After battling a few of the higher-profile teams in the Eastern Conference, the Nashville Predators are set up for three key matches against Western Conference foes this week. Since they finally have pretty much their regular lineup intact, this will prove to be a bit of a measuring stick for their conference standing.
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Tuesday at home vs. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers have cooled off considerably from their frenetic early-season pace, and a recent 2-6-0 stretch has dropped them to 9th in the West currently. You'll recall that Edmonton defeated Nashville 3-1 during their first meeting of the year last month. All eyes will be on the rookie scoring leaders, however, as #1 meets #2 with the 2011 1st-overall draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins facing off against Nashville's Craig Smith. Sure, Smith may not want to talk about it, but this matchup is a headline-maker.
|2011 - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||19||7||12||19||2||6||2||0||1||40||17.5|
|2011 - Craig Smith||19||7||8||15||-1||12||3||0||0||55||12.7|
Wednesday at Minnesota
Don't look now, but the Wild are atop the NHL mountain, and the Preds will need to fight their way through the #1 team defense going. Has former Predators owner Craig Leipold struck gold with new head coach Mike Yeo? The interesting matchup here could be if Pekka Rinne gets to face his former teammate over in Sweden, Niklas Backstrom. With the way Josh Harding has played, however, that's no sure thing.
|2011 - Niklas Backstrom||14||822||7||4||2||27||1.97||413||386||.935||2|
Saturday at Detroit
It's about time these two rivals finally met this season, isn't it? The Red Wings haven't fared well on the road so far, but at Joe Louis Arena they're 7-2-1. Keep an eye on Henrik Zetterberg this week, as he's been cited for an incredibly slow start, but just had his first multi-point game yesterday against Anaheim with a goal and an assist.
|2011 - Henrik Zetterberg||19||4||5||9||1||2||0||0||0||72||5.5|
So when you look at this schedule, what seems like a reasonable expectation for the week?