Today’s NHL Predictions features a cross-conference rematch from week one of the season. On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning (12-10-5) defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 3-1. Anthony Cirelli found himself on the scoresheet once again with three goals in his last two games. In addition, we predicted the exact score correctly.
On the other side of this matchup, the Nashville Predators (13-12-0) have found their game as of late. Nashville has won eight of their last ten contests to crawl out of the basement. Head Coach Andrew Brunette was an excellent hire for this organization. The Predators rank 8th in expected goals percentage (52.73 xGF%) and 9th in high-danger Corsi percentage (53.33 HDCF%) at 5v5. In addition, Filip Forsberg has found his spark once again, with 29 points on the season. Veteran additions like Ryan O’Reilly and Gustav Nyquist have also been game-changers for Nashville.
A trip to Bridgestone Arena marks the first of five consecutive road games for the Bolts. The Lightning will look to build consistency on the road, as they have only captured four wins in 13 games. The organization hopes that Andrei Vasilevskiy continues his remarkable play after his breakout game on Monday. Here are the keys to victory for the Lightning in this matchup.
NHL Predictions: Tampa Bay vs Nashville
Three Keys to Victory for Tampa Bay
Test the Goaltending of Nashville
Believe it or not, the Predators’ vocal point has fluctuated into the weak point of their team this season. Juuse Saros has not been the same goaltender we know from the past few years. Saros ranks 71st in goals saved above expected (-6.0 GSAx) in all situations. In 2023, Saros ranked first in goals saved above expected (46.7 GSAx) in all situations.
Saros has no issue saving wrist shots, with 34 goals allowed on 36.5 expected. The weaknesses of Saros this season are tips/deflections and slapshots. He has allowed 17 goals on 11.2 expected between the two shot types, specifically on the glove side. It is important to note that Saros is an opposite-handed goaltender. If the Lightning can continue to produce scoring chances in the slot like on Monday night, they should be able to solve Saros without an issue.
Capitalize on the Power Play
The second weakness of the Predators is their penalty kill, which ranks 25th in the league (73.7%). The last time these two teams met, the Lightning notched two power-play goals. Special teams will be critical for the Lightning due to the Predators’ strong 5v5 play. However, on Monday, Tampa Bay scored four even-strength goals against the Dallas Stars.
The bumper and front of the net are where Nashville struggled to defend shorthanded against Tampa Bay. Nick Paul scored two goals from net-front scrambles. In addition, Brayden Point had an excess number of shots from the bumper position in the slot. The Lightning must turn to those two set plays to defeat a red-hot Predators team.
Stop the Forsberg-O’Reilly Line
Brunette has formed a dynamic duo of Forsberg and O’Reilly on his first line. The two veterans have played their best hockey in the past few seasons. Forsberg ranks in the top 50 of expected goals percentage (57.87 xGF%) in the league at 5v5. He also ranks tied for 13th in points in the league.
O’Reilly ranks 62nd in expected goals for percentage (57.47 xGF%) at 5v5. In addition, O’Reilly has 12 goals and 22 points in 25 games for the Predators. Last season, he only had 30 points in 56 games.
The Lightning must shut these two down if they are to grab two points. If possible, the Lightning should try to match Cirelli against the Predators’ top line. While the task is demanding, Cirelli can play effectively on both sides of the puck. He does not have to sacrifice offence for defence.
This cross-conference rematch presents the Lightning with an opportunity to defeat a team that has gained confidence in recent weeks of the season. Tampa Bay must continue to find high-percentage plays and establish their forecheck. The Lightning must grab as many points as possible during this five-game road trip.
For a team with no expectations, Nashville has received stellar play from its veterans. Many were left confused by the off-season of the Predators. A new General Manager in Barry Trotz and a new Head Coach in Brunette meant exciting opportunities were on the horizon. The team has found its stride after the first 25 games of the season. We expect a tight contest that results in Tampa Bay earning the win.
Prediction: Tamp Bay wins 4-3
Goals Saved Above Expected via MoneyPuck
On-Ice Statistics via NaturalStatTrick
Main Photo: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports