The march through Western Canada continues today in Calgary, where the Nashville Predators put their recent 5-0-1 record on the line against the Northwest Division-leading Flames in an afternoon game (3:00 Central start).
Interestingly, the Preds are 11-3-2 in their last 16 afternoon games, so might the early puck drop help them out? Let's take a look at the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
Calgary's a very strong team, bolstered by a resurgent season by Miikka Kiprusoff and point-per-game performances from Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque. On the back end, they've got what is probably the best group of defensemen in the NHL, led by Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf, and Robyn Regehr.
The Flames have won 5 straight against Nashville, including the only game between the two this season, a nasty 5-0 contest on November 30.
Matchsticks & Gasoline is SB Nation's Calgary Flames blog, and is one of the more stat-savvy sites out there. Head on over and lose an hour or two. According to the gang there, the Calgary lines are as follows:
Olli Jokinen hasn't exactly lit things up since coming to Calgary as the proposed solution for a hole up the middle.
Meet the Good Guys
If anybody's hotter than Flames these days, it's got to be the Nashville Predators. At 5-0-1 in their last 6, and 19-5-2 in their last 26, the Preds currently sit in the middle of a logjam atop the Western Conference, where just 3 points separates the top 7 teams. While there's good reason to believe that the current 5+ goals per game pace isn't sustainable, Nashville is getting contributions from up and down the roster, and should be able to keep scoring enough to remain competitive.
The lines carrying over from the Edmonton game are as follows:
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|
So... they score about as much as the Preds but give up about 15% fewer goals. That's a good combination for the Flames. Nashville's recent numbers, however, are well above these season-long totals, and they've achieved most of their success lately in 5-on-5 play.
Calgary PP vs. Nashville PK
Despite the top-drawer talent that fills out the power play, Calgary sits in the middle of the pack with an 18.4% PP, good for 19th in the league. Another surprise is that the Flames don't get very many power play opportunities, ranking 26th in that regard. In years past, Jarome Iginla has been among the league leaders in drawing calls, but this season has been another matter entirely.
This is all good news for a Predators penalty killing group which ranks a dismal 29th. This is an area of the team that has to get fixed, sooner rather than later.
Nashville PP vs. Calgary PK
The other side of the special teams battle doesn't look much better for Nashville, which boasts the #26 power play at 16.7%. Patric Hornqvist's 2nd goal Thursday night in Edmonton ended a recent slide by that group, which struggled to produce for any length of time.
Calgary boasts a middling penalty kill.
After a few years of slow but steady decline, Miikka Kiprusoff has been outstanding for the Flames this season:
|2009 - Miikka Kiprusoff||30||1792||18||8||64||2.14||913||849||.930||3|
We'll have to wait for word as to who gets the start for Nashville. One of the players mentioned that Pekka Rinne had a bit of the flu on Thursday, and given Dan Ellis' solid work in relief, it's conceivable he could get the nod today. UPDATE: per Tom Callahan on Twitter, Dan Ellis gets the start.
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||25||1352||14||6||62||2.75||653||591||.905||2|
|2009 - Dan Ellis||15||771||7||5||34||2.65||381||347||.911||0|
The Preds erased the memory of one bad loss in Edmonton a couple days ago, can they repeat the feat again this afternoon? The Flames make for a much tougher opponent than the Oilers, and it's imperative that the Predators forwards put as much as pressure on deep in the zone as they can; Calgary's elite defensemen are going to be tough to rattle.
This may be a game in which the Nashville defense are relied upon to contribute a goal or two, and I'm sure Shea Weber wouldn't mind showing up Dion Phaneuf (previously touted as the top young defenseman in the game) before his home crowd.
ALSO: check out Point 2 Point for another look at today's game.
For discounted tickets to any Nashville Predators home game, you can follow this link and use the special offer code "PREDS".