It was a year ago tomorrow when the Vancouver Canucks came into Nashville and roughed up the Predators in a 3-1 game that derailed the Preds for weeks afterward. Rob Davison nailed Scott Nichol, concussing him and causing a lengthy absence from the lineup, and Alexander Burrows left his feet for a head-shot on J.P. Dumont that seemed to leave the Preds' leading scorer with lingering effects.
The question tonight, then, is whether the Predators allow the Canucks to push them around once again on their home ice, or will Barry Trotz use the nuclear option? Having gone 2-2-1 in their last 5 games, can Nashville get back to the winning hockey they played throughout the month of November?
UPDATE: As a supplement to your pre-game, the Thom Abraham Show passed along an an interview with Pete Weber, in which they dig into exactly what's working and what's not with the Preds right now. Good stuff...
Meet the Enemy
Tonight wraps up an eastern road trip for the Canucks (16-13-0) that has seen them win 2 out of 3 so far, having won at New Jersey and Philadelphia before losing at Carolina. Winners of 6 out of their last 9, Vancouver is gathering steam after a slow start. There is some complaining that perhaps they score too many meaningless goals, and haven't produced well enough in clutch situations, but I expect that will sort itself out over time. The Canucks will contend with Calgary for the Northwest Division championship, and if they fail on that front, should likely earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The big guns to watch out for are the Sedin twins, Henrik (#33, normally the playmaker but leading the team with 14 goals) and Daniel (#22, normally the goal-scorer but with 9 assists in 11 games). Ryan Kesler is a lock for Team USA at the Winter Olympics, and was a Selke Trophy finalist last season. Mikael Samuelsson has provided scoring depth, and on the back end, Alexander Edler and Christian Ehrhoff make things happen from the blueline.
Nucks Misconduct has the preview from their perspective, and is well worth a visit to acquaint yourself with all things Vancouver.
Meet the Good Guys
With word that Cody Franson will be scratched tonight in favor of Alexander Sulzer, we'll have a slightly different look on the back end for Nashville (16-11-2). Up front, Barry Trotz has hinted at multiple changes to the forward lines, so the following is a guess based on reading the tea leaves lately. The big question in my mind is whether, based on what happened last December, Trotz gives Wade Belak a chance to make Vancouver's night a miserable one:
Even Strength Play
|5-on-5 data from Behind the Net|
|TEAM||GP||GF||GA||GF/60||SF/60||Sht %||GA/60||SA/60||Save Pct.||+/- per 60|
The Canucks are tied for 2nd-best in the NHL in 5-on-5 play, and fare well in pretty much all aspects here; they're above average both in terms of the quantity and quality of shots for and against. Nashville has, over time, gotten closer to the break-even point for +/- per 60 minutes, but are still held back by the lowest shooting percentage in the league.
Vancouver PP vs. Nashville PK
Even though they missed Daniel Sedin for an extended period of time with a broken foot, the Canucks power play has remained effective, with a 4th-best 22.7% success rate. The Predators have been solid on the PK, but will have their hands full tonight.
Nashville PP vs. Vancouver PK
Despite scoring in the 1st period against Minnesota Saturday, the Nashville power play has been in a funk of late, and has sunk to 26th in the NHL, at 16.2%. Vancouver's PK is a middling 21st, at 78.4%.
Vancouver's got a pretty good one going for them tonight...
|2009 - Roberto Luongo||22||1244||12||9||50||2.41||598||548||.916||2|
For Nashville, Pekka Rinne gets a chance to rebound from some poor outings lately:
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||20||1102||11||6||48||2.61||519||471||.908||2|
Both teams have had a few days off to rest up and practice, so we should see a strong, spirited game from each side. Will the Preds try to establish physical dominance on home ice, or play it straight, stay out of the penalty box, and eke out a win?
For discounted tickets to this, or any Nashville Predators home game, you can follow this link and use the special offer code "PREDS".