The test of a good team over the course of a long NHL season is if they bring a solid effort whether it's a "big game" or not, and that's exactly what the Nashville Predators will face tonight against the last-place Edmonton Oilers. Following Saturday night's impressive 3-0 win over Detroit, and ahead of Wednesday's rematch at Joe Louis Arena, the Preds can't afford to bring less than their best against an Oilers squad which they beat a couple weeks ago in a shootout, but only after giving up two third-period leads along the way.
NOTE: Tonight is a "Military Monday" and Lee Greenwood will perform during the first intermission.
Follow after the jump as we take a look at tonight's matchup...
First off, refresh your memory of the last time the Preds & Oilers tangled:
It's always a treat to see a rookie #1 overall pick come to town, and that's what we'll get with Taylor Hall. The former teammate of Preds prospect Ryan Ellis is showing signs that he'll be an NHL force for years to come, with 17 goals on a team-leading 150 shots. His speed challenges opposing defensemen, and his competitiveness helps create turnovers for his teammates. They've even experimented a bit with having him play center instead of wing, to try and get him as involved in the game as possible, with the highest-quality linemates. It's very unusual to see teams looking for ways to put more responsibility on their rookies, instead of less.
|2010 - Taylor Hall||52||17||15||32||-9||16||4||0||3||150||11.3|
The Preds have made an interesting lineup shift over the last couple days by sending center Chris Mueller back to Milwaukee instead of winger Matt Halischuk when Steve Sullivan came back from injury. Jerred Smithson was moved to center of the shutdown line between Halischuk and Joel Ward, allowing Nick Spaling to center Sully & J.P. Dumont in more of an offensive role. We all know how Spaling has done in a purely defensive and penalty killing situation, but does he also have what it takes to push the play up-ice and set up his wingers? I have my doubts (for now, Spals is still young & developing), but it's a shrewd gambit to try out in advance of the Trade Deadline.
Wilson - Legwand - Hornqvist
Erat - Goc - Kostitsyn
Ward - Smithson - Halischuk
Sullivan - Spaling - Dumont
Suter - Weber
O'Brien - Klein
Sulzer - Franson
In goal, Pekka Rinne appears primed to keep things rolling as they were prior to the All-Star break. His shutout against Detroit strengthened his hold on 2nd place among save percentage leaders, and with each passing game, asserts himself as perhaps the dominant goaltender in the Western Conference.
|2010 - Pekka Rinne||36||2113||18||13||5||72||2.04||1043||971||.931||4|
Here are some of the key team-level metrics heading into this game:
|Edmonton Oilers||Nashville Predators|
|5-on-5 Save %||.905||24th||.931||3rd|
|# of PP's||192||17th||184||21st|
|# of PK's||190||14th||188||8th|
Yikes, that's a pretty nasty looking picture for Edmonton, especially when you consider that the one category they excel in, 5-on-5 Shooting Percentage, doesn't appear to be something they can rely on in years ahead. One analysis pegs it as something which regresses about 70% to the mean from one year to the next.
The interesting point to watch will be to what extent the Preds' power play might be able to take advantage of the worst PK unit in the league. I can't think of a better way to head into that Detroit game than to enjoy some Frosties tonight.
For more about the Oilers, head over to SB Nation's Edmonton blog, The Copper & Blue.