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The Nashville Predators take on the East's best team tonight in the Philadelphia Flyers, having lost three games in a row. The need for a victory tonight is high, despite the game not having a four point swing. Detroit comes to town on Saturday, and the Preds do not need their backs against the wall - again.
Just when we think Nashville's found a way to solve their inconsistencies with several winning streaks, they go and string together several poor performances in a row. Needless to say, several poor performances in a row will get you eliminated in the playoffs, and success in the playoffs is what Nashville must focus on above all else.
Simply, tonight's game will be extremely difficult. The Preds have two choices - they can rebound and play their game, or come out flat and get embarrassed.
I think we all knew Philadelphia would be good, but perhaps not quite this good - what's been the biggest reason for the success of a team that actually looks better than the one that won the East last year?
I'll answer your question with another question. How many teams could lose Chris Pronger on the blueline and basically, not miss a beat? It was a little less than ideal losing No. 20 for a month, but for the most part, guys like Andrej Meszaros were able to step up and fill in. Up front, it's hard to argue that any other group of 12 forwards in the league are better than the group the Flyers employ. They can roll three scoring lines and get all the favorable matchups in the process.
Over the offseason, the Predators traded Dan Hamhuis' negotiating rights to the Flyers. Two parts to this question - is Hamhuis a player that you wish you had signed, and is that a deal the Flyers and their fans regret making?
Of course you'd always love to add a guy like Hamhuis, but with the Flyers defense performing the way it is, I wouldn't change the way things played out. Hamhuis would've been top-4 instead of top-6, but the Flyers don't really need another top-4 defenseman right not. Meszaros earning $4 million on the third pairing should tell you all you need to know about the defensive depth. As for the trade, I don't think anybody regrets it. As it turned out we got a third round pick (from Pittsburgh) for Ryan Parent, who as you know isn't worth a third round pick.
What's the general perception of Nashville among Flyers fans, who perhaps don't see the Predators play often?
I won't speak for everybody, but my personal perception is that they're perennially underrated. You guys obviously know them a lot better than I, though. Is that the case, you think? They also seem pretty streaky to me, but then again, I read On the Forecheck (plug!).
Sergei Bobrovsky seemingly came out of nowhere to give Philly some stability in the goaltending ranks. How confident are you he'll be the right man for the job when the playoffs roll around?
It's hard not to be confident in Bob -- just look at his numbers. At the same time, we have no idea how he's going to hold up down the stretch. He's only played 35 games in a year at max before, so there's definitely a concern that he'll be worn out. People saying that "oh, he's young, he'll be fine" are pretty being pretty naive, in my opinion. Then again, with as good as the defense has been, Bob doesn't need to be Brodeur or Hasek. He can get away with being a rookie a lot of the time.
Finally, what is the best recipe for the Preds' success at the Wells Fargo Center?
Gotta score first. I don't have the exact numbers, but if you can take the crowd out of the game early, you can probably take the Flyers out early, although that might be a different story since they were so embarrassed against Tampa. They're going to (hopefully) come out firing, so in reality, it might be necessary for the Preds to weather an early storm.
Oh, and take all the penalties you want because the Flyers won't make you pay.
Many thanks to Travis for his time and excellent answers. Plan on a 2nd period road trip to Broad Street Hockey.