Nashville Predators @ Florida Panthers preview: Hello, Jerred

Feb. 26, 2012: Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers center Jerred Smithson (25) warms up before a game against the Montreal Canadiens at the BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

After a long break, the Nashville Predators get back to work with a road game against the Florida Panthers (6:30 p.m. on FS-TN). It will be their first chance to match up with Jerred Smithson as an ex-Pred, after he was swapped for a 6th-round draft pick last week.

Follow after the jump for your preview!

Tale Of The Tape

Nashville (37-20-7) at Florida (30-21-12)
NSH Offense vs. FLA Defense FLA Offense vs. NSH Defense
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
NSH Offense 2.4 (13th) 26.6 (26th) 8.9 (8th) 2.2 (7th) 30.9 (28th) 927 (7th) NSH Defense
FLA Defense 2.3 (11th) 29.9 (19th) 922 (10th) 2.0 (26th) 29.0 (15th) 7.0 (27th) FLA Offense
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %
Special Teams
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
NSH 5-on-4 7.5 (1st) 48.3 (17th) 15.6 (2nd) 6.5 (19th) 53.0 (22nd) 877 (18th) NSH 4-on-5
FLA 4-on-5 6.6 (20th) 55.3 (29th) 880 (15th) 6.1 (15th) 48.6 (16th) 12.5 (12th) FLA 5-on-4
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %

Welcome to the modern NHL, where a team which has won 30 games and lost 33 is leading the Southeast Division. They get outscored at even strength and don't fare particularly well on special teams, but thanks to their 12 overtime/shootout losses (2nd most in the league), they look like a contender.

Florida Panthers

Whatever their underlying merit, the Panthers find themselves in a 3-way dogfight for the division title, with Washington & Winnipeg. Even though Florida holds the lead at the moment, their spirits were shaken by a recent 7-0 thrashing they suffered at the hands of the Jets on Thursday. This, from Litter Box Cats:

The bottom line is this; before anyone points to this loss and calls it a season, remember that neither the division or playoff hopes are lost. The putrid 7-0 stinker does raise questions about the team's ability to face a playoff atmosphere, but it doesn't rule out playoffs as one might prematurely assume. Before this loss, Florida strung together a four game point streak that kept hopes alive. So as a miserable collection of Panthers file out of the MTS center, they know what needs to be done in preparation of the next game, and the angry scowl of [head coach Kevin] Dineen will see to it.

The formula for Florida's success so far has been for former Chicago Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon to bring in selected former players, with one such ex-Hawk serving as the Panthers' leading scorer this season.

Kris Versteeg

#32 / Right Wing / Florida Panthers



May 13, 1986

2011 - Kris Versteeg 59 22 27 49 +2 36 7 1 5 152 14.5

As for Jerred Smithson? He's getting a bit more ice time than he had been working with the Preds over the last few months, and should get the chance to play an important role for a team which is fighting for every point they can earn in the standings right now.

Florida Panthers Last 5 Games

@ Winnipeg Thu 03/01 L 0 - 7
@ Toronto Tue 02/28 W 5 - 3
Montreal Sun 02/26 W 4 - 2
@ Carolina Sat 02/25 SO - W 3 - 2
Minnesota Thu 02/23 SO - L 2 - 3

Nashville Predators

Preds fans have been eagerly awaiting the chance to see how the team performs with new pickups Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad in the lineup. AK46 got in to Tuesday's game at Carolina while Gaustad missed it due to injury, but now that they've had a couple days of practice, we should get our first good look at how they'll fit in. Jim Diamond shared the lines used at Friday's practice.

I like the idea of breaking Andrei Kostitsyn in with Legwand & Hornqvist, and surrounding the 6'5" Gaustad with speedy wingers like Bourque and/or Smith sounds like a good way to start.

The real guy I'll be watching, though? I'm pulling hard for our $6 Million Man to finally hit that coveted 60-point plateau, and it's no sure thing right now:

Martin Erat

#10 / Left Wing / Nashville Predators



Aug 29, 1981

2011 - Martin Erat 56 14 32 46 +9 22 3 1 3 86 16.3

All the focus these days is on the new guys, but let's not forget about the old guy who is perhaps putting together his finest season yet.

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