The Nashville Predators kick off a 3-game Western Canada road trip tonight in Vancouver, with a late start (9:30 Central on FS-TN, no HD) that should leave plenty of groggy hockey fans in offices around Nashville tomorrow morning.
UPDATE: While reading the preview, listen to Terry Crisp's segment on the Thom Abraham Show at the following link:
And yes, the Green Men will be back in the building tonight for Vancouver...
Meet the Enemy
After a slow start, the Canucks are coming on strong and making believers out of those who predicted them for Stanley Cup contention a few months ago. A 7-0-2 streak has them climbing past Colorado to battle with Calgary for the Northwest Division lead, and they're led up front by Henrik Sedin, who leads the NHL scoring race with 20 goals and 42 assists. The classic cliche about great players is that they make teammates around them better, and Henrik has certainly done that; Vancouver pest Alex Burrows was just named the league's #1 Star of the Week for scoring six goals, with Henrik assisting on five of them.
Word comes from Nucks Misconduct that Steve Bernier will miss this one, which is good news for Nashville. The big lug actually has the best career points-per-game against the Preds on this squad, with 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 14 contests.
Meet the Good Guys
The Predators come into this game painfully shorthanded, as Jason Arnott is not expected back until Friday at Calgary. Joel Ward is listed as "probable", which makes sense considering yesterday's assignment of Ben Guite to Milwaukee.
All the same, however, the goal-scoring burden will lie heavily on Patric Hornqvist (11 goals, 5 assists in his last 13 games) and Martin Erat, who returned from injury Saturday night vs. Anaheim and scored a goal. Up the middle, Cal O'Reilly will presumably get a chance to play with top talent (he centered Hornqvist, Erat, and Steve Sullivan at various points), giving David Legwand the likely matchup against the Sedin twins.
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|
Vancouver's +0.8 goal differential in 5-on-5 is 2nd best in the NHL behind only the Washington Capitals, and speaks to the overall talent level of the team. Even considering how well Nashville has played over the last two months, the Canucks have the advantage in every category here.
|PP %||16.4 (25th)||82.1 (14th)||PK %|
|# of PP's||165 (23rd)||173 (16th)||# of PK's|
|PK %||77.4 (27th)||21.7 (4th)||PP %|
|# of PK's||146 (29th)||184 (3rd)||# of PP's|
I'm experimenting a bit with different ways to present this information, but the basic idea is that on each side of the special teams battle, the Canucks are more efficient. The interesting point to watch tonight will be whether Nashville can stay out of the box; Vancouver gets a lot of power plays due to the work of their speedy forwards.
Robert Luongo has won 7 of his last 9, and hasn't given up more than 3 goals in a game since November.
|2009 - Roberto Luongo||38||2211||23||12||81||2.20||1061||980||.924||3|
Both Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis have responded with better outings lately, but neither has been exactly red-hot in recent weeks. Ellis gets the start tonight, and he'll have a tall order keeping pace with Luongo:
|2009 - Dan Ellis||20||1069||9||8||49||2.75||543||494||.910||0|
When you break down the various factors within this game, the odds are clearly stacked in the Canucks' favor. It is in situations like this, however, when Barry Trotz's team often surprises us most, and pulls out a gritty effort.
Just make sure you brew that extra pot of coffee this evening; the way Hornqvist and Erat are playing, it'll be a huge matchup for them tonight against Luongo...