The Week Ahead: The West Coast Adventure Winds Down
The Preds have a chance to exorcise plenty of 2021-22 demons this week.
Are the Nashville Predators a good hockey team? That still remains to be seen. Are the Nashville Predators an entertaining hockey team? Yes — in the same way watching a demolition derby where every car is on fire is entertaining.
The Preds have managed to pull out two straight wins; one being a fairly convincing 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames, the other an absolutely bonkers 4-3 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks. But hey — as Jason Calacanis once said, “no one remembers how you got there, only that you got there.” The bottom line is the Preds have four out of a possible six points halfway through this Western road trip.
While the style of play probably won’t quiet questions about this team’s long-term prospects, if the Preds manage to finish this road trip with another win in either of the final two games, it’ll be hard not to see this trip as an overall win.
Tuesday, November 8 - at Seattle Kraken
The Kraken were predicted to be very bad this season, and the consensus from some of the national pundits thus far is that Seattle indeed hasn’t looked great. That’s why it was somewhat surprising to check the standings and see they’re actually 7-4-2 and currently second in the Pacific Division. On top of that, their underlying numbers are actually fairly solid (51.7% CF% and 52.61 xGF%.) No one’s calling the Kraken a Stanley Cup contender in their second season, but you also can’t wave off their solid start as “just a lucky first month” either.
A big factor in Seattle’s success has been an uptick in scoring. As a team, the Kraken have the league’s ninth-best scoring offense at 3.46 goals per game. A couple of familiar Central Division foes are pacing Seattle in scoring, with reigning Cup-winner Andre Burakovsky and long-time Blue Jaden Schwartz tied for the team lead with 10 points. Right behind them is one of the NHL’s most exciting blue-chip players, Matty Beniers, who has 5 goals and 4 assists this year. Despite just turning 20 years old, Beniers plays with the hockey IQ of a seasoned vet.
This probably isn’t a game the Preds will want to overlook, especially given their less-than-stellar record against Seattle last season.
Thursday, November 10 - at Colorado Avalanche
Ah yes, the first chance of the season for some revenge against the team that embarrassed Nashville in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year. (Or, depending on what type of fan you are, the first chance to be absolutely destroyed by the Avalanche.)
Thursday’s game will be the Avs’ first in North America since returning from a two-game series in Finland. Colorado demolished the Blue Jackets in both games. But prior to those contests, the Avs had (by their standards) started a bit slow, with losses to the Kraken, Islanders, Jets, and Devils on the record this season.
The Avs should get a big boost in the likely return of Valeri Nichushkin, who tallied 7 goals and 12 points in his first seven games before being sidelined by a lower-body injury. Nichushkin skated during pregame warmups in Finland before ultimately being scratched, so it would seem like a likely bet he’ll be good to go by the time the puck drops Thursday.
Even if Nichushkin’s not 100%, fear not, Avs fans... you’re still loaded. Nathan MacKinnon (3 G, 16 A) is off to another torrid start, as is Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar (16 and 13 points, respectively.) And if this wasn’t already an “eat the rich” situation, the goaltending — perhaps the team’s lone question mark last year — has been outstanding thanks to the addition of Alexandar Georgiev, whose gone 6-1-1 with a .925 save percentage in his 8 starts this year.
Yeah... buckle up for this one.
Saturday, November 12 - vs. New York Rangers
And speaking of Georgiev, his former squad — the New York Rangers — head to Bridgestone Arena for the Preds’ first home game in two weeks. This game actually kicks off a pretty lengthy homestand for Nashville, who will play seven of their next eight games in the comfy confines of Smashville, starting with this one.
The Rangers are a team that’s been a little hard to figure out this season. They’ve had some solid wins — over Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Philadelphia — sandwiched between some abysmal losses to the likes of Arizona, Columbus, and San Jose. Similar to the Preds, many of the Rangers’ big weapons haven’t quite had that same impact they had last season (with the exception of Artemi Panarin, who has 16 points at the time of this writing), and the team’s blue-chip youngsters — Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko — haven’t quite taken that big next step as expected.
Still, there’s plenty of time for the Rangers to turn things around, and as long as they have Igor Shesterkin in goal, they’re going to have a chance to win. Shesterkin’s numbers are still a little behind where they were during last season’s Vezina-winning campaign, but they’re still solid. If Saros is in goal for Nashville, expect a fun goalie battle with a few highlight reel-worthy saves on both ends of the ice.
Which game are you most excited for this week, Preds fans?