While the Nashville Predators have won four straight to put themselves in good position for the playoff chase, tonight's game against the Anaheim Ducks takes on added importance. With Anaheim just one point behind them in the Western Conference standings and charging hard, there's special urgency for Nashville to keep ahead of them; the first tie-breaker as of this season is the number of regulation & overtime wins (read: no shootouts), and the Ducks hold the edge there relative to all the other teams fighting for five open playoff spots.There are still tickets available for tonight's contest, and the Dallas Stars come to town Saturday night. Take the OTF Discount to save money on Nashville Predators tickets for these, or any other home game!
I'm shocked, shocked I say, that the Ducks and Stars went to overtime last night allowing both teams to earn at least one point. The Ducks came out it with the win, thanks to a Cam Fowler goal, giving them four victories in a row and 9 in their last 11 games.
The big news around Anaheim is that star goaltender Jonas Hiller may return to action in tonight's game. Earlier this year he was garnering some Vezina Trophy consideration for his stellar work backstopping a defense which is a far cry from the Stanley Cup champions of 2007. Filling the void left during his absence from the lineup has been a critical challenge for the Ducks this season. Since joining Anaheim via trade from Tampa Bay, former Nashville Predator Dan Ellis has been mediocre in goal, with a .902 save percentage, and there's also been the remarkable comeback story of Ray Emery, whose degenerative hip condition had many thinking that his playing career was over.
In front of the goaltenders, Anaheim boasts a lineup that is almost a polar opposite of Nashville's, with a core of elite talent up front in Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and the aging wonder Teemu Selanne, after which the depth chart drops off like a cliff. Perry, in fact, is starting to work his way into Hart Trophy consideration based on his 40-goal, 40-assist effort so far, despite missing Getzlaf as his pivot for 15 games earlier this season due to injury.
On the blueline, the two guys to watch are Lubomir Visnovsky (whose 60 points lead all defensemen) and Cam Fowler, the rookie who surprisingly dropped to 12th in the 2010 Draft.
Considering their 4-game winning streak, I doubt we'll see much change to the lineup since Barry Trotz generally stands pat when things are going well. The offense has picked a good time to start clicking, as the Preds have scored at least 3 goals in 6 of their last 7 games, winning each time.
That's not to say that everything's going well, however. Mike Fisher's lack of offensive production has drawn concern; no matter how much he may or may not draw the checkers away from the Legwand line, 1 goal and 3 assists in 19 games isn't going to cut it. Colin Wilson also needs to wake up, with just 2 goals and 3 assists in his last 19. Yes, David Legwand (5 goals and 10 assists in his last 13 games) and Martin Erat (9G, 16A in his last 25) are delivering the goods, but can they keep it rolling, or is this just another tease before disappearing once again?
Hopefully they can keep it up against one of the league's most porous defenses (Anaheim is 5th-worst in Shots Allowed in 5-on-5 play). Tonight, the game plan has to run similar to Tuesday vs. Edmonton - get that early lead by taking advantage of the opportunities which present themselves. It'll be tough work, however, as the defense will have their hands full containing one of the top forward lines in the entire league.
As always, a huge burden will fall on the shoulders of the Preds' (and perhaps the NHL's?) MVP...