Nashville comes into tonight’s game off their only February loss, a 4-3 setback at the hands of the Calgary Flames on Thursday; Nashville’s February record sits at 7-1-and-2, and Pekka Rinne’s record sits at 10-1-and-1 of late.
As neither team practiced on Friday (the Wings are in the middle of a 10-games-in-18-nights stretch, and are opening a 2-in-2 weekend), and we’ll look to STATS’ game preview to set some context for tonight’s affair:
As [coach Peter Laviolette’s] team was collecting points in seven straight games to start February, going 5-0-2 and overtaking Winnipeg for first place in the Central Division, Laviolette knew the Predators weren’t playing their best hockey. The last three wins occurred in overtime or a shootout, the last coming on Tuesday night as the result of a rally from a 3-0 deficit almost halfway through the third period against St. Louis.
So when Nashville’s points streak ended Thursday night with a 4-3 loss at home to Calgary, Laviolette didn’t try to put a Chuck Tanner happy face on his team’s late rally that nearly produced the tying goal in the final minute.
“They all look the same,” Laviolette said. “They’re not good enough. We’re not working hard enough. I don’t know what else to say. If you don’t invest a lot, you won’t like it at the end. We’re missing some bite in our game.”
The Predators (34-13-9) will try to find that bite Saturday night when a recent jinx team, the Detroit Red Wings, makes its only visit of the season to Bridgestone Arena.
While Detroit has been in a transition/rebuilding phase the last 2 1/2 seasons, it has been a tough out for Nashville. In fact, the Predators have been swept in the season series three straight years, including 5-3 and 1-0 defeats in 2016-17.
A similar result would likely do nothing to improve Laviolette’s mood. The Red Wings (23-24-9) are well on the way to a second straight playoff miss after 25 straight seasons of making postseason play. They slid closer to April tee times with a 4-1 loss Thursday night at Tampa Bay.
Nashville has boasted top 10 power play and penalty-killing units most of the season, but neither shined against Calgary. The Flames’ first two goals came with the man advantage, and the Predators wore a size 5 collar on the power play, failing to convert with a 6-on-4 advantage in the final two minutes as they pulled goalie Pekka Rinne.
Rinne (29-9-4, 2.36 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) likely will start in goal for Nashville. Detroit will go with either Jimmy Howard (16-18-6, 2.83, .910) or Petr Mrazek (7-6-3, 2.99, .906) in net.
The Predators were in a very grumpy mood after Thursday’s loss, as noted by NashvillePredators.com’s Brooks Bratten:
“We weren’t sharp,” Preds defenseman Yannick Weber said. “You don’t want to be chasing the game like we have in the past. I think we were all disappointed with the effort today. We know we had a chance in the third to win it, but I think overall we can’t be happy with it.”
Ryan Johansen got the Preds a 1-0 lead when he poked home a loose puck at the 13:45 mark of the first period, but Matthew Tkachuk evened the score on the power play with less than a minute to play in the opening 20.
The second period saw Viktor Arvidsson sprung on a breakaway halfway though, and after he hit the post, Weber followed things up to slam his second of the season past David Rittich to give Nashville a 2-1 lead. Another power-play opportunity – this time a 5-on-3 man advantage – saw the Flames tie it once more before the second stanza was out, thanks to a goal from Dougie Hamilton that eluded Pekka Rinne.
Calgary struck twice to open the third period, and although a goal from Nick Bonino gave the Preds yet another chance to force overtime, Rittich made a number of key saves late to save the victory for the Flames.
“Our energy – I think we’re losing too many battles,” Nashville Captain Roman Josi said. “It seems like teams are playing faster especially early in the game. We just have to win battles. You can’t win games if you don’t win battles.”
Nashville will have a chance to start a new streak on Saturday night when Detroit comes to town, a chance they’ll be eager to capitalize on after a string of efforts that have been less than satisfactory in the Predators locker room.
“We lost the game and we are better than that,” Laviolette said. “We know it. There’s no sugarcoating that.”
“It’s definitely a wake-up call that we can’t just watch and be satisfied and think we [will] still win every game,” Weber said. “Maybe we needed that one. It shows us that we do have to go back to the way we need to have success. We’ll do that Saturday.”
The Predators felt that Friday’s day off would be put to good use, as Ryan Johansen told NHL.com’s Robby Stanley:
“I think we’ve played a lot of hockey lately and we’ve played in a lot of tough games and have been finding ways to win a lot of hockey games,” Johansen said. “I think [Friday], we’re going to stay away from the rink and just have a good day of rest. I think that’ll be pretty crucial for our group right now in just hitting the reset button.”
I am putting myself on the record here. I really miss the frequent meetings between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings that we had over the course of the Preds’ first 14 seasons.
Nashville and Detroit were members of the same division for a decade and a half, so they played as many as eight regular-season (not to mention preseason and playoff) games during a single campaign. At the start, the Predators were decided underdogs. The Red Wings were two-time defending Stanley Cup champions when the Predators first took the ice. In other words, there were quite a few teams that didn’t fare well against them.
The powerful Red Wings, with a $75 million payroll (in those days there wasn’t a salary cap or floor) versus the $12 million for the Predators. The Red Wings power-play unit alone surpassed the Nashville payroll!
At the outset, it really was a David versus Goliath matchup. Former Preds Head Coach Barry Trotz was concerned that his team might want autographs from all of the Detroit Hall of Famers.
However, underdog or not, being in the same division meant there was the chance of playoff meetings – and they had three of them, including the first-ever trip to the playoffs for Nashville, and a Predators series win in 2012. Remember all of that?
We are now five seasons into being separated from the intense meetings. They’re not only in different divisions, but different conferences as well. If the teams meet again in the postseason (unless there is further reconfiguring of the divisions/conferences), it will be in the Stanley Cup Final.
That makes this weekend all the more special – they have their two meetings in a span of four days, including the Predators’ first-ever trip into the brand-new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, replacing the legendary Joe Louis Arena. I look forward to that, and I bet you do as well. Enjoy!
Indeedy doo, the Wings’ schedule states that Nashville comes to town on Tuesday, so this is a sort-of-kind-of home-and-home series (rudely interrupted by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday)…
And Hockeybuzz’s Bob Duff suggests that the Wings ought to pick up their special teams games if they are to take one or two of their games against Nashville (hey, I’m a hockey optimist, bear with me :P):
The penalty phase of the Detroit Red Wings’ game has once again gone south when the team goes on the road. Detroit has allowed eight power-play goals in the past three games away from Little Caesars Arena, killing penalties at a dismal 42.8 percent success rate in those games.
Granted, half of those goals came during Detroit forward Tyler Bertuzzi’s match penalty against the New York Islanders that led to the Isles scoring four times during their five-minute advantage.
“We allowed a shooting gallery to happen to happen with a great net-presence guy (Anders Lee) and we got burned on that,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said.
Regardless, any way you draw it up, the schematics do not paint a pretty picture.
“Our PK is a little fragile right now but we’ll get the PK going, we’ve got great penalty-killers,” Blashill said. “We’ll get it back going.”
They better. The Wings were lit up for a pair of power-play goals in Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning by Tampa Bay’s man-advantage units, which are currently clicking second in the NHL at 24.3 percent. The Wings will get another tough test on Saturday as they are in Nashville. The Predators power play is fifth in the league at 22.2 percent.
Duff continues, allowing Blashill to wax poetic about the Wings’ efforts, but I’m guessing that you and I both don’t need to hear the coach try to convince us that the PK is competent after the last week-and-a-half’s worth of hockey.
Lineup-wise, I wish I could give you a hint as to who the Wings will play in goal (Petr on the road?) and who’s healthy (if Athanasiou has the flu, someone else has it, too). We’ll find out at the teams’ respective morning skates, which will take place around 11:30 AM EST (Nashville) and 12:30 PM EST (Detroit) thanks to the Central-vs.-Eastern time zone difference.