7:00 PM CST | 102.9 FM | Center Ice Only
Tonight, the Nashville Predators look to extend their NHL's best current win streak to six with a win over the surprising Minnesota Wild. You might wonder, at first, how the Predators are getting things done. Looking closer, though, its easy to tell - a few of their underlying stats are among the NHL's elite. Nashville is 2nd in the league in goals allowed per game, 5th in the NHL on the penalty kill, and Pekka Rinne is 4th in both major goaltending categories, goals against average and save percentage.
Like I mentioned on Twitter a few days ago - this is Predators hockey, and it wins games.
An alarmingly close bedfellow of Predators hockey, though, is apparently maddening inconsistency. While its true they've won five in a row and three in a row twice, the Predators have also lost three in a row once, five in a row twice, and four consecutive three times. That begs the question, then - what happens if they hit a dry spell right as a playoff series begins? Is it over before it starts? Will they be able to flip a switch, and become consistent? Doubtful.
There are 41 games remaining in the 2010-11 regular season. A win tonight against the Wild will not necessarily mean that the problem is solved. A loss will not mean that the problems are here to stay. It's the manner that the game will be played that really matters, in my mind. Will they rely on Pekka Rinne to bail them out, like they did against the Sharks on Saturday, or will it be a dominating team effort, like against the Kings last Thursday? If its going to be the former, then I'm not convinced we'll see much playoff success.
Let's be honest - it's not really about regular season success for this team anymore, particularly considering that Saturday's win was the team's 250th regular season victory since the beginning of 05-06, which only trails Detroit, San Jose, and Vancouver.
What that means is that what they do now - every game and lead lost, every mistake made, is a lesson to learn and stow away for April and May. If the Predators do that, and stick to what they know, then the wins, now and later, will come. Nobody knows this better than Barry Trotz:
We need to learn from earlier in the year. The reason we win is we work hard. We're pretty grounded. That's the number one thing, we need to stay grounded and keep our noses to the grindstone. We're winning with a combination of goaltending and team defense, be it 5-on-5 or what have you. [Preds Insider]
More specifically to tonight against Minny, Nashville simply needs to find a way to shut down Martin Havlat. In two games against the Predators this year, Havlat has 2 goals, 2 assists, and is a +3. Whether it be Shane O`Brien sending a message with a hard hit or Ryan Suter covering him like a wet blanket, something has to be done - no opposing player has given me more heartburn this season.
Additionally, the Wild will be without Marek Zidlicky, who is by far Minnesota's best defenseman at exiting their own zone. If Nashville can implement their best forecheck tonight, you'll probably see more than a few defensive zone turnovers by the Wild, because lets face it - Greg Zanon isn't the best at bringing the puck up the ice.
Whatever happens, this is very much a winnable game, and a victory would be awful nice, because after all, six is better than five, right?