Game Day Preview: Nashville Predators @ Anaheim Ducks

The Nashville Predators kick off their November schedule with a road game in Anaheim tonight, the first of a four-game trip that continues Saturday at Los Angeles. Can the 6-6-1 Preds hang around the .500 mark against a surprisingly poor 4-7-2 Anaheim team?

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

Meet the Enemy

Anaheim Calling is SB Nation's new Anaheim Ducks blog, and Arthur was good enough to pass along this assessment of the disappointing Ducks:

You basically can't swing an Easton ST without hitting something going wrong for Anaheim.  At Anaheim Calling, Daniel is quick to blame the defense, but I think this team was built for offense and has no excuse for being 20th in the league in Goals For.

But if I had to sum up the problem, I'd refer you to the old adage, "If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none."  That sums up the Ducks' troubles.  In training camp, they thought they had battles at every position, people fighting just to be the scratch defenseman or forward.  Since then?  If you have eight Top 6 forwards, you actually have none (Ebbett/Christensen waived, rumored attempts to acquire Higgins).  If you have eight defensemen, you actually have none (Sbisa in WHL).  If you have two elite PK and PP units, you actually have none.  And if you have two playoff goaltenders-- well, Jiggy's hurt, but you get the point.

While the blueline was expected to undergo a significant transition as Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin left via free agency, nobody expected things to be quite this chaotic. To make matters worse for the Ducks, James Wisniewski will sit this one out as part of a 2-game suspension for a hit that he put on Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan.

At the top of the depth chart, however, their top two forward lines are producing at a decent clip; Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are dominant. All-Star caliber players, supported by both young and old in Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne. Joffrey Lupul is also chipping in (5 goals, 3 assists) as he enjoys a second stint with Anaheim.

Meet the Good Guys

Just when we thought we might start to see a complete lineup for once, injuries have cropped up once again to decimate the Predators roster. Martin Erat was out already, but just since the last game Shea Weber, Colin Wilson, and J.P. Dumont are all out of action. Yes, Jason Arnott and Jordin Tootoo are returning to action, but this is hardly the lineup you'd plan on taking on the road. The lines, as described by Pete Weber on last night's HockeyBuzz Radio, may look as follows:

Forwards
Sullivan - Arnott - Hornqvist
Scatchard - Santorelli - Thuresson
Smithson- Legwand - Ward
Tootoo - Goc - Belak
Defense
Suter - Hamhuis
Bouillon - Klein
Sulzer - Franson

Even Strength Play

 Team GP GF GA GF/60 Shots For/60 Sht % GA/60 Shots Ag/60 Save % +/- per 60
 Nashville 13 17 24 1.6 24.9 6.6 2.3 29.8 .922 -0.7
 Anaheim 13 24 25 2.5 27.2 9.0 2.6 34.3 .926 -0.1

In 5-on-5 action, Anaheim isn't faring too badly, although their goaltending is bailing them out based on those Shots For & Against totals. What's really killing the Ducks these days is special teams...

Anaheim PP vs. Nashville PK

The Ducks' power play has been pretty decent so far (22.2%, 12th in the league), as would be expected given the high-end talent at forward and on defense. The Predators' penalty kill has improved recently (having climbed up to 23rd from dead-last), and who knows, is it possible that Jerred Smithson has another short-handed goal in him?

Nashville PP vs. Anaheim PK

While the Predators PP struggles are, by now, legendary, this is probably their best chance for success against the Ducks. Anaheim takes the 2nd-most penalties per game in the NHL, to go along with the 2nd-worst PK unit. In a recent loss to Toronto (!), the Ducks gave up 5 power play goals. If the Preds are going to get on the board, the PP may be the best way to do that.

Yes, even without Shea Weber.

Goaltending

Jonas Hiller has been getting the bulk of the work in Anaheim, due both to his surprising playoff run last spring, as well as injury trouble for longtime starter J.S. Giguerre:


GP MIN W L T GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Jonas Hiller 11 575 4 5 29 3.03 326 297 .911 0

According to @PredsRadio, Pekka Rinne gets the start for the Preds, after having recently earned the NHL's 2nd Star of the Week honors:


GP MIN W L T GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Pekka Rinne 8 411 4 3 18 2.63 199 181 .910 1

Summary

This is a classic Nashville Predators-style setup; an undermanned team heads into a road game against a talented opponent, but one prone to making mistakes. If the Preds can maintain a disciplined approach and tip the special teams balance in their favor, they have a good chance to start this road trip with a win.

While waiting for the game, head over to Pull My (Fang) Finger for another preview of the Predators travels.

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