A trip to California is almost over for the Nashville Predators, but not before an afternoon contest in San Jose (at 3 p.m. CT) that will largely determine the success of the entire excursion.
Nashville (32-14-11) has not trailed in their first two games in Anaheim and Los Angeles, yet they've settled for only two points in the standings after falling in a shootout and then overtime. A win over the Sharks at SAP Center, where the Preds are winless in their last five visits (including the playoffs), would change the narrative for the trip, however, with Nashville coming home with four out of a possible six points and a win over one of the West's top clubs.
"The guys know that, they know how important the points are," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said following Friday's practice in San Jose. "We leave a road trip, playing tough teams and at this time of year, to get four out of six points would be huge. That being said, we need to focus on just those two points and make sure they come with us. We worked hard for two in both places and only walk away with one, so that's disappointing. But there's nothing you can do about it now, those games are gone. We can focus on what we can do here against San Jose now."
Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen pace the Preds in points with 51 each. Forsberg's 27 goals are tops among his teammates, and Johansen's 41 helpers lead the category. Viktor Arvidsson has 23 goals and 47 points, while Mike Fisher and Roman Josi have 39 points each. Pekka Rinne is 25-16-8 on the season; Juuse Saros owns a 7-6-3 mark.
The Sharks (40-19-7) have won two straight and are 7-1-2 in their previous 10 games. Defenseman Brent Burns leads the club with 27 goals and 70 points, followed by Joe Pavelski with 24 tallies and 59 points. Logan Couture has 46 points on the season and Joe Thornton, who recently notched his 1,000th career assist, has 43. Goaltender Martin Jones, who is expected to start today, is 31-16-6 on the season, while Aaron Dell is 12-9-3.
Video: Thomas Willis has a preview of NSH vs. SJS
After Ryan Ellis reaggravated his lower-body injury prior to Thursday's game in Los Angeles, the Preds were forced to make a change on defense in addition to several tweaks at forward. Matt Irwin paired with Roman Josi on the top unit, while Anthony Bitetto re-entered the lineup and skated with Yannick Weber.
Center Vernon Fiddler (upper-body injury) was unable to play against the Kings as well, with Colton Sissons taking his place on the fourth line.
At Friday's practice in San Jose, winger P.A. Parenteau, who is yet to suit up for Nashville since being acquired on March 1 due to an upper-body injury, was on the ice but did not skate on a traditional line. Fiddler and Sissons were both in the middle on the fourth line between Cody McLeod and Austin Watson, while Ellis and Mattias Ekholm did not take the ice.
"It's tough. Usually you want to show what you can do right away, but I haven't been able to do that," Parenteau said. "Maybe tomorrow, we'll see. We're talking about that today."
"It's always challenging when the lineup is moving around a little bit," Laviolette said. "But it's nothing too out of the ordinary, just because it doesn't happen on a daily basis. Just with the level of physicality of the game, things are happening all the time."
With no morning skate on Saturday due to the afternoon faceoff, we'll wait to see if the Preds are due for any additional lineup changes.
Video: WSH@NSH: Josi tallies off Forsberg's cross-ice feed
Offense from the defense is an all but sure thing on Saturday afternoon.
Sharks d-man Brent Burns ranks sixth in the NHL in scoring and is the only blueliner within the Top 10 in League scoring. During Thursday's 4-2 win over Washington, he also became the first defenseman to reach 70 points in consecutive seasons since Mike Green (in 2008-09 and 2009-10). Burns is a rare talent, but he's also the product of a system in San Jose - that similar to Nashville's setup - uses quick shots from the pointmen to create offense.
"Every game presents different challenges," Laviolette said. "I think San Jose… they bring a lot of pucks to the net looking for redirects, and that's the challenge for our group defensively. All those things get talked about in our pre-scout meeting on how we're going to defend that."
Watch to see how Nashville's forwards counteract the Sharks' attack from up near the blue line and how the Preds' own talented d-men try to jump into the rush up ice to create offense. The Predators defense is no slouch on offense either: Roman Josi finished first in scoring by a defenseman with 16 points (6g-10a) in February and P.K. Subban was just behind Burns (6g-7a) in fourth with 11 points (1g-10a).
Postseason (Home) Advantage:
The deciding factor in the Preds and Sharks Second Round series in 2016 was home ice, with both clubs winning every game in their own building. Nashville picked up three victories at Bridgestone Arena, while the Sharks won four - including the decisive Game Seven - at SAP Center.
Last season, the Sharks had the fewest home wins (18-20-3) of any playoff team, but not this season. San Jose is 21-7-4 at home, including a 4-1 win over Nashville on Oct. 29. The Preds are 13-16-4 on the road and will host the season series' lone game in Music City on March 25.
Take It In:
It's an early afternoon tilt in Northern California, meaning faceoff will come just after 3 p.m. CT, with pregame coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Tennessee and 2 p.m. on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network.
After the contest, remember to set your clocks forward one hour as Daylight Saving time begins at 2 a.m.