A rag-tag group of Nashville Predators (6-7-1) heads into the Staples Center this afternoon for their first matchup of the season with the surprising Los Angeles Kings (10-4-2), who boast the league's leading scorer in Anze Kopitar, and are cruising along near the top of the Pacific Division just behind San Jose.
Unfortunately, today's game (3:00 p.m. Central start) will not be televised by either team, so for all we really know the radio guys will just make up a good story and tell it on the air.
After the jump, let's break down the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
So what makes the Kings' hot start any more sustainable than the other surprising team in the West, the Colorado Avalanche? The Avs are getting propped up by phenomenal goaltending, while the team is getting outshot by 7 shots a night; over the long term, those results are sure to collapse, no matter how good a goalie Craig Anderson is.
But in L.A., the Kings are getting just mediocre goaltending, while the overall team is outshooting opponents consistently, a trend which they built upon from last year's performance when they actually had the 4th-best Shots Against per Game. Coach Terry Murray's has emphasized getting his young offensive forwards to learn how to take care of their defensive chores before bolting up-ice to show off their talents.
Those talents are many and varied; Anze Kopitar leads the NHL in scoring, with 13 goals and 13 assists. By comparison, the entire Nashville lineup likely to take the ice today has a combined total of just 17 goals.
|2009 - Anze Kopitar||16||13||13||26||9||4||4||0||0||0||50||26.0|
Summer acquisition Ryan Smyth stands 7th in league scoring with 8 goals and 12 assists through 16 games. As team, the Kings have 8 players who all have more goals so far than anyone skating today for Nashville (led by three players with 3 goals apiece).
One of those players is Alexander Frolov, a talented winger who is often discussed in trade rumors as an asset that L.A. would like to move. While his talent would surely help the Preds on the wing, he really isn't a viable option to help Nashville. He makes $4 million in this, the final year of his contract, and will surely command a hefty ransom next summer. That's not someone you'd trade away an asset for at this point of the season if you're David Poile. Frolov might end up as a trade-deadline acquisition for a Stanley Cup contender, and until then he can pad his stats in L.A.
Another factor the Kings have working in their favor is special teams. For two years running, L.A.'s captain Dustin Brown has led the league in Penalty Plus/Minus, the ability to draw penalties and generate power plays for his team. Last season, Brown generated, after subtracting the penalties he took himself, 60 power plays for his team, almost double the 2nd-place finisher Jarome Iginla (+35). The Preds will need to maintain discipline if they want to hang around in this one.
Meet the Good Guys
After putting lots of pucks on net Thursday night in Anaheim, the Preds bring the walking wounded into another road game, as J.P. Dumont, Shea Weber, and Colin Wilson are definitely out. They're replaced in the lineup by Andreas Thuresson, Alexander Sulzer, and Mike Santorelli.
John Glennon noted this morning how severe the injury bug is hitting all over the NHL, but it's usually hard to quantify that impact. There is one blogger who is trying to track man-games lost relative to their cap hit, which is an interesting way of tracking the severity of injuries to a team; as of a few days ago he had Nashville in the middle of the pack, but with Dumont, Weber and Erat out I'm sure that figure will go up. Supposedly Erat might play today, but a line of Erat-Santorelli-Thuresson doesn't exactly put fear into the hearts of opponents, does it?
Assuming that Martin Erat is still out, the lines are likely to look similar to most of last game:
Even Strength Play
In the absence of detailed stats from Behind the Net this morning (website issues), we can look at the NHL's overall 5-on-5 Goals For/Against ratio, which paints a pretty daunting picture. At 1.36, the Kings are roughly scoring 4 goals for every 3 they give up, the 3rd-best ratio in the NHL, while the Preds at 0.68 are on the opposite end of the scale (26th).
Los Angeles PP vs. Nashville PK
The Kings boast a Top-10 power play, and as noted above, they have ability to draw penalties and get lots of time on the PP. The Predators' penalty kill has gotten better over the last two weeks, and currently sits 23rd with a 76.9% kill rate.
Nashville PP vs. Los Angeles PK
While the Preds' power play languishes in the NHL cellar, the L.A. penalty kill has turned around after an awful start. Without Shea Weber at the point, it looks like Jason Arnott will get some work there, as well as Steve Sullivan. Both have good shots to work with, and Sully's shiftiness might provide a new weapon to work with up high.
Jonathan Quick has assumed the bulk of the goaltending duty in L.A., which is a position they've struggled to fill for a long, long time. Frankly, it's probably the weakest spot on this team, and if they could shore it up, they might have a real contender on their hands.
|2009 - Jonathan Quick||15||908||10||3||39||2.58||396||357||.902||0|
For the Predators, Dan Ellis is likely to get the start today; Pekka Rinne wasn't really at fault for that 4-0 loss in Anaheim on Thursday, but it's a good opportunity to get Dan some work for the first time in over a week.
|2009 - Dan Ellis||8||376||2||3||19||3.03||184||165||.897||0|
Frankly, there's no good reason to believe the Nashville Predators have much of a chance in today's game - the Kings are a talented, balanced team that is dominating on home ice (5-1-1) and is well rested after having beaten the defending Stanley Cup champions Thursday night.
That said, the Predators often do their best when conventional wisdom says to write them off. The one thing we can certainly count on is that they will work hard and make life difficult for the Kings all over the ice. Will that be enough to pull out a surprise win? You'll have to tune in your radio today to find out...