Two of the most talented yet enigmatic teams in the Western Conference will play at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday night as the Nashville Predators host the Vegas Golden Knights. Before the season, both teams were expected to compete for the Western Conference title but have underachieved mightily. The Predators are now in a 5th place tie in the Central Division with the Chicago Blackhawks at 25 points. Vegas is in a fifth place tie in the Pacific Division with the Calgary Flames at 26 points. If the season ended today, neither team would make the playoffs yet even some marginally better form could get them in as the Flames are one point back of the final wild card spot in the West while the Preds are two points back.
Vegas enters Wednesday’s matchup with only 3 wins in their last 13 games going 3-9-4 during that stretch. Statistically, they’re middle of the pack in both scoring offense and scoring defense but during the recent downturn the offense has sputtered and the defense hasn’t been strong enough to compensate. Special teams are still in good shape with both penalty kill (#7) and power play (#9) ranked in the top ten. The Golden Knights have been a very tough opponent on home ice at the T-Mobile Arena since they joined the league but they haven’t been particularly formidable this season going 6-5-3. On the road, they’re 5-6-1 and they enter this matchup on a three game losing streak coming off of home losses to Edmonton and San Jose with a road loss at Dallas last time out.
The Nashville Predators had been playing just as poorly as Vegas but may have caught a ‘wake up call’ though the source of that motivation is not apparent. Nashville had lost six straight and 8 of 9 going 1-6-2 but are coming into this matchup off of back to back wins over the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues. Nashville won 4-2 in St. Louis on Saturday and followed that up with a 3-2 shootout win at home on Monday. Jusse Saros started both of the games against the Blues and has started to round into form. You might see more of Saros in the near future given Pekka Rinne’s erratic form of late. Rinne is listed as the projected starter here and will face Vegas backup Malcom Subban. As if the Golden Knights didn’t have enough to deal with they’ll be without starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for the immediate future. Fleury has returned home for a ‘family emergency’ and there is no timetable for his return. Garrett Sparks has been called up from the AHL Chicago Wolves on an emergency basis though given Subban’s generally poor form this year you might actually see him get some playing time.
Nashville had no trouble with the Knights when the teams played in Las Vegas earlier this season winning 5-2. The Predators took 2 of 3 from the Knights last year and have won 2 of the last 3 at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators could be in a bit of a ‘letdown mode’ after playing two extremely solid games against St. Louis but with Vegas’ dismal form and their goaltending issues a more likely scenario is that Nashville could see this as an opportunity to pick up an easy win. Vegas has lost more money for bettors than any team in the league this year (-12.3 units) and they look overvalued here.