The Nashville Predators beat the Dallas Stars 2-0 in an exhibition game on Thursday and, even though the result on the ice meant nothing, there was a lot to be optimistic about heading in Sunday against Arizona.
A quick reminder: today’s victory was just a warmup game for the Preds, who will take on the Coyotes in Game 1 of the Qualifying Round on Sunday afternoon. The NHL allowed each team one exhibition game to prepare for the “playoffs”, which was necessary after a four month absence from competitive hockey due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To the “it’s just an exhibition” crowd:
That was not *just* an exhibition. Sure, it didn’t count for anything, but I’d argue that was the most meaningful 60 minutes of hockey the #Preds have played in 2020, considering the circumstances.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) July 30, 2020
The game took place in Edmonton at Rogers Place, without fans of course, and is a part of a comprehensive dual hub city plan by the NHL to complete the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Preds had been without a competitive game of hockey since the league shut down on March 10th, so it was good to see them put together a full 60 minutes of hockey after such a long layoff.
Given all that, here’s three more reasons for optimism going into Sunday.
Preds goalies looking excellent
For starters, the Preds’ goaltending looked ready to go. Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros combined for a 26 save shutout and both looked at the top of their game. Though Saros got the start, which was a bit surprising, Rinne relieved him midway through the 2nd (which is common in preseason/exhibition games) and immediately made several athletic stops.
While the goaltending performance is great to see, it doesn’t exactly solve the dilemma the Preds’ coaching staff has ahead of Sunday.
Going into this restart, the issue of whether to start Saros or Rinne was arguably the most important decision for the team. Perhaps the staff was hoping one of the two goalies to emerge as the clear option, but that didn’t happen on Thursday.
This is obviously a good problem to have, but one that gives the coaching staff a lot to think about. If I had my guess, I would say Pekka Rinne gets the nod, just based on experience and that he’s well rested.
Power play production
Another reason for optimism is that the power play looked a lot better.
In case you forgot, the Preds’ power play has been a truck load of terrible for the past two seasons. Not even Matt Duchene, a great offensive weapon, and Roman Josi, a Norris Trophy finalist this year, could do much to improve the league’s worst power play from 2018-19.
But today? They looked slightly better and maybe even… good?
After a furious sequence by Roman Josi and Ryan Johansen, Ben Bishop got out of position, and the puck caromed over to the open side of the net. From there, Viktor Arvidsson rocketed home a power play goal to give the Preds a 1-0 lead in the 1st period.
The Preds’ power play unit overall generated 10 shot attempts, six shots on goal, and one goal on the day, which is a vast improvement from how they looked over the course of the 2019-20 regular season.
Viktor Arvidsson is back
As I mentioned last week, the Preds are going to need a guy like Viktor Arvidsson to play like he’s capable of playing. He showed that today, scoring two goals and looking like the Arvy of old.
Of course, most of this is because he’s finally healthy. He’s recovered from that dirty hit by Robert Bortuzzo back in November 2019.
But it’s also because he’s back on a line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. From the looks of it, those three could be right back to their old tricks in this playoff run.
Forsberg ➡️ Arvy ➡️ 🚨
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) July 30, 2020
In my piece last week, I predicted Viktor Arvidsson to score two goals and one assist in the series against Arizona. Based on his start so far, he might do that in Game 1.
The Nashville Predators take on the Arizona Coyotes in Game 1 of the Qualifying Round on Sunday, August 2nd at 1:00 p.m. local time. It will be broadcast on Fox Sports Tennessee.
— Featured image via Nashville Predators —