Six points separate the three teams vying for the Western Conference’s two Wild Card spots, and tomorrow, two of them do battle in Denver.
The beginning of the NHL-wide playoff push has accentuated the intensity of recent regular-season games, and the Nashville Predators are expecting their Saturday afternoon tilt with the Colorado Avalanche to have a postseason-like feel and then some.
“We’re both in very similar positions in the standings right now,” Preds center Ryan Johansen said of the two teams. “You look at how important these points are in this game coming up tomorrow, it’s going to be a dogfight out there. This morning, coach said it’ll be like a playoff game, that’s how we’re going to prepare for it, and that’s what we’re going to expect from them. It should be a fun game tomorrow; these are the ones you really look forward to it.”
Music City and Mile High have clashed twice before in 2015-16 with both contests featuring speed and close numbers on the scoreboard. With the third of five meetings between the Central Division rivals taking place in the offing, Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette expects more of the same from two of the division’s hotter teams.
“They’ve been good games; they’re playing really well right now,” Laviolette said following the team’s practice on Friday. “They have a lot of offensive weapons, and we’re going to have to make sure we’re sharp defensively. It’s going to be a good playoff-type game, I would think. They are fighting for a spot, we’re fighting for something. I’d expect it to be a good game.”
The Predators find themselves in a favorable position in the standings - specifically referring to a six-point lead over both the Avalanche and Minnesota Wild - due to an on-going, 11-game point streak and a run of winning eight of their last nine on the road. Even coming off a overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils at home on Thursday, Preds blueliner Roman Josi says the club feels a heightened sense of confidence due to their recent run away from Bridgestone Arena.
“We've been playing really well lately, and that gives you a lot of confidence,” Josi said. “You want to win every game, but sometimes that’s just not going to happen and you have to settle for one point. In this League, you have to collect points somehow and if you can't get a win then it’s better to get one than zero.
“Right now we’re six points ahead and of [Colorado], and it’s a big difference if you’re four points or eight points ahead of them, depending on how the game goes. Both teams are going to battle hard, and it’s going to be a playoff-type game.”
Special Teams Front and Center:
Rarely do NHL games feature five power-play goals, and even less frequently, do both teams convert on all of their man-advantage chances. Enter Thursday’s 5-4 overtime decision between the Devils and Preds.
Nashville claimed a pair of power-play goals - and a 2-1 lead - in the first period of yesterday’s contest, boosting already noteworthy numbers put forth on the man advantage during the team’s franchise-record point streak. During the 11-game streak, Nashville is 8-for-30 on the power play (26.7 percent), including 2-for-2 on Thursday.
Going from killing off 22-of-25 (88 percent) of their opponent’s power-play opportunities to 22-of-28 (78.6 percent) ended up being the story for the Predators versus the Devils. Both Laviolette and Johansen argue a single game’s performance shouldn’t overshadow the recent output on special teams, however. In fact, the duo both said it would behoove the team to focus more on moving forward toward two upcoming contests within the Central, rather than dwelling on a disappointing loss.
“I think it’s a good sign that our power play went out there and executed the way it did; that was great to see. You definitely need that going down the stretch,” Johansen said. “You look at [New Jersey’s] goals, when we were on the penalty kill, they had backdoor empty nets on all their goals. That’s the way this game works sometimes. That was the emphasis this morning, not to be frustrated with that, because it’s easy to not be happy with the results we got. Just to move past it and focus on our next game tomorrow.”
“You look at three of those special-teams goals, there’s a little bit of puck luck there,” Laviolette said. “It goes toward the net, hits and goes backdoor and they have a guy sitting there waiting to cue it up on a tee. They just had a break where the puck bounced to some open ice and they took advantage. We’re moving on, we have a big game coming up.”
Notes and Lines:
James Neal was absent from Friday’s practice at Centennial Sportsplex and was given a maintenance day. Gabriel Bourque (Injured Reserve) took his spot on the top line. Nashville’s forward rushes were as follows:
| ||Forwards || |
|Calle Jarnkrok ||Ryan Johansen ||Gabriel Bourque (IR) |
|Filip Forsberg ||Mike Ribeiro ||Craig Smith |
|Colin Wilson ||Mike Fisher ||Viktor Arvidsson |
|Miikka Salomaki ||Paul Gaustad ||Austin Watson |