Predators Game Day Preview: Nashville @ Los Angeles

03-16_medium
Kings blog (partially): Battle of California

Can the Predators repeat the California sweep they completed back in November? That would certainly bode well for their playoff chances, but it's a daunting task due to the continuing injury trouble they've had down the middle of the lineup. It's going to be a late start (9:30 Nashville time), but join us in the game thread, you die-hards!

Questions to be answered: (1) Can the Preds, with their 13-18-2 road record, continue to charge in the playoff race? (2) Can the Nashville penalty killing continue its stellar play of late, killing 31 of the last 32 power plays? (3) Will Barry Trotz combine Steve Sullivan and J.P. Dumont on a line tonight? They played less than a minute together against Phoenix, but combined to create the winning goal.

Predators coming in: A workmanlike, if unspectacular 2-0 win in Phoenix on Saturday reversed a three-game losing streak by Nashville. Pekka Rinne returned to the net with an 18-save shutout, setting a new franchise mark with his 7th goose-egg this season.

Kings coming in: Los Angeles has won three straight on home ice, before dropping both parts of a two-game road trip to Vancouver and San Jose. With 68 points, the Kings are just five points out of a playoff spot, but there are simply too many teams ahead of them to believe they've got a serious shot. That, and the fact that 10 of their final 14 games are on the road.

Predators to watch:The empty-netter that iced Saturday's win in Phoenix was David Legwand's 20th goal of the season, making this the 2nd time in his career that he has achieved that mark. J.P. Dumont has scored in consecutive games, and will continue to be relied upon until Jason Arnott returns to action. Ryan Suter has a six-game point streak working (2 goals, 4 assists).

Kings to watch: Anze Kopitar (5G, 4A in last 7 games) and Alexander Frolov (2G, 6A in last 6) are the main weapons up front, complemented by perennial Penalty Plus/Minus leader Dustin Brown. Nobody in the NHL forces opponents into taking penalties like Brown, so Nashville will need to be disciplined, or rely heavily on their top-notch penalty kill. Drew Doughty is a sensational rookie on the Los Angeles blueline.

Here's a look at the two teams in the main statistical categories, along with overall NHL rank:

Nashville Los Angeles
 Record 34-30-5 19th 29-29-10 24th
 Pts % .529 19th .500 23rd
 Goals For/Game 2.48 27th 2.57 23rd
 Goals Against/Game 2.70 8th 2.81 13th
 5-on-5 GF/GA 0.94 18th 0.80 28th
 PP% 13.9 29th 19.9 12th
 PK% 84.8 3rd 82.7 8th
 Shots/Game 29.1 18th 29.7 14th
 Shots Against/Game 29.3 13th 27.6 2nd
 FO % 52.7 3rd 52.4 4th

It's a bit surprising to see how the Kings rank defensively, as the typical take on this team has been that the blueliners are substandard (outside of the young phenom Doughty) and the goaltending miserable. Is it a case of the Kings running a system whereby the forwards stay home to help out, which leads to the below-average offensive totals? For a team with the young talented forwards that L.A. boasts, you'd expect more goal-scoring.

Finally, let's take a look at who draws the penalties, and who takes them for each team (data as of March 16):

 Nashville Penalties Drawn Los Angeles Penalties Drawn
 Player Draws Fouls Pen +/-  Player Draws Fouls Pen +/-
 Jordin Tootoo 47 42 +5  Dustin Brown 71 19 +52
 Martin Erat 24 24 0  Anze Kopitar 27 6 +21
 Ryan Jones 23 10 +13  Raitis Ivanans 24 40 -16
 Dan Hamhuis 21 24 -3  Matt Greene 24 40 -19
 Joel Ward 20 11 +9  Wayne Simmonds 20 18 +2
 Vern Fiddler 20 9 +11  Alexander Frolov 18 12 +6
Penalties Taken Penalties Taken
 Jordin Tootoo 47 42 +5  Raitis Ivanans 24 40 -16
 Ryan Suter 16 34 -18  Matt Greene 24 40 -19
 Shea Weber 14 32 -18  Denis Guathier 12 29 -17
 Greg de Vries 6 27 -21  Kyle Quincy 12 27 -15
 Martin Erat 24 24 0  Jarret Stoll 13 24 -11
 Dan Hamhuis 21 24 -3  Drew Doughty 11 24 -13

The big story here is that L.A. traded away Patrick O'Sullivan at the trading deadline; O'Sullivan is currently 3rd in the league with a +26 rating. For Nashville, Vern Fiddler has surprisingly taken a couple bad tripping calls in the last two games. Fids is normally a pretty disciplined defensive player, and actually draws more calls than one might expect.

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