The Nashville Predators (22-14-3) try to reverse a 3-game slide tonight in St. Louis (7:00 Central start), where the Blues (17-16-5) have struggled recently. Do the Preds have what it takes to keep a division rival down? So far this season, each team in this series has won once in the other's building; on November 12, the Preds took a 3-1 road win, while on November 27, the Blues returned the favor, also by a 3-1 score, in Nashville.
After the jump, let's take a look at the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
The boys at St. Louis Game Time have had to put up with some strange hockey lately, as the Blues have prospered on the road (sweeping their way through western Canada) while floundering at home (losers of 6 out of their last 7).
The main guns to watch out for here are Brad Boyes (who always seems to score against Nashville), Keith Tkachuk, and David Perron, who leads the team with 11 goals. Former Pred Paul Kariya is not expected to play tonight due to injury, while defenseman Erik Johnson is getting benched.
Amusingly, the media notes from St. Louis say, "The Blues lead the Predators in their all-time series with a 30-22-13 mark." In what fantasy world does winning 30 of 65 games equate with leading a series? The Preds, meanwhile are 23-6-3 against St. Louis since the lockout.
Meet the Good Guys
Over the last few weeks we've seen some awfully un-Predator-like hockey from Nashville; high-scoring games that seem to swing either way for little reason. The team defense has been prone to some odd lapses in concentration, while the goaltending has been less than stellar. Oddly enough, however, there's been enough goal-scoring from guys like Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist (5 goals & 3 assists in his last 7 games) to keep the team in the middle of the playoff pack.
Can Erat set a new team record for most goals in a month (10, tied with Jason Arnott in February 2009)? He's got tonight along with Thursday in Columbus to take his shot.
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|
5-on-5 play is where the Predators have been earning their points for the last month or so, and we should expect that to continue here.
St. Louis PP vs. Nashville PK
Hold your noses here; the Blues are 25th on the power play at 15.7%, and Nashville is 29th on the PK (75.8%). Talk about the irresistible force against the immovable object...
Nashville PP vs. St. Louis PK
We're all sick of hearing how bad the Predators power play has been lately, and on top of that, penalty killing is one of the Blues' few areas of strength (4th ranked, 86.2%). Perhaps giving more PP ice time to Cody Franson might help?
Advantage: St. Louis
Chris Mason has an insane .961 save percentage and 1.28 GAA against Nashville since being traded to the Blues in the summer of 2008. Obviously he likes to prove a point:
|2009 - Chris Mason||26||1556||11||11||66||2.54||734||668||.910||0|
Pekka Rinne starts tonight, but the question is, can he get back on top of his game? His last 5 starts haven't been very impressive, with a combined .884 save percentage:
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||26||1412||14||7||66||2.80||693||627||.905||2|
Advantage: St. Louis
The Blues are an unstable team right now; there's no denying that they've got some talent there, but I have to wonder if Andy Murray is starting to lose his grip on the locker room, as happened before in Los Angeles.
What the Preds need to do is come in with a typical Barry Trotz type of game; keep it simple, play tight team defense, and eke out something like a 2-1 win. Nashville needs to get back into its rhythm in order to keep up the pace in what is sure to be a wide-open chase to the playoffs in the Western Conference.