The Nashville Predators are needing a “Rocky”-esque comeback to this road trip to begin turning their season around. The Predators are 1-2-3 on the year and one of only four teams with one win (Calgary, Washington and Florida-all at the bottom of the standings). The L.A. Kings are 9th in the West, one place above Nashville, and have started out mediocre coming off their Stanley Cup winning season a year ago.
Game time is at 9:30 P.M. and can be heard on the Predators flagship station 102.5 the Game with Tom Callahan and Stu Grimson with the play-by-play and color commentary and the Voice of the Nashville Predators, Pete Weber, alongside the insurmountable Terry Crisp are on the call for FS Tennessee.
The Predators are stuck in a quagmire where no one seems to know how to right the ship. The captain is “frustrated,” the coaching staff is perplexed and the fans are getting downright riotous over the first six games of the year. Nashville has yet to find their identity or any spark of the “Predator way” that has elevated them to 7 playoff appearance in 8 years.
The main culprit is lack of shots on net. Nashville ranks dead last in SOG per game and are tied with Colorado and Florida with 1.67 goals per game (league low). One outlet that has been a trusted source of goal scoring has been held without a point in every game, captain Shea Weber. Having Roman Josi alongside Weber instead of the ever-imposing assist machine of Ryan Suter has caused the other team defenses to focus on shutting down Weber. It isn’t for lack of trying, however, as Weber leads all Nashville skaters in SOG alongside the injured Patric Hornqvist.
Los Angeles is in what many would call the “Stanley Cup hangover.” They have mustered two wins and as a team have only recorded 10 goals in 5 games. Their leading goal scorer is Jeff Carter who continues his dominance since coming over from Columbus at the trade deadline last season. The unlikely Kyle Clifford is pacing the team with 5 points and Jonathan Quick has come back down to Earth with a 2-2-1 record with a 2.75 GAA and a .905 SV%.
Looking at the Kings: The Kings have a plethora of offensive talent with Kopitar, Richards, Brown, Gagne, Carter, Williams and Penner. This laundry list of snipers is a primary reason the Kings skated away with hockey’s ultimate prize last season. Another reason was the Conn Smythe winning efforts of one Jonathan Quick.
Quick has the ability, much like Rinne, to steal games for L.A. It wouldn’t take much if the offense of the Kings could get rolling soon. The back-end of L.A.’s roster is lacking after the departure of Jack Johnson but serviceable defensemen still exist in Scuderi and Doughty. The downside is Doughty and Scuderi are not shutting down the opposing offense as noted by their abysmal +/- rating.
Looking at the Predators: It has been a lacking offensive and defensive effort for the Predators over the last two games. Nashville had a chance against Anaheim to get a second win in a row but coughed up a mid-third period lead to go to a shootout where the Predators have struggled every time this year. Next came a supposed weaker Phoenix team that has also flagged behind at the first of the season. The Predators helped out Phoenix with bad play all game long and the Coyotes skated away easily with a 4-0 shutout of the Predators.
The effect of losing Hornqvist in the Anaheim game was felt from puck drop against the Coyotes as the Predators rarely had any energy or drive to sustain pressure in the offensive zone. Rinne got beat time and again because of defensive miscues and odd-man rushes coming into the Predators zone. Also, Rinne has looked un-elite so far this season and is letting in goals that normally he would have a handle in other years.
The expected lineup for the Predators:
Rinne(possibly Mason for a shake-up)
For the Kings to win: The reemergence of Jonathan Quick is sure to throttle most offensive squads. The Kings need their defense to come out strong in support of their netminder. If the lack of shots from Nashville is any indication of a change needing to be made, the Kings will have an onslaught of chances coming their way from a hungry Predators team.
Doughty and Scuderi will have to start contributing offensively (similar to the Predators top defensive line). The scoring for L.A. can virtually come from any number of forwards so goals shouldn’t be an issue for them, but staying out of the penalty box will be. The Kings play an aggressive style as led by their captain and known agitator Dustin Brown.
For the Predators to win: SHOOT THE PUCK!! It truly is that simple. The Predators have to work harder to find areas on the ice to get shots on net and battle for rebounds. Yip has been “Johnny on the spot” as of late and the other forwards could take a cue from him. Clune will more than likely be in the lineup tonight, but if the scoring drought continues look for the Predators to make another call up of either Taylor Beck, Chris Mueller or Austin Watson to invigorate the roster.
Whether Rinne or Mason gets the nod, it’ll be up to them to limit space for the shooters without coming to far out in front or to the sides of the net. Rinne has been playing out farther than usual and this usually handcuffs him either giving up too much room on the back door or simply sliding around to the back of the net while the play is coming from behind the net opposite for scoring chances. Speaking of which, Nashville forwards need to stop automatically going behind the net every time they come down through the offensive zone. Many chances could have been put back in for rebound goals if Bourque, Erat, Legwand and especially Wilson would have just stopped at the far right or left post and waited for the feed or bobbled puck from the goalie.