We were so close to a Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers Western Conference Final last spring. Heading into this season, that appeared to be an inevitability. Now it’s incredibly far away. The Predators have lived up to their billing as one of the teams to beat in the West, but Oilers have struggled mightily and barring a historic run will end up on the outside looking in.
1. The Oilers and Predators have played once so far this season. It came back on Dec. 14. Despite outshooting the Preds 46-23, Edmonton got dropped 4-0 as Nashville completely took over the game with a couple of power play goals in the second period. After that game, though, the Oilers went on their four-game winning streak. Since that streak, the wheels have fallen off the wagon and Edmonton has three points in seven games.
2. The Preds were dealt a huge blow back on Dec. 30 when Filip Forsberg was placed on the Injured Reserve with an upper body injury. It’s expected Forsberg, who leads Nashville in scoring with 34 points in 37 games, is going to miss four-to-six weeks of action. Since placing Forsberg on the IR, the Preds are 1-1-1 with a win over Los Angeles, a loss to the Golden Knights, and an overtime loss to the Coyotes.
3. How well has the Matt Duchene trade worked out for Nashville? The Sens might want to take a mulligan on it, but Nashville ended up with Kyle Turris and all they had to throw into the three-way deal was Samuel Girard, Vladislav Kamanev, and a second-round pick. Through 26 games with the Preds, Turris has 19 points and owns the best possession numbers among forwards on the team. Turris’ five goals with the Preds matches the production of Ryan Johansen all season through 40 games, as Nashville’s expected top centre is having a disappointing season after inking an eight-year, $64 million deal last summer.
4. Nashville is having an excellent season, as they own a 24-11-6 record, but they currently sit in third place in the loaded Central Division behind Winnipeg and St. Louis. They have a solid offence, ranking 12th in goals in all situation, but defence and goaltending is this team’s true strength, as they rank fifth in goals against in the league.
5. Pekka Rinne was a key reason for Nashville’s somewhat surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final last season and he’s continued his excellent play into 2017-18. In last year’s playoff run, Rinne put together a .930 save percentage, and this season, through 31 games, he has a .924 save percentage. That ranks as his best season since he had a .930 save percentage back in 2010-11. Rinne wasn’t in net the last time the Oilers and Preds met. It was backup goalie Juuse Saros who posted a 46-save shutout. Rinne will start tonight against the Oilers.
6. The Preds are solid at even strength, as they rank 15th in the league in even strength shot attempt differential and ninth in even strength goal differential. Beyond their excellent defence and goaltending that I mentioned above, Nashville excels on both special teams. They have the fourth best power play in the league, scoring on 24 per cent of opportunities, and they kill 82 per cent of the other team’s power play opportunities. That’s key considering the Preds are the most penalized team in the league. I don’t need to beat a dead horse, but the Oilers have a dreadful penalty kill, which doesn’t bode well against Nashville’s successful power play.
7. An interesting thing about Nashville is how they’re a second period team. They seem to come out slow in the first period (they rank 25th in first period goals), explode in the second (they rank second in second period goals), and then they go into a shell in the third (they rank 26th in third period goals). That perfectly fits the narrative of the meeting between the Oilers and Preds this year, as Nashville held off a swarm by Edmonton in the first period, then blew up for four second period goals before shutting them down in the third. When leading after the second, Nashville is 19-2-2.
8. Nashville is also the league’s second best team at winning when being outshot. They’re 16-7-0 when the other team has more shots, which is second in wins to only the Toronto Maple Leafs. I figure that’s partially because the Preds are a shot quality team, in that their high danger chance numbers are superior to their shot attempt numbers, and partially because they get their second period lead and then go into a third period defensive shell.
9. Leon Draisaitl is back on Connor McDavid’s wing on the top line with Patrick Maroon. The Oilers were rolling nicely for a little while with their three top centres carrying their own lines, but based on the team’s terrible play over the past couple weeks, a change was clearly needed. The Oilers have just three goals in their last five games.
10. The Oilers have been really bad since the Christmas break. After winning four games in a row and pulling themselves to within an inch of possibly salvaging their season, Edmonton has gone ahead and earned three points in their last seven games. All of those seven games have been against Western Conference opponents. They have three more games, this one, one in Arizona, and one in Vegas, before going on their bye-week. If the Oilers don’t win all three of these games, which would push them to 21-22-3 prior to the break, I think we can say the season is over and the team will sell at the deadline. I mean, we’re all pretty much saying that now, but a three-game winning streak could change some minds, maybe? Probably not.