The Ultimate Game Day Preview: Nashville @ Minnesota

04-10_medium

Wild blogHockey Wilderness

TV: FS-TN (Comcast 28, Dish Network 447, DirecTV 644)

Radio104.5 "The Zone" (WGFX)

It all comes down to this; with a win tonight, the Preds can not only eliminate Minnesota from the playoff hunt (take that, Craig Leipold!), but put pressure on St. Louis and Anaheim to keep Nashville out.

Questions to be answered: (1) Can Jason Arnott continue leading the way offensively? He has 4 goals and 2 assists in 3 games since returning. (2) Will the team lock things defensively and keep the explosive Marian Gaborik in check? (3) Can the Preds keep coming back like they did last night? In the last 8 games in which Nashville has given up the first goal, their record is a remarkable 5-1-3.

Predators coming in: Last night's improbable comeback in Detroit has given the Preds a chance at making the playoffs once again, and while they're playing on back-to-back nights, energy and emotion shouldn't be a problem tonight. So far this season, they are 6-4-2 in the second half of back-to-back sets.

Wild coming in: While mathematically they still have a chance at the playoffs, pretty much every game involving the contending teams would have to fall their way to get in. They're toast, and it's likely they're about to lose their franchise player, Marian Gaborik, to free agency.

Predators to watchJason Arnott has been a one-man wrecking crew of late, a sorely-needed boost to the Predators up front. J.P. Dumont has the 3rd-highest season assist total (47) in team history, and has 23 points in the last 24 games.

Wild to watchMikko Koivu is their best two-way player, a legitimate Selke candidate who also has 63 points on the season. Gaborik can play like a bolt of lightning, but is constantly hobbled by groin and hip injuries. Cal Clutterbuck, a rookie, likes to get physically involved (and has set a new "record" for hits in a season).

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

  Nashville Minnesota
 Record 40-33-8 19th 38-33-9 20th
 Pts % .543 19th .531 20th
 Goals For/Game 2.51 24th 2.5 25th
 Goals Against/Game 2.72 11th 2.38 2nd
 5-on-5 GF/GA 0.94 19th 0.91 22nd
 PP% 15.6 26th 19.6 9th
 PK% 83.2 7th 87.7 2nd
 Shots/Game 28.9 15th 27.4 30th
 Shots Against/Game 29.3 9th 30.7 20th
 FO % 52.2 3rd 48.5 21st

Yes, the Wild boast one of the most boring teams in the NHL (look at that league-low Shots For number), but with Gaborik back, you can expect a few dangerous chances out of him tonight.

Next, let's see which players draw penalties, and which ones head to the box (data through April 5):

  Nashville Penalties Drawn Minnesota Penalties Drawn
  Player Draws Fouls Pen +/-   Player Draws Fouls Pen +/-
  Jordin Tootoo 50 45 +5  Cal Clutterbuck 47 23 +24
  Martin Erat 25 24 +1  James Sheppard 36 16 +20
  Ryan Jones 24 10 +14  Stephane Veilleux 23 17 +6
  Dan Hamhuis 23 25 -2  Mikko Koivu 22 28 -6
  Vern Fiddler 22 13 +9  Eric Belanger 21 11 +10
  Joel Ward 21 12 +9  Derek Boogaard 21 25 -4
  Penalties Taken   Penalties Taken
  Jordin Tootoo 50 45 +2  Marek Zidlicky 16 36 -20
  Ryan Suter 18 36 -18  Mikko Koivu 24 24 0
  Shea Weber 16 35 -19  Derek Boogaard 21 25 -4
  Greg de Vries 15 24 -9  Cal Clutterbuck 47 23 +24
  Dan Hamhuis 23 25 -2  Brent Burns 17 20 -3
  Martin Erat 25 24 +1  Kim Johnsson 15 20 -5

Hey, look gang! It's our old pal, Marek Zidlicky! In a tradition that dates back to his days in Nashville, many of his team's fans revile his gifted, but often mistake-riddled, offensive play.

And as for the goalies?

Nashville


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Dan Ellis 35 1965 11 19 4 5 96 2.93 963 867 .900 3
2008 - Pekka Rinne 51 2940 29 14 4 6 113 2.31 1400 1287 .919 7

Minnesota


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Niklas Backstrom 70 4028 36 24 8 3 155 2.31 2024 1869 .923 8
2008 - Josh Harding 18 810 2 9 1 3 29 2.15 425 396 .932 0


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