The Nashville Predators want to make a statement that they are not a team that is going to roll-over when the San Jose Sharks storm the gates at Bridgestone Arena tonight. These two team's seasons have gone very differently, with Nashville wallowing in mediocrity and San Jose duking it out with the league's top teams. Conventional wisdom says this is a mismatch on paper, but it was just last month that fans covered their eyes as another elite team came to town. We all remember that one very fondly. I have a feeling this one is going to be closer than you all might think.
|San Jose Sharks||Nashville Predators|
|5-on-5 Close SF/60||34.1||1st||29.7||13th|
|5-on-5 Close SA/60||26.4||7th||28.3||12th|
|5-on-5 Close Save %||.924||15th||.918||21st|
|# of PP's/Gm||4.25||1st||3.06||26th|
|# of PK's/Gm||2.75||1st||3.28||15th|
The Preds have their work cut out for them tonight, as the Sharks are one of the best possession teams this season. They also score a ton of these things called "goals."
The San Jose Sharks
Many experts pegged the Sharks to regress this year, saying their window for challenging for a Stanley Cup had closed. Well, the Sharks apparently didn't get the memo and, just like last year, have come out of the starting gate blazing. Unlike last year, they haven't had a prolonged slump and have only lost six times in regulation this year. Three of those losses have come in the last five games, though, so you could say this is the most adversity they've faced all season.
The team is led by lethal veterans in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and have young standouts in Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture also in their arsenal. Each of those four players has cracked the 30 point mark. Rookie Tomas Hertl is proving his four-goal explosion wasn't all smoke and mirrors. Through 32 games this season, Hertl has put up 15 goals and 24 points, tops among all rookie skaters.
It could be a safe bet to see Vezina-nominated Antti Niemi in the pipes tonight, as he has taken on the lion's share of games again. His numbers this year are almost exactly on par with his career average, and he is putting together another quality season for San Jose.
The Nashville Predators
Again the team is playing the who's in, who's out game. Craig Smith, who has missed the last three games, will be back in the line up tonight. Smith has gone pointless in his last five games, but is still tied for third in team points with Shea Weber and Colin Wilson.
|2013 - Craig Smith||29||6||9||15||-2||10||2||0||2||73||8.2|
The Predators are also faced with as good a problem as they've had all season, which is who to start in net? Carter Hutton has been quietly solid the last two outings he played, while Marek Mazanec has scuffled of late. However, I mentioned previously how much of the blame shouldn't be place on the young Czech, as his team wasn't doing him any favors either. In a game against an elite team, you should put your best goalie between the pipes, regardless of who is hot. While both goalies are inexperienced and are going to be facing a high-scoring team, Marek is the better goaltender. No offense, Carter. He should start, but he should also say a few prayers before stepping out on the ice tonight. Just in case.
Game starts at 7:00 p.m. CST tonight on the usual FS-TN. Pour some bourbon in your egg nog and settle in with us!