I had this game circled on the calendar since pre-season, curious as to the reaction Dan Hamhuis would get in his return. Hamhuis played well as a Predator for six seasons and was, by all accounts, and upstanding member of the community. Still, after a certain bridge-burning joke, his being habitually underrated by Preds' fans, and a few cheap shots on Patric Hornqvist in January, he was in store for some boos. But alas, Hammer's out with a concussion and his homecoming will have to wait. Hopefully whatever joy the Nashville faithful would have received from paying Hamhuis back for his comments will be doubled by watching some rookie flounder as his replacement.This game will absolutely be a test for Nashville. The Canucks excel in all aspects of the game and are arguably the best team in hockey. To win, the Predators must play to their strengths (defensive zone maintenance, Pekka Rinne) and exploit favorable match-ups against a superior group of Vancouver forwards. If Nashville loses, all the weaknesses that cast doubt on their Stanley Cup aspirations will be readily apparent. With a win, they gain the necessary confidence that they can beat anyone, if they execute Barry Trotz's game-plan.
Keys to the game for Nashville:
- Fisher-line vs. the Vancouver D--The Canucks' defense corps has been hamstrung by injuries all season and there's a good chance you haven't heard of several blue-liners they'll be suiting up tomorrow. In their only other meeting with Vancouver this season, the Predators scored because Goc, Erat, and Kostitsyn chipped the puck in and went three-deep on the forecheck (dot com). Mike Fisher adds physicality to that line's checking, which should aid in disloding the puck from some green (no pun intended) defensemen.
- Moving the puck out of the defensive zone--On both goals the Canucks scored January 26th against the Predators, Nashville gave up possession behind their blue-line, because the defenseman couldn't connect with the checking line for a clean clear. This game could become a test of the Predators' new forward combinations, which lacks any true checking line. Let's see if a power-vs-power match-up does better against the Sedins than Smithson and Ward did.