Tonight’s Opponent: The Nashville Predators
Record: 31-31-11, 73 pts.
Standings: Eleventh in the Western Conference
Current Streak: OT 1
The Nashville Predators, let’s face it, are the team whose blueprint the Buffalo Sabres appeared to be copying at the start of their current rebuild.
What are the Predators known for? Ferocious defense and strong goal-tending. What has Buffalo’s strength been this year? Goaltending, and clearly the Sabres saw defense as a priority in the last draft, bringing in wrecking balls Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov in order to beef up their defensive corps. In no way shape or form is Nashville an offensive force to be reckoned with, as they rank 25th in the NHL at 2.41 goals per game, so clearly the Sabres and Predators have a lot in common.
Problem is, look where Nashville’s blueprint has gotten them lately. This team missed the playoffs last season, and are currently 9 points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for the 2nd and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. That’s what happens when you lose your best goaltender to a bacterial infection that stemmed from offseason hip surgery. And Nashville still has not fully recovered from losing All-World blueliner Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild in free agency. Seth Jones might become a monster on the blueline before his career is over, but Suter’s departure has crippled this team, which went from being a top-ten defense that only yielded 2.5 goals per game two years ago to giving up 2.88 goals per game this year, good for only 23rd in the NHL.
At the very least, the Predators have Pekka Rinne back in goal. Granted, he has not looked like the Pekka Rinne that prompted me to include him in my Buffalo Sabres Wish List series during the summer – he has only gone 3-5-2 since returning to the lineup – but he did post 29 saves in a 2-0 shutout of the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks just Sunday. The odds of Nashville making the playoffs is slim to none, but they’re basically none without Rinne, even if he isn’t 100%. The Preds are a desperate team, which cannot bode well for the Sabres tonight.