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Preds Use Big Week to Squeak Closer to Central Division Lead

The Nashville Predators were back to their regular schedule this week after wrapping up their mandatory bye week on Monday. The post-bye week got off to a pretty rough start when news broke that first-line winger Viktor Arvidsson suffered a lower-body injury during practice. Arvidsson’s injury left two-thirds of Nashville’s first line out with injury. Luckily, his injury wasn’t too serious, as he was able to return for Saturday’s game. Filip Forsberg will continue to be out till around mid-February as he battles an upper-body injury.

THE GAMES:

Tuesday (1/16) vs. Vegas Golden Knights: W 1-0

The Nashville Predators started their week off with a home game against the Western Conference-leading Vegas Golden Knights. Head coach Peter Laviolette elected to start the backup rookie goaltender, Juuse Saros, and boy did he make the right decision. In what was perhaps the best game of the season so far, Saros stood tall and made 43 saves. This was the second time this season that Saros has had a 40-plus save shutout.

The lone goal from Nashville came from Kevin Fiala midway through the third period.

It was tough game offensively for Nashville, but great teams find ways to win. Ryan Johansen got hurt in this game after taking a high hit. He would miss the rest of this game, but that was it. So, Nashville played the best team in the west without their entire first line, and still won. Pretty great start to the week.

Thursday (1/18) vs. Arizona Coyotes: W 3-2 (SO) 

On Thursday, Nashville played host to the Arizona Coyotes. Currently, Arizona is in last place in the conference. Do not let that fool you, though — Arizona is still a good team, one that’s playing with nothing to lose. The Preds must have been caught off guard because they found themselves down by one late in the third. That changed when Ryan Ellis took matters into his own hands and tied the game with two minutes left. The game would then go into overtime and eventually a shootout. Craig Smith scored the game-clinching shootout goal, and the Nashville Predators picked up another two points.

Saturday (1/20) vs. Florida Panthers W 4-3

Finally, to close out the week, Nashville welcomed the Florida Panthers. Kevin Fiala scored just 30 seconds into the game.

However, the Predators put themselves into an early hole after allowing two first period goals. Come the second period the Predators came roaring back, though. Nashville scored three goals in the second, including another from Fiala and one from P.K. Subban. Florida would get one back in the third, but they were never able to tie the game up. Nashville held on for another win, their fifth in a row. 

Where they Stand

As of Monday, January 22, the Predators sit in second place in the Central Division and third in the conference. The Winnipeg Jets are in first in the division with 63 points, while Nashville only has 62. The St. Louis Blues are close behind with 59 points. The caveat to this is that Nashville has played significantly fewer games than Winnipeg and St. Louis. Nashville has three games in hand on the Jets and four in hand on the Blues. All of this just goes to say that the Central Division Title is for the taking.

Furthermore, to exemplify just how strong the Central Division is, two other division rivals occupy the wildcard spots. The Dallas Stars are in the first spot with 58 points and the Colorado Avalanche are in second with 55 points. The Minnesota Wild also sit with 55 points but find themselves just outside of a playoff spot. Rounding out the Central Division are the Chicago Blackhawks, who are in last place with 50 points. The central is the best division in the NHL currently, and the standings prove it. Nashville is playing great right now, but they will need to keep it up if they want to retake the top spot.  

What’s Next?

Nashville will have a bit of a lighter week coming up. The Preds host the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, and then they will travel to New Jersey to play the Devils on Thursday. The Predators will get to enjoy their Saturday this week, as they get the day off, something that doesn’t happen too often in the NHL.

Tuesday (1/23) vs. Tampa Bay Lighting 8:00 PM EST

Thursday (1/25) @ New Jersey Devils 7:00 PM EST

Three Stars of the Week:

Third Star: Nick Bonino/Calle Järnkrok

The third star this week goes to both Bonino and Järnkrok. Their performance on Saturday was phenomenal as both players scored three points. Bonino had a goal and two assists and Järnkrok had three assists.

Second Star: Juuse Saros

Juuse Saros only got one start this week, but he certainly made the most of it. Saros shutout the best team in the west, making 43 saves in the process.

First Star: Kevin Fiala

Kevin Fiala had himself a heck of week. With two of Nashville’s top scorers out this week someone needed to step up and that person was Fiala. He scored three goals this week and now has 13 on the season.

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