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Nashville Predators at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: A dangerous foray

Shake off the loss, get back to playing smart hockey.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Nashville Predators (16-14-7) at Tampa Bay Lightning (18-16-4) GAME 39

Time: 7:30pm EST

Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa

Broadcast/Streaming: Sun, FS-TN

Opponent SB Nation Site: On The Forecheck

Previous Game Musings

What did I mention in my last preview? “This team has had issues on defense and goaltending (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) but most definitely has the offensive firepower to bury teams; getting into a gunfight with this team isn’t the smartest idea.

Well, guess what the Lightning did? Got into a gunfight and lost. Ugh...I don’t even care that they made it “kind of” close near the end of the 3rd. They had so much momentum early and even tied it at 1 early in the second period. However, the flukey penalty shot that Nikolaj Ehlers scored on appeared to completely take the wind out of the Bolts.

From then on it was just…ugly. Given how the team had played leading up to that game, it was a shame that they played so poorly. On a positive note though, Matthew Peca scored his first NHL goal and it was a beauty of a shot. Moving on though…

Preview

The Lightning last played the Predators back on November 21, in Nashville, losing 3-1. It was close for a little bit, but the Preds essentially got the lead and choked the life out of the Lightning to win. Since then the Predators have gone 7-8-4 and are currently in 4th place in the Central, with 39 points in 37 games sitting six behind the St. Louis Blues. They’re closer to a Wild Card berth, as they are behind the Calgary Flames by 3 points.

The Predators have been a strange team this season. They’ve battled inconsistency since opening night and haven’t really been able to string many consecutive wins together; their longest winning streak this season is 3 games.

By advanced metrics they look to be a strong team, they’re 5th in Corsi For % as of this writing, but the results just haven’t been there. Early in the season goaltending was an issue, but now the issue isn’t as clear. In their last 10 games, they’ve scored 25 goals and allowed 24 and have gone 4-5-1 over that span. Looking at the numbers it’s like the Predators just don’t know how to stay consistent.

Everywhere I look I see a team that shouldn’t be struggling like this. They should be in the division race from what it looks like, but they’re not. It’s like the Colorado Avalanche’s playoff season back during the 2013-2014 season, except reverse. The advanced metrics said the Avalanche weren’t good enough to sustain their performance, yet still won the Central and made the playoffs. (Of course, everything fell in line after that season and the Avs have not been good since.) With Nashville, they should be better than this, but they’re currently outside of a playoff spot trying to claw their way back in.

We know what Nashville brings. They’ve got some good speed and an exceptional defense. Though their goaltending has steadied of late, Pekka Rinne has regressed over these past 2 seasons. He’s not a perennial Vezina candidate anymore, but that doesn’t mean Rinne can’t steal some games.

The Bolts still have to play smart and structured hockey. The advanced metrics say Nashville is a good team and I’m inclined to agree, especially with how they have bounced back from a terrible start to the season (their first 10 games of the season they went a putrid 3-5-2 and have since gone 13-9-5) to at least challenge for a playoff spot.

The Lightning come into the last game of their five-game home stand with a 2-1-1 record, and 2 points out of a playoff spot. This battle is far from over. Even though the Winnipeg loss was rough, the Bolts still have a pulse thanks to Boston and Toronto both losing at the same time. Toronto gained a point in their overtime loss to Washington, which tied them with the Lightning at 42 (but currently, holds 4th in the Atlantic due to having played fewer games even though the Lightning have won more games).

Have I mentioned that the loser point is dumb? No? Well, the loser point is freaking dumb!

The Lightning must shake off the ugly loss to Winnipeg and get back to playing smart hockey. They can’t afford to keep allowing the first goal and then playing catch up. Nashville is going to hit their stride here soon, and if the Lightning aren’t ready come game time, then Predators are going to feast on them.

Lineup wise the Lightning sent Yanni Gourde, Michael Bournival, and Kristers Gudlevskis back to Syracuse while calling up Adam Wilcox. Given how Wilcox has played with the Crunch this season it might not completely be out of the realm of possibility that he gets a game or two in during this call up. Vasilevskiy has started 6 straight and could use a break before heading out for a back-to-back against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. We will see what Cooper and the coaching staff does.

Preview Chart

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Jonathan Drouin - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan

Matthew Peca - Vladislav Namestnikov - Alex Killorn

Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - JT Brown

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr

Braydon Coburn - Slater Koekkoek

Nikita Nesterov

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Adam Wilcox

Lines will be updated as more information emerges.