Can the Nashville Predators avenge a disappointing last-minute loss in San Jose last week, as they host the Sharks at the Sommet Center this evening? Remember, there's no TV tonight (at all), but you still have time to get tickets - you can follow this link and use the special offer code "PREDS" to get discounted seats.
After the jump, let's take a look at how these two teams match up...
Meet the Enemy
You know 'em, you hate 'em, you're sick of looking up at 'em in the Western Conference standings - yes, it's the San Jose Sharks once again. At 14-4-4, the Sharks are cruising along atop the Pacific Division despite L.A.'s surprising start.
It looks like Devin Setoguchi and Brad Staubitz will both miss this one for the Sharks, which saps their depth up front a bit. The guys at Fear the Fin are focused on looking ahead, however, to the return of Torrey Mitchell, which is expected soon (but not tonight). David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News projects their lines as follows:
Meet the Good Guys
The good news here is that the Preds seem to be getting solid play from all lines and defensive pairs, and have improved their record to 9-8-1 after a 3-6-1 start.
Keep an eye out for Patric Hornqvist, who hopes to impress Swedish Olympic coach Bengt-Ake Gustafson as he tours the NHL while deciding upon the roster for the Tre Kronors.
Even Strength Play
|5-on-5 Team Data from Behind the Net|
|Team||GP||GF||GA||GF/60||Shots For/60||Sht %||GA/60||Shots Ag/60||Save %||+/- per 60|
As daunting a challenge as this might appear, the numbers aren't quite so skewed as they were last week when the Preds visited San Jose. The biggest opportunity for Nashville still lies in that Shooting Percentage, which is 3rd-worst in the NHL during 5-on-5 play. As we all saw Saturday night, piling a ton of shots on net is fun, but putting them behind the goaltender is even better.
San Jose PP vs. Nashville PK
The loss of Setoguchi, who draws penalties like a magnet, is significant here; the Sharks boast a dangerous power play (25%, 4th in the NHL), and keeping them off the PP is critical for Nashville tonight. Following the morning skate today, Barry Trotz stressed the importance of staying out of the box and "checking with your feet", i.e. making sure that back-checking Preds work hard to keep pace with the San Jose forwards, and avoid situations where they have to hook or hold to slow an opponent up.
On the PK, however, the Preds continue making steady progress, having climbed now to 20th in the league with a 79% kill rate.
Nashville PP vs. San Jose PK
Not only do the Preds have an NHL-worst power play (11.6%), but the Sharks boast the league's best penalty kill at 87.8%.
Dare we hope for an anomaly tonight, and a Predators power play outburst?
Thomas Greiss gets the start again for the Sharks; against Nashville last week, he made 23 saves on 26 shots to earn the win.
|2009 - Thomas Greiss||3||147||2||1||5||2.04||73||68||.932||0|
For the Predators, Pekka Rinne gets to follow up on his 22-save shutout of Montreal Saturday night. In two career games against the Sharks, he's 1-0-1 with a 1.92 GAA and .942 Save Percentage.
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||11||590||6||4||23||2.34||272||249||.915||2|
Having reversed a slow start with a 6-2 record in their last 8 games, a tough test begins tonight for the Preds against the top team in the West, and continues Thursday night when the East-leading Devils come to town. If the team plays anything like they did last week in San Jose, they should fare well here - especially now that the Sulivan-Arnott-Dumont line is reunited and creating dangerous scoring chances consistently.
It wouldn't hurt for Rinne to to rise up and steal a game for the team as well (especially since they gave him an easy time of it against Montreal Saturday night).