|Edmonton Oilers||Nashville Predators|
|5-on-5 Save %||.923||10th||.925||6th|
|# of PP's/Gm||4.17||3rd||3.17||26th|
|# of PK's/Gm||4.22||28th||3.43||9th|
Tonight's tilt brings us an interesting contrast of styles - the Predators play a sluggish, low-scoring & low-shot type of game, while the Oilers are decidedly more up-tempo (although neither have been particularly successful). The real danger here for Nashville lies on special teams. The Oilers draw (and take) a lot of penalties, and their high-skill power play could spell trouble for the Preds' foundering penalty kill.
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After flirting with the idea of a return to the playoffs, Edmonton fans are resigning themselves to another season in the wilderness as a recent 2-5-2 stretch leaves them sitting in 13th in the West. That includes a 3-0 shutout loss at Detroit last night which left a bitter taste over at Copper & Blue:
I officially lost my patience with this season following the loss to the Minnesota Wild this past Sunday, but if you had held out hope until tonight, hopefully this "effort" was the equivalent of Steve Tambellini and Ralph Krueger telling you there is no such thing as Santa Claus...because they killed him.
Part of that disappointment may be tied to unrealistic expectations. Much like Predators fans were hoping to see something close to last season's offensive performance put together by this year's team, one of Edmonton's brightest stars, Jordan Eberle, enjoyed some puck luck in 2011-2012 and is now seen by many as suffering through a goal-scoring slump that's due to turn around any day now.
|2012 - Jordan Eberle||23||6||11||17||-3||4||3||0||1||72||8.3|
Yeah, the Preds could use a few guys going through slumps like this.
Besides Eberle, of course, Edmonton brings a host of other exciting players. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov are the last three #1 overall NHL draft picks, and old man Ales Hemsky can still dangle with the best of them.
The trick for Edmonton, of course, is supporting their talented stable of young forwards with a competent blueline, and that's been a real challenge. College free agent Justin Schultz is their best hope there, but the D is a long ways from where it needs to be.
They didn't have a problem adding unskilled toughness, however, bringing in Mike Brown from Toronto via trade. Will Brown help the Oilers win hockey games? There's no chance of that, writes Derek Zona, but at least the crowd will have something to cheer for as Edmonton heads towards earning another lottery pick.
I mentioned on Twitter that I was struggling to find comparables for Mike Brown because his on-ice performance was so bad for so long that he's basically in a class by himself. 'Sphere regular woodguy tossed out Ben Eager as a suggestion, and was shocked (though he wasn't alone) when I mentioned that Brown was worse. Much worse, in fact.
David Poile's Waiver Wire Wonders hit the ice for the first time tonight, and it will be interesting to see the roles that Zach Boychuk and Bobby Butler step into. Is there enough offensive talent now to put three reasonably dangerous forward lines out there? With Matt Halischuk shipped off to Milwaukee and Brandon Yip on Injured Reserve, we'll look for less work along the boards and more pucks fired on net tonight. Anything less will be a disappointment.
In addition to Boychuk & Butler, Victor Bartley is set to make his Nashville Predators debut, after a promotion earlier this week. The guessing from practice the other day was that Jonathon Blum may be the odd man out, which would at least give Barry Trotz three left-handed D on that side of the ice, as is usually preferred.
There's more than just idle curiosity about these new faces, though. Thanks to their 2-6-1 record of late, the Predators have fallen to the back of the playoff-contending teams in the West, and another poor week could leave them with an awfully steep hill to climb, and only 20 games left to do it.
So even though we'll keep an eye on how the new guys play, the real focus needs to be on Nashville's veteran leaders:
- Martin Erat - no goals since February 5th.
- Mike Fisher - one goal, no assists in his last six games.
- David Legwand - one goal and one assist over the last 13 games.
- Patric Hornqvist - one goal in eight games since his return from IR.
- Sergei Kostitsyn - one goal, 5 assists in his last 15 games.
- Colin Wilson - one assist in his last 6 games.
Put simply, there is plenty of blame to go around for Nashville's scoring drought, and it isn't up to one guy to solve it. Against the Oilers, the Predators have their chance to get back on track.