Apr 19, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) plays the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during the third period at the United Center. The Blackhawks beat the Predators 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Avalanche - Predators

Who: Nashville Predators

When: Tonight, 9:00PM EST

The Dangermen: The Predators are still trying to figure this part out themselves.

Though this group will be solid defensively through all four lines, there is no impact scorer to be found anywhere. David Legwand, Mike Fisher, and Colin Wilson are all decent enough scorers, but not guys who should be sniffing anywhere near the top line. Yet here they are.

Patric Hornqvist is certainly talented but can he be a top scoring right winger? All signs seem to say “no” at this point. Newcomer Matt Cullen will certainly help but he’s A.) 36-years-old and B.) yet to produce a 50+ point season. He’ll help marginally but he’s not the scoring threat they need.

Sep 16, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Nashville Predators center Filip Forsberg (9) skates in the first period in a game against the Florida Panthers at the BB

The one big true unknown is winger Filip Forsberg. Coming over in a surprise deadline deal that sent Martin Erat to the Washington Capitals, Forsberg is a former first round pick with tons of talent and high-end scoring ability. He’s still a rookie, though, so expectations should be tempered in MusicCity.

This is going to be a task for the Preds and was a big part of the reason they were so bad last year.  When they aren’t shutting down teams, they’re not likely to win. They just can’t outscore very many teams, if anyone. It’ll be a committee effort and a source of growing pains.

The Defenders: Ah, something the Preds might be good at! It certainly helps your defense to boast one of the two or three best defensemen in the entire league in Shea Weber. He does everything and he does it well; his booming shot will bolster the power play and he’s certain to provide some pop from the blueline. He’s big, physical, a fantastic skater, and should once again be a contender for the Norris Trophy.

There has also been an emergence from Roman Josi. He’s a big, young, solid defenseman who is still growing into his game and looks like he’ll be a fine running mate for the aforementioned Weber.

Then there’s the case of the Preds’ first round pick in this past year’s draft, Seth Jones. Heading into the draft, Jones was considered the best prospect on the board until the Avalanche made it clear they would be selecting a forward. Jones surprisingly fell to the Preds at number four, giving them another huge, mobile, offensively gifted, potential franchise defenseman to go along with Weber. It’ll be fun to watch Jones this season.

Kevin Klein, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis round out a very solid group for the Predators; an obvious strength for the team and something that should at least keep them in games. There’s not a ton of offense from this group past Weber and maybe Jones, but they’ll do their jobs and do them well.

Puck Stoppers Inc.: There are a lot of doubts for the Preds in net despite having a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist as its starter.

Pekka Rinne is a fine netminder when he’s healthy but that’s the caveat: he’s coming off of hip surgery in May and it’s still somewhat of a question mark if he’s back to 100%.  When he’s on, the huge Finn is one of the best in the league at his position and has the ability to steal more than a few games for the Predators.

Behind him, however, there’s a big fat question mark. Little is known about Carter Hutton and it’s assumed by many in Pred Nation that GM David Poile feels like he has another diamond in the rough; that they can get the career performance out of him that they got out of long-time also-rans like Dan Ellis and Chris Mason. If they need to depend more on him (or another backup), things could get ugly fast for the Predators. They’ll need a sterling goaltending effort and a strong performance from the defense if they don’t want to stay in the basement.

If Rinne is in, the Predators are a whole different team. If he’s not? Yikes, Preds fans. Yikes.

How the Avs match up: If a game against the offensively challenged Predators can’t get the defense going, nothing will.  This group needs to get some confidence in itself and have a complete performance. They need to limit the quality chances that Semyon Varlamov sees because they can’t possibly expect him to stand on his head like he did in the opener.

The defense, if advertised, will be a test for the Avs forwards but if the opener was any indication, this team is balanced, fast, and determined. They also roll out three quality lines who can score, so they’ll be a huge challenge for the young Predators defense.

If Varlamov is looking like the real deal, and he did in the opener, he’ll make life a living hell for the Predators offensively. If he puts up that kind of showing, it’ll be damn near impossible for the offensively challenged Preds to do much damage.

Cower in fear if: The Avs defense is still having trouble limiting chances from the hashes in.

Jones is the real deal; he and Weber help form two shutdown pairs that limit the Avs offensively.

Pekka Rinne looks like himself again.

Laugh maniacally if: Varlamov plays his nards off.

The defense looks a little better and limits a group it definitely should be limiting.

The Avs use their speed and hustle to get the Preds defense running around.

Silly predictions: Andre Benoit continues to look better than advertised, scoring a power play goal; Tanguay picks up his first goal back in the burgundy and teal; Patrick Roy keeps his cool for the first time ever; the defense looks stout for the first time in forever.

Final:  4-1 Avalanche

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Tags: 2013-14 Season Colorado Avalanche Nashville Predators NHL Seth Jones

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