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Preview: Kings face their nemesis in the Predators

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Who will find their first victory of 2020?

NHL: Nashville Predators at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

How to Watch

Game Time: 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time

TV: Fox Sports West (Kings Broadcast)

Radio: iHeart Radio / LA Kings Audio Network

The Opposition: On the Forecheck

What to Watch

  • The Kings welcome the struggling Nashville Predators to Staples Center tonight. The Predators had a lead in the Winter Classic, then completely turtled and lost in regulation.
  • Kurtis MacDermid was suspended two games for his hit on Ivan Provorov so Kale Clague draws into the lineup for him. and it looks like Alec Martinez will return into the lineup after sustaining a wrist injury back in November.
  • Having had a few days’ break, I expect Quick will start against Nashville and Jack Campbell will either start against his former team or on the road in Las Vegas. There are only two sets of back-to-backs in the whole month of January and the Kings have a bye week as well, so overburdening Quick is probably not going to be an issue.Update 1: Lisa Dillman reports that Jack Campbell left the ice first this morning.
  • UPDATE 2: Per Zach Dooley (Reign Insider), Joakim Ryan was placed on IR this morning so Kale Clague will, in fact, draw into the lineup for him. Derek Forbort has been activated but is not expected to play tonight.
  • Historically, LA has had a tough time when facing off against Nashville. Jonathan Quick has a very poor track record of allowing some ugly goals and a sub-.900 save percentage. But, the Kings, coming off a 5-3 New Year’s Eve victory against the Philadelphia Flyers, should be feeling confident. Of course, with three days off, they could also be rusty.
  • The Predators have some demons of their own. Despite being in the top-10 (or 12) of most ~fancy stats (i.e. unblocked shot attempts, blocked shot attempts, score close percentage, etc.), this team has had a real tough year. They sit at sixth in their division with 42 points, behind the vaunted Winnipeg Jets (fourth) and Minnesota Wild (fifth).
  • Here to tell us a little more about the struggling Music City hockey team is Bryan Bastin from On the Forecheck.

JFTC: In a nutshell, what’s wrong with the Predators?

Bryan: In a nutshell? Shooting dried up, goaltending is subpar, and the offense is struggling to play in a system that doesn’t fit them.

JFTC: Stats wise, they’re sixth in shot attempts for percentage and seventh when the game is close (according to the NHL). What happens to the team after they lead by two goals?

Bryan: They turtle. In normal situations, they tend to be a dump and chase team that takes a lot of low percentage shots. When they have a lead, this gets even worse - they seem to stay content dumping the puck and not sustaining any sort of offensive pressure

JFTC: In virtually every statistical category, the Predators are top-10 or top-12. And their shooting percentage is even normal! Why are they losing games? (4-5-1 in their last 10 seems uhhhh not good?)

Bryan: Goaltending is the biggest factor. A lot of their game is similar to previous years, but when they would struggle, they would have outstanding goaltending to bail them out. This year, both goalies are struggling. Pekka Rinne is losing some of his league-best ability to reduce rebounds and is letting in a lot of middle distance shots, and has been horrid on the penalty kill.

This isn’t completely on them, however, as statistics can’t accurate capture some aspects of defense. Nashville has a hard time controlling traffic in front of the net on both sides of the ice, and they tend to allow a lot of passes to the slot.

JFTC: Are they just not handling the obscenely stacked Central Division very well? Although being behind both Winnipeg and Minnesota with such a talented roster, well, I’m confused.

Believe it or not, the schedule against Central teams has been light so far. They’ve beaten Minnesota and St Louis twice, and Chicago once. However, they have an embarrassing collapse against that same Chicago team, two against Dallas, and blowout losses to Winnipeg and Colorado. So they’re about a 0.500 team right now in the division games they’ve played, and I don’t expect that to change much. Especially with most of the Central teams having something Nashville doesn’t - consistent goaltending.

JFTC: How much of this is talent and how much of this is simply time for a new voice? The average NHL coach lasts fewer than three years and Laviolette has just about doubled that.

I can’t say that there isn’t a talent issue - the loss of PK Subban has definitely affected the defense, pushing talented rookie Dante Fabbro into the second pair and leaving a pair of traffic cones on the third pair. The fourth line is a problem as well, as newly extended (and i don’t understand stand why) Colton Sissons and Austin Watson are among the very worst forwards in the entire NHL.

But on the other hand, according to Money Puck, Nashville has two of the top 5 forward lines in the entire NHL by xGF% - Matt Duchene-Filip Forsberg-Mikael Granlund, and the very surprising Craig Smith-Nick Bonino-Rocco Grimaldi line, who is out-performing nearly every other line in hockey. I’ll be the first to admit how wrong about Bonino and Grimaldi - they’re having an absurd season.

But I say all that, and think it is maybe only 20% of the issue. The rest, in my opinion, is entirely on coaching. Peter Laviolette has refused to change anything about his system, and according to HockeyViz.com, his coaching impact on offense is 13% less than league average. Sure, he has a great impact on defense, but how much of that is due to having a Norris frontrunner, a top 10 all around defender, and an excellent shut down player as their top 3 defensemen?

Plus this team has seemingly been “one piece away” for several years now. Since the Stanley Cup run, this team has added Nick Bonino, Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris, Mikael Granlund, Rocco Grimaldi, Ryan Hartman, and short stints by Wayne Simmonds and Brian Boyle. Not to mention the already talented players in Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, and Calle Jarnkrok. Not to mention the 7 game benching of Kyle Turris, which Laviolette refused to talk about, despite Turris being one of the most productive forwards on the team. Most (including reportedly Turris himself) think it was purely personal.

There’s simply no excuse at this point. There’s no trades left to make, any of the forward or defense units should be able to cover for the other or Rinne/Saros, but night in and night out, they continue to stick with what doesn’t work, and players who shine elsewhere come to Nashville and languish.

New voice is an understatement. The current voice is gone, and I’m starting to believe the players can’t hear it anymore either. This season may be too far gone to save at this point, but stranger things have happened. But with Laviolette at the helm, most Preds fans are looking real hard at the top of next year’s draft.

Stick taps to Bryan for this glimpse into the frustrating world of the Nashville Predators.

Line-Ups

Los Angeles Kings

Alex Iafallo -- Anze Kopitar -- Tyler Toffoli

Adrian Kempe -- Blake Lizotte -- Austin Wagner

Martin Frk -- Jeff Carter -- Nikolai Prokhorkin

Kyle Clifford -- Michael Amadio -- Matt Luff

Kale Clague -- Drew Doughty

Alec Martinez -- Sean Walker

Ben Hutton -- Matt Roy

Jack Campbell

Jonathan Quick


Nashville Predators

Forwards

Filip Forsberg - Ryan Johansen - Viktor Arvidsson

Mikael Granlund - Kyle Turris - Matt Duchene

Rocco Grimaldi - Nick Bonino - Craig Smith

Calle Jarnkrok - Colin Blackwell - Austin Watson

Defense

Roman Josi - Yannick Weber

Mattias Ekholm - Dante Fabbro

Dan Hamhuis - Matt Irwin

Goaltenders

Pekka Rinne

Juuse Saros