Predators Game Day Preview: Pittsburgh @ Nashville

[Tennessean] - [Preds Insider] - [SB Nation] - [Pensburgh]

The Pittsburgh Penguins are in town tonight, and with that comes a certain amount of attention paid to Nashville as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin take the ice. The Predators have yet to lose in regulation (3-0-2), but the last couple of games have left me with a sick feeling in my stomach, as Nashville has not played "Predators Hockey", which will continue to be the quickest path to success.

Anyway, the Penguins present a good test for Nashville. Follow after the jump for more, including some thoughts from a Penguins blogger...

Nashville

In a strange twist, we're going to forget about the power play for a little while. Though they haven't scored on the man advantage in two straight, the power play has clearly made adjustments from last year.

The penalty kill, though, continues to baffle. What was once a staple of Barry Trotz's has become a reason to close your eyes for 120 seconds as the team gives up chance after chance. Nick Spaling is one of the best PKers in the organization, but he's only one guy - improving this facet of their game is essential if the Preds are going to keep pace in the Central. While the PP gets all the attention from the fans, the PK's performance cost Nashville about twice as many goals as the power play last season.

At even strength, the hope is that the Erat-Wilson-Dumont line can do better in their second game together. Against Calgary they got outshot pretty badly. Without Ryan Suter around to help lug the puck from blueline to blueline, there will be a greater burden on all of the centers to help the Preds get things rolling out of their own end of the ice.

In Goal

It certainly didn't look like Pekka lost any of his form while injured, did it? Sure, Anders Lindback played well - but the team in front of Rinne knows he can bail them out at pretty much any time, and their play reflects that.

Pekka Rinne

#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators

6-5

207

Nov 03, 1982

GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2010 - Pekka Rinne 2 104 1 1 2 1.15 65 63 .969 0

Projected Lineup

Here's how Nashville lined up against Calgary, with Alexander Sulzer slotted into the lineup for the injured Ryan Suter. Kevin Klein looked pretty good alongside Shea Weber, so lets hope that continues. With all the offensive problems the team had on Tuesday, you can expect these to change. Matthew Lombardi and Marcel Goc remain out of the lineup.

I'm not sure who will take over Suter's alternate captain's duties, but I'll be surprised if its anyone other than David Legwand or perhaps Martin Erat.

Forwards
Dumont - Wilson - Erat
Sullivan (A) - O'Reilly - Hornqvist
Ward - Legwand - Tootoo
Kostitsyn - Smithson - Spaling
Defense
Klein - Weber (C)
Bouillon - Franson
O'Brien - Sulzer

Pittsburgh

In order to get a better read on a team I don't pay much attention to, I spoke with Frank, managing editor of SB Nation's Penguins' blog PensBurgh. Here's what he had to say:

The biggest storyline floating around Penguins camp at the moment is focused on the goaltending "situation" that exists between Brent Johnson and Marc-Andre Fleury.  I use the word situation lightly not because I'm from New Jersey, but because there really isn't anything more to this ordeal than the fact that Johnson is playing well right now and Fleury was, up until he was temporarily relieved, not.  Regardless, it has been hammered home by head coach Dan Bylsma and even Johnson himself that this still remains Fleury's team. 

Outside of that, keep an eye on Mark Letestu.  If you've never heard of him you're not alone.  He's been working his way up through the Penguins' system over the past five seasons, and likely got the nod at the beginning of the year because Jordan Staal remains out of the lineup with a foot injury.  However, he's definitely making his case to stick around, as he's registered seven points in seven games (4G, 3A) and is giving the Pens an offensive presence similar to that of the late Ryan Malone (he's not dead, but some in Pittsburgh would say his career is).

Line pairings have been a bit scrambled so far this season, but Bylsma hasn't held back from tossing out something along the lines of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz on the first line, depending on the situation.  Odds are he'll be using that on the power play again, a power play that just so happened to go 3-for-9 against the Senators earlier this week.    

Many thanks to Frank for his time, and I encourage you to check his website out.

In Goal

Marc-Andre Fleury is the franchise goaltender, but Brent Johnson leads the league in wins during this young season. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fleury gets the start tonight...

Marc-Andre Fleury

#29 / Goalie / Pittsburgh Penguins

6-2

180

Nov 28, 1984

GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2010 - Marc-Andre Fleury 3 176 0 3 10 3.41 68 58 .853 0

Projected Lineup

Jordan Staal, Arron Asham, Zybnek Michalek, and Brooks Orpik are all injured for the Penguins, which means Pittsburgh's missing their best defensive center and top 2 shutdown defensemen. That's an opportunity Nashville would do well to exploit.

Forwards
Kunitz - Crosby (C) - Dupuis
Comrie - Letestu - Malkin (A)
Cooke - Talbot - Kennedy
Tangradi - Adams - Rupp
Defense
Martin - Letang
Goligoski - Lovejoy
Hutchinson - Engelland

Key Matchup 

Xt VS.Xt

With Jordan Staal out of the lineup, the Pens will use Maxime Talbot in a shutdown role. It may not be something he's completely accustomed to, so its up to Colin Wilson to take advantage of any deficiencies. Wilson has been thrust into the de facto top line center role due to injuries, and really needs to show Barry Trotz that he's capable of filling Matthew Lombardi's shoes. We know he has the skills - its time for the rubber to meet the road.

Prediction

Despite the injuries, I think that the Predators will end the mini-slump soon. This team is too focused to not get back to the little things that enable them to perform so well.

Unfortunately, I don't think it'll end just yet. Defensively, the losses of Goc and Suter are going to be felt immensely, and Crosby and Malkin are not the best remedy for an ailing defense. I anticipate Nashville losing their first game in regulation. Penguins 4, Predators 1.

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