NASHVILLE – With his team seeking offense and his top players having gone dry in the Stanley Cup final, Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette is finally ready to bolster his bottom-six forwards with some players who actually give his team a chance to score. Laviolette was not tipping his hand as to who will be at the other end of the ice, but it’s expected Pekka Rinne will get a chance to redeem himself after two disastrous outings.
With the Predators facing a must-win situation in Game 3 on home ice Saturday night, veteran right winger P.A. Parenteau draws into the lineup after playing just one playoff game so far. He’ll be joined by Harry Zolnierczyk, with both players flanking Frederick Gaudreau, who moves from the wing to center the fourth line. The most likely players to come out of the lineup are Vern Fiddler and Cody McLeod, who struggled mightily in Game 2.
Auston Watson, who had been playing the right side of the fourth line, is the likely candidate to move up to the third line with Calle Jarnkrok and Craig Smith. The top two lines remain the same with Colton Sissons between Filip Forsberg and Pontus Aberg and Mike Fisher playing the middle between Viktor Arvidsson and James Neal.
The Penguins, meanwhile, might have to change their look out of necessity, with third-line center Nick Bonino questionable after taking a shot to the foot in Game 2. Bonino was seen wearing a walking cast and did not take part in the Penguins optional morning skate. Should he not be able to go, Carter Rowney would likely move over to center the third line from the right side and Carl Hagelin would move into Rowney’s spot.
Parenteau, who scored 20 goals in 2015-16 and could help out on the power play, will be playing his first-ever game in the Stanley Cup final at the age of 34. He came to the Predators at the trade deadline, but was still recovering from a broken finger and struggled to create offense after he arrived. In fact, in eight regular season games and one playoff game, he has yet to find the back of the net in a Predators uniform. He’s hoping that chances in Game 3.
“I feel pretty healthy and I feel in good enough shape to help the team,” Parenteau said. “Hopefully I can do it. I’ve been scoring my whole career, I’ve been putting points on the board, so hopefully I can do it tonight because we need some goals.”
It was for situations like this one why Predators GM David Poile went out and got Parenteau for the relatively low price of a sixth-round pick in the first place. Parenteau has a history of being a good producer of secondary offense and with the Penguins not posing much of a physical challenge in this series, McLeod’s toughness is not really necessary. What the Predators need against the highest scoring team in this year’s playoffs are goals.
“We all know what we’re here to do and what we bring to the table,” Parenteau said. “I knew (Laviolette) was going to need me at some point, whether it was in the Stanley Cup final or before, and here I am and I have my chance tonight and I’ll try to make the best out of it.”
The Predators received a bit more good news today when Colin Wilson, who has been suffering the ubiquitous lower-body injury, took part in the morning skate. He hopes to get into the lineup soon, but as is the case at this time of year, it’s anybody’s guess when that will be. Wilson wouldn’t even entirely rule out playing in Game 3, but it doesn’t look as though that will be the case. Wilson practiced with the Predators the day before Game 1, but appeared to tweak a previous injury in that workout and hasn’t played since.
“It felt good to be back skating with the team and making progress,” Wilson said. “We’re going to see about the progress I’m making and hopefully no setbacks, but the plan is to get back as soon as possible, as soon as I’m ready. Whatever that timetable is, we’ll see.” When asked about the possibility of playing tonight, he said, “I don’t know, you’ll have to talk to the coaches about it.”
Should Hagelin come in for the Penguins, coach Mike Sullivan is expecting him to make a seamless transition.
“If ‘Haggie’ plays, I’m sure he’ll bring everything that he always brings to our team,” Sullivan said. “He has tons of speed and he’s a real good penalty killer. He forces turnovers all over the ice because of his speed and his puck pursuit. ‘Haggie’ is a good player.”
The scene around the Bridgestone Arena and in downtown is almost bedlam. It’s clear this fan base is intent on making the most of this experience, something Parenteau has noted with experience playing in front of this crowd and watching from the stands. He said that at points it gets so loud in the arena that when coaches talk to the players, all you can do is see their lips moving. When asked where the Predators’ crowd ranks with others he’s seen in the NHL, Parenteau did not hesitate with his response.
“This is No. 1, no question. I’ve played at the Bell Centre in the playoffs and this is crazier.”
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