The NHL’s Western Conference playoff race is heating up, and Monday night, two of the teams contending for spots will face off in Nashville. The Edmonton Oilers (34-23-8) visit the Nashville Predators (32-24-8) in their first meeting since early last month when the Oilers won 3-2 at home.
Here is a preview for tonight’s great matchup, along with odds and a free pick.
By the Numbers
The Oilers were beginning to scuffle, losing four of five and falling farther away from winning the Pacific Division. However, a win on Saturday against the Jets came at a good time, as now they trail Vegas by just four points in the division with two more games in-hand.
This season, Edmonton ranks 16th in goals with 3.11, while also sitting in the bottom-five in shots per game with 29.7. They do, however, boast the league’s seventh-best shooting percentage at 10.5 and the top power-play percentage of 29.3.
Defensively, the Oilers sit at a pedestrian 15th with 3.06 goals allowed and 17th with 31.6 shots allowed per game. However, their penalty kill is the second-most successful in hockey, killing the man-advantage 84.2 percent of the time.
Meanwhile, the Predators were putting together a little streak to shoot them back into the playoff picture, with wins in three straight games. However, the streak was snapped on Saturday against Colorado, and now they find themselves tied with two other teams for the final Wild Card spot, albeit with three games in hand.
So far, Nashville is 13th with 3.14 goals per game on the fourth-best shot average of 33.3. Their 9.4 shooting percentage is 17th in the NHL, while their power-play percentage is a below-average 16.3, which ranks 26th in the sport.
On defense, the Predators are 24th with 3.14 goals allowed per game and 13th with 31 shots allowed. Unfortunately, their penalty kill has fallen off a long way as well, ranking third-to-last at just 74.6 percent.
Who to Watch
A big reason for Edmonton’s surge this season is because of their stars. Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all flourishing this season, and have been their biggest point-contributors over the last week or so.
Draisaitl, who is the NHL’s leader in points with 102, eclipsed the century mark on Saturday with two goals and an assist against Winnipeg. He has five goals over his last five games, giving him 39 goals with 63 assists.
McDavid has been more of the facilitator, serving out seven assists in the last four games to give him 58 assists with 31 goals. Finally, Nugent-Hopkins had a goal and two assists last Saturday, giving him 19 goals and 34 assists total.
Nashville’s best player happens to play along that blue line, and that’s Roman Josi. Last week, Josi scored against Calgary and had two helpers against Colorado. The Preds captain has 15 goals and 45 assists and has become one of the front-runners for the Norris Trophy.
Additionally, Ryan Ellis and Mikael Granlund. Ellis, another defenseman, has been scorching hot over the last few games since returning from injury. He has seven assists and a goal in his last five games, giving him 36 points in 44 total games.
Meanwhile, Granlund’s two-goal performance against Calgary gives him 17 goals to go along with 12 assists during the season.
Tonight, expect Mike Smith to man the net for Edmonton. Smith is 18-10-6 with a 2.87 GAA and .905 save percentage.
Nashville will likely counter with Juuse Saros. Saros is 14-11-4 with a 2.89 GAA and .907 save percentage.
Odds and Pick
The home team is getting the love tonight in Nashville. Odds-makers have listed the Predators at -135 favorites, even though their home record is a modest 16-13-4, while the Oilers are 18-13-3 on the road.
The Oilers have gotten the best out of Nashville both times they’ve played this season. They also have all their stars healthy and surging at the same time. I look at someone like Draisaitl, who has scored four times themes season against Nashville, to be tough to stop. All that being said, I’m going with the upset and taking the Oilers +115 tonight.