawk Dominik Kubalik (21 points and goals in 3 of the last 4 games) is starting to look like one of the league’s best under-the-radar free agent signings. They also gained an offensive boost with the recent return of Tyler Bertuzzi after a month-long absence, and last year’s Calder Trophy-winner, Mortiz Seider, is starting to find his form after a rough start to the season.
Friday, November 25 - vs. Colorado Avalanche
The day after Thanksgiving features the second matchup of the season between the Preds and the defending Cup champions. The first one, back on November 10th, was a mixed bag for Nashville; they played an overall clean, mistake-free game, yet still seemed like a step behind the Avs for most of the game.
Will two weeks have been enough for the Preds to tweak their game for their rematch with Colorado? Nashville has, admittedly, looked sharper during their current run of four straight games with points. But they’ll still likely need one of their textbook “grind-it-out, identity” wins to get two points here.
The Avs are 3-1 since the last meeting. But they haven’t quote looked invincible either. They’ve given up 48, 39, and 35 shots in games during that run, but the goaltending tandem of Alexandar Georgiev and Pavel Francouz have been lights out. Both goalies have put up game-changing-type numbers between the pipes this season (.930 and .926 Save%, respectively), so whoever’s starting will provide a tough backstop even if the Preds can crack that Colorado defense.
Saturday, November 26 - vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
After arguably the most exciting offseasons in team history, what CBJ fans hoped would be a dream season has become a nightmare. The Blue Jackets own the worst record in the Metropolitan Division, have lost several key players — including Zach Werenski and Patrik Laine — for the foreseeable future with long-term injuries, and are currently have one of the league’s worst goaltending groups with a team .883 save percentage this season.
Let’s start with the reason CBJ fans had such high hopes for the season, Johnny Gaudreau. The prized free agent has been solid this season (6 goals and 9 assists so far), but he hasn’t quite had the game-changing impact the team hoped he’d bring when they inked him to a $9.75M AAV deal this past Summer. Part of that may just be the fact he has virtually no help at the moment. The only other Blue Jacket with double-digit points this season is Boone Jenner. There are a few prized forward prospects that have shown promise, like Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger, but no one’s been able to take that big step to help the current squad.
And yet despite all this talk about the Blue Jackets struggling, let’s not forget that Columbus DOES have a win over the Predators this season, a 5-3 game in October that saw the Blue Jackets score four times in the 3rd period to erase a 3-1 deficit. So there’s a strong chance this could be another “oh God, please don’t do anything embarrassing” game for Nashville.
Which game do you have circled on your calendar this week?