The well-rested Nashville Predators will finally complete a three-game road swing Thursday night when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning to conclude the teams’ two-match season series.
Of late, the Western Conference club’s work schedule has been rather sporadic.
Since suffering a 3-0 shutout in Detroit against the Red Wings on Nov. 23 — the day before Thanksgiving — the Predators have played just three games, winning all three.
Part of that has to do with the six days between their last outing, a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Friday. However, a water main at Bridgestone Arena forced the postponement of two Predators games and a college hockey tournament was a bigger problem.
While the Music City rink’s foundation may be questionable recently, the Predators’ goaltending base has been firm and reliable.
Nashville sports one of the best 1-2 stopper combinations in the league in its Finnish tandem of Juuse Saros and Kevin Lankinen. The two 27-year-old netminders have replaced retired Pekka Rinne — another Finn — and produced regular strong results.
Saros paces the club in the blue paint with a 9-6-2 mark, a 2.92 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage in 17 starts. Lankinen is 3-3-0 and sports a 2.27 GAA and .934 save percentage in seven appearances.
“Obviously, we’re the same age, so we’ve been playing together on junior national teams and playing against each other in Finland,” Lankinen said earlier this year. “We’ve always been good buddies and (we’re) both hard-working guys, trying to be the best we can be.
“He works hard and I work hard, and I think we can push each other to be better every day. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I mean, he’s one of the top goalies in the league. I feel like I can learn from him as well.”
As for the Lightning, they were noticeably upset over their performance in Tuesday night’s 4-2 home loss to the Detroit Red Wings and hope to fare better against a second straight Finnish backstop.
Shut out for 55-plus minutes by Detroit’s Ville Husso, Tampa Bay got it to 3-2 on goals by captain Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy off for an extra skater both times. But David Perron locked down the Wings’ win by scoring the club’s second empty-net goal in the final four minutes.
To the Lightning, who lost for just the second time in their past seven games on home ice, the defeat was simply self-inflicted.
“Just not ready to play. It was clearly evident,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s really disappointing. I thought the boys were ready, but clearly a lot of bad habits we’ve had as a team at times just came flooding out. Not only in the first (period), a lot of the second, too. But we got better in the second.”
Cooper’s club fell to 8-4-1 on home ice and to fourth place in the Atlantic Division standings, though it is tied at 31 points with the Wings through 25 games.
“We know we’re better than that,” defenseman Zach Bogosian said. “We should be more worried about our game plan and our structure. … I thought we did (the damage) to ourselves tonight.”
The Lightning won the first matchup 3-2 on Stamkos’ overtime game-winner on Nov. 19 in Nashville.
–Field Level Media