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Nashville Predators at Tampa Bay Lightning preview: Sunbelt showdown

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

Team at Team: Game #12

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, FSTN

Opponent SBNation Site: On the Forecheck

Preview:

The two teams with the most standings points so far this NHL season meet tonight in Tampa. The Predators have 18 points in 12 games and the Lightning have 17 in 11. This is one of the premiere matchups in the NHL and it warms my Sunbelt heart that it features two teams in the Southeast where not so long ago, people thought hockey couldn’t survive. Not only did it survive, it thrived.

This matchup is particularly intriguing because the teams have opposing strengths. Tampa is powered by their skill and depth at forward. Nashville has four defenders who belong on the top pairing. Seeing how the Predators’ stacked blue line handles the relentless top-nine of the Lightning is always a treat.

Both teams are dealing with injuries. The Lightning will likely be without Ondrej Palat and Victor Hedman again tonight. Both players have missed the last two games after being injured last Friday in Las Vegas. The Predators are still missing their Vezina-winning goaltender Pekka Rinne. Fortunately for them, they have Juuse Saros who would be a starter for most teams. Dan Hamhuis will also miss the game making the Predators defensive corps merely great instead of otherworldly.

Nashville enters the game on a three-game winning streak. They’ve defeated the Oilers, the Devils, and the Golden Knights in succession. The Lightning split their last two games. On Saturday, they lost to the Coyotes 7-1 and on Tuesday, they beat the Devils 8-3. That’s quite a swing over two games.

Comparison chart:

Statistically, the two teams have a similar profile. Both grade out as relatively average offensively but much stronger defensively. Both have relied on high shooting percentages early in the season to bump up their goal scoring.

The big difference at 5v5 for these teams has been goaltending. The Predators have gotten good goaltending that makes their already good defensive play even better. The Lightning have gotten well below average goaltending at 5v5.

But even more pronounced than the 5v5 goaltending gap is the Lightning’s advantage on special teams. The Predators have struggled early in the season both on the penalty kill and the power play. Meanwhile, the Bolts have been outstanding. With the two teams so closely matched at 5v5, special teams could be the difference in the game and Tampa has a clear advantage in every aspect of that part of the game.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

JT Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph

Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Danick Martel - Ondrej Palat (injured)

Defense Pairings

Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Slater Koekkoek - Dan Girardi

Cameron Gaunce - Victor Hedman (injured)

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Opponent lines

Forward Lines

Filip Forsberg - Ryan Johansen - Viktor Arvidsson

Calle Jarnkrok - Kyle Turris - Craig Smith

Kevin Fiala - Colton Sissons - Ryan Hartman

Zak Rinaldo - Nick Bonino - Miikka Salomaki

Defense Pairings

Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm - PK Subban

Matt Irwin - Yannick Webber

Goalies

Juuse Saros

Troy Grosenick