Tonight on home ice, the Nashville Predators try to stop their 5-game losing streak as they host the Atlanta Thrashers. Atlanta comes into this one atop an 8-team pileup in the Eastern Conference, where the #6-13 spots in the standings are separated by a mere two points.
In case you need any extra motivation to come out to tonight's game, come celebrate Hockey Weekend Across America. If that isn't enough, the Preds are hosting a fund-raiser for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, which receives 25% of the ticket revenue this evening, and all of the silent auction proceeds. And to top it all off, the Atlanta Thrashers Fan Club is making a road trip to this game, so Nashville will need to defend its turf in the stands as well as on the ice.
Follow after the jump for the breakdown...
Meet the Enemy
The big story with Atlanta, of course, revolves around Ilya Kovalchuk. After a series of deadlines had passed to work out a contract extension, it becomes more likely by the day that he's not coming back to the Thrashers after this season. The question, then, is 1) whether he gets traded as a playoff rental, 2) whether he signs a long-term deal with another NHL team after such a trade or over the summer, or, 3) he bolts for the bright lights and home-cooked borscht of the KHL. For all things Thrashers, check out Bird Watchers Anonymous.
Besides Kovalchuk, however, there are some interesting stories going on with this team. Evander Kane, the #3 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, has been a regular presence in the lineup at the tender age of 18 and has 11 goals. Lately, fringe player Jim Slater has been the hot hand, so much so that he's pushed veteran winger Slava Kozlov to the press box as a healthy scratch. Keep an eye on the Colby Armstrong-Jim Slater-Evander Kane line tonight.
Meet the Good Guys
The Preds are a frustrated bunch these days. Their current 5-game losing streak has included several missed opportunities at victory, or at least stretching a game to overtime. In the battle for playoff position, teams like Calgary and Detroit have lost more of their games in overtime, so they're right on Nashville's heels despite the Preds having won more games.
Carrying over from last night, the lines looked as follows (most of the time). The wild card is if any of the wounded players can return to action tonight:
Even Strength Play
|GP||GF||GA||GF/60||SF/60||SPCT||GA/60||SA/60||SPCT||+/- per 60|
The Thrashers are definitely a more "high-event" team than Nashville, scoring a few more goals but giving up a lot, lot more. Will the visitors be able to dictate an up-tempo pace, or will the Preds take command? During 5-on-5 action, I'd give a slight nod to Nashville here.
|PP %||17.5 (19th)||76.7 (26th)||PK %|
|# of PP's||206 (14th)||176 (28th)||# of PK's|
|PK %||80.2 (21st)||15.5 (29th)||PP %|
|# of PK's||202 (16th)||194 (22nd)||# of PP's|
It's still a head-scratcher to me that Nashville's penalty killing has been so poor this season. The guys who left over the summer (Vern Fiddler, Scott Nichol, Greg Zanon) were all among the worst Preds last season in Goals Against while on the PK.
The Predators certainly can't afford to head to the box early, like they did in Detroit last night.
Forget the stats - Johan Hedberg has perhaps the goaltending highlight of the year so far.
|2009 - Johan Hedberg||28||1499||12||8||62||2.48||752||690||.918||1|
|2009 - Ondrej Pavelec||32||1710||12||13||99||3.47||1016||917||.903||2|
I'm guessing that Pekka Rinne gets the start for the Preds tonight, as Dan Ellis played last night and was outdueled by Jimmy Howard. Barry Trotz is desperate for Rinne to start showing the form he had during the second half last season, but we've only seen glimpses of it so far.
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||34||1837||18||10||86||2.81||883||797||.903||2|
This is a dangerous game for Nashville - Kovalchuk is the type of scorer who can take advantage of the slightest defensive cracks to break a game wide open.
In front of what should be a large crowd tonight (come on, people, they should time to clear the roads by game time) the Preds need to display the home-ice dominance they've shown in recent seasons. Recently, however, they've been less than impressive at the Sommet Center. Maybe it is time for a new name on the joint.
The stage is also set for Pekka Rinne to take command and lead this team into the Olympic break; can he make the most of his opportunity?