Among the many games on Tuesday’s NHL slate, one game features a team locked and loaded for the playoffs, and another team that’s just trying to play spoiler. The Detroit Red Wings (21-28-7, 7th Atlantic) head to “Music City” to take on the Nashville Predators (33-20-5, 2nd Central).
Nashville has been playing decent hockey as of late, but they are coming off of back-to-back losses against the Blues over the weekend. They have the fourth-most points in the west with 71 and trail the Jets by just two points for the Central Division lead. For Detroit, they are currently in a three-game losing streak, but are actually 5-5 in their last ten games. However, at just 49 points, only the Senators are worse than them in the NHL.
These teams have met once this season, in Detroit, when the Red Wings won 4-3 in overtime on January 4th. Tonight, the Predators are big favorites at home, listed at -245.
Fall From Grace
Since their 25-season postseason streak ended in 2016, the Red Wings have finished well out of postseason contention, and will likely miss the playoffs for the third straight year. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom this season. After starting the season 0-5-2, Detroit managed to sneak above .500 on December 10th to put themselves at 14-13-4. Since then, they have plummeted, and are now in the position to begin thinking about a high pick in the draft.
Detroit ranks about where you’d expect a team near last place to be in terms of their team stats. They rank 26th in the NHL with 2.75 goals per game, along with ranking 25th in shots and 24th in power-play percentage. They’ve also struggled at preventing goals, carrying a 3.23 goals allowed average that ranks 23rd in the league, along with sitting 25th in shots allowed and penalty kill percentage.
Young forward Dylan Larkin is the biggest threat for Detroit, as the former All-Star leads the team with 52 points. After him, Gustav Nyquist sits with a total of 47 points, before a big drop-off to Andreas Athanasiou and his 34 points. Frans Nielsen (29 points), Tyler Bertuzzi (28) and Thomas Vanek (27) are all next up on the leaderboard.
After Jonathan Bernier started the second half of the back-to-back on Sunday, expect Jimmy Howard to start in net tonight. The veteran carries a 15-15-5 record with a 2.78 goals against average and .913 save percentage.
Back on the Hunt
The Predators, now two years removed from their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, are in a spot once again to compete for hockey’s ultimate prize. It looked like Nashville would dominate all season long after starting the year 13-3-0. They came back down to earth a little after that, which included a season-high six-game losing streak at the end of December. After dropping their sixth in a row on December 29th, they’ve gone 11-5-3 and are now in a fight with Winnipeg for the division title.
Statistically, Nashville is again one of hockey’s best teams. They are only 12th in the league with 3.09 goals per game but put up the 7th most shots. They are also the 7th best team in the faceoff circle. Defensively, the Predators are 4th with only 2.59 goals allowed per game, and 7th in shots allowed. The one glaring weakness for Nashville is their power play, which at 13% ranks dead last in the NHL.
While forward Ryan Johansen leads the team with 50 points, the Predators feature arguably the best two-way defensemen in hockey. Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm are second and third on the team in points, respectively, with Ryan Ellis not too far behind. And that doesn’t even count P.K. Subban, who has just 19 points after missing nearly 20 games this year due to injury. Nashville is incredibly deep all around, with 11 players at 22 or more points.
Juuse Saros drew the start on Sunday, so Pekka Rinne is expected to start in goal tonight. The longtime goalie is 19-14-3 with a 2.49 GAA and .914 save percentage, to go along with three shutouts.
The Predators are big favorites at home tonight, and with good reason. Despite the average goal-scoring stats, they are a dynamic possession team with one of the best blue lines in hockey. They also play well at Bridgestone Area, going 18-10-1 at home this season. I think the Predators will roll tonight, so I like them to win -245.