Game Day Preview: Nashville Predators @ Minnesota Wild

It's the Western Conference's Battle of the Basement tonight in Minnesota, as the Nashville Predators (3-6-1) take on the Wild (3-8-0).

After the jump, let's break down the matchup...

Meet the Enemy

With a new GM, new head coach, and a new, offensively-oriented system in place, the Minnesota Wild have been the flop of the Western Conference so far, at least for those who saw them making the playoffs. I pegged them for 13th in the West. As the season preview from Hockey Wilderness notes, the roster changes were relatively mild heading into this season considering the radical changes in tactics that are being implemented. Fans up in Minnesota are grasping for answers just as much as we are in Nashville. Heck, they're even scouting out potential 1st-overall draft picks!

In short, they've painted racing stripes on a plow-horse and are hoping to win the Kentucky Derby.

Minnesota's lines are likely to look as follows:

Forwards
Andrew Brunette - Mikko Koivu - Antti Miettinen
Petr Sykora - Eric Belanger Martin Havlat
Chuck Kobasew - Owen Nolan - Cal Clutterbuck
Derek Boogaard - Benoit Pouliot
Kyle Brodziak

Defense
Nick Schultz - Marek Zidlicky
Greg Zanon - Brent Burns
Shane Hnidy - John Scott


I wonder if we'll get to see Minnesota's new 3rd jersey tonight...

2030606354_b045bb027a_medium

Meet the Good Guys

With Dan Hamhuis returning from injury and Mike Santorelli back from Milwaukee, we'll see some significant changes for tonight's lineup. The big question I have is whether the pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter will be split up again; I like the way the team was able to generate more consistent offensive pressure by keeping one of those two on the ice during most of the game.

Based on the report from practice yesterday, Nashville's lines may look like this:

Forwards
Sullivan - Wilson - Hornqvist
Dumont - Legwand - Scatchard
Erat - Santorelli - Ward
Smithson - Goc - Belak
Defense
Hamhuis - Weber
Suter -  Klein

Bouillon - Franson

This assumes that Cal O'Reilly and Alexander Sulzer are scratched, of course. Will the productive pairing of Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist provide a boost to Steve Sullivan? Usually you look for veterans to spark the youngsters, but for the last two games, Wilson and Hornqvist have been the Preds' best two forwards.

Belak is likely to play, given the presence of Derek Boogaard for Minnesota. The two fought three times last season according to HockeyFights.com, including this scrap when Belak was still with the Florida Panthers:


Even Strength Play

 TEAM GP GF GA GF/60 SF/60 Sht % GA/60 SA/60 Save Pct. +/- per 60
 Nashville 10 14 21 1.70 25.7 6.8% 2.60 30.5 .914 -0.90
 Minnesota 11 9 28 1.10 26.8 4.2% 3.50 29.7 .882 -2.40

Yikes, when it comes to 5-on-5 play these aren't exactly two dynamos. As frustrating as it has been to watch the Preds at times this season, however, the Wild have been truly awful. That 4.2% Shooting Percentage is dead last in the NHL, as are the Goals For/60 minutes and the Goals Against/60! Simply put, the Preds need to take advantage of the disarray that Minnesota is in right now.

Minnesota PP vs. Nashville PK

One relative bright spot for the Wild has been their power play, which currently sits 12th in the NHL at 21.8%. For my money, among the guys who have left Nashville after the 2007 salary purge, I think they miss Marek Zidlicky more than most.

The Predators penalty kill is still trying to get sorted out, and ranks 26th at 74.3%. Nashville will need to avoid needless penalties, as this perhaps their greatest area of vulnerability heading into this matchup.

Nashville PP vs. Minnesota PK

Minnesota's penalty killers are 2nd in the league, while Nashville's PP is dead-last. There's not much to hope for here.

Goaltending

After a strong outing in Chicago, Dan Ellis is your likely starter Pekka Rinne gets the start tonight for Nashville, per @PredsRadio on Twitter. In two starts against Minnesota last season, Pekka went 1-1, having shut out the Wild in December, then giving up 6 goals in the season finale.


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Pekka Rinne 5 253 1 3 16 3.79 136 120 .882 0

For Minnesota, Niklas Backstrom is perhaps starting to miss Jacques Lemaire, but he can't be blamed for the team's troubles:


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Niklas Backstrom 9 542 3 6 23 2.55 279 256 .918 0

Summary

Despite the horrible overall results, Minnesota has managed a 3-0-0 record on home ice, so the Predators will have to fight hard to come out of tonight's game with two points. They need to start winning games like this, because with Chicago and Dallas coming to town on Thursday and Saturday, the road doesn't get any easier from here.

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