As they continue to battle their way through an early-season schedule loaded with road games, the Nashville Predators (7-7-1) head into San Jose to face a 12-4-2 Sharks team that has yet to lose in regulation on home ice. Last season, the Sharks won their first 9 home games before the Preds came to town and beat them in overtime. Does Nashville have it in them to break up another San Jose streak?
After the jump, let's break down the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
The Sharks have assumed their usual spot atop the Pacific Division, eclipsing the feel-good starts of both Los Angeles and Phoenix. San Jose won't be content with yet another successful regular season, however, they're geared for the playoffs, and that's what the acquisition of elite goal-scorer Dany Heatley was meant to address. There's also been a bit of a leadership shakeup, with defenseman Rob Blake taking over as team captain from Patrick Marleau.
As they continue to get healthy players back in the lineup, the forward lines are likely to look as follows, per Fear the Fin:
Heatley - Thornton - Setoguchi
Marleau - Pavelski - Clowe
McGinn - Malhotra - Ortmeyer
Shelley - Nichol - Vesce
Containing the top line is obviously going to be a challenge for any club, but the 2nd line is dangerous as well.
Fear the Fin also has the outlook for tonight from the San Jose perspective.
Meet the Good Guys
Nashville might also get a big name back in action tonight as Shea Weber was able to practice yesterday. Obviously it's critical to have your #1 defenseman available for a big game like this, but he's also the Preds' leading goal-scorer, too. If Weber does play, here's what the Preds should look like:
Even Strength Play
|Team||GP||GF||GA||GF/60||Shots For/60||Sht %||GA/60||Shots Ag/60||Save %||+/- per 60|
Just like last year, the Sharks are among the most prolific 5-on-5 shooting teams in the league, and a healthy advantage in Shots For/Against shows just how regularly they tilt the ice in their favor. While both teams boast superior goaltending in this situation, the difference really lies in shooting; not only do the Preds not put as many shots on net, but they don't score very often when they do; that 6.1 Shooting Percentage in 5-on-5 is 3rd-worst in the NHL.
San Jose PP vs. Nashville PK
At 25.3%, the San Jose power play is, as you'd expect, one of the most lethal in the NHL. What makes them doubly dangerous is that they get lots of PP opportunities, due to the high-skill forwards who force opponents into hauling them down.
The Nashville penalty killers are slowly improving after a wretched start, and currently sit 24th in the league. Already one of the least-penalized teams, the Preds will need to take special care to stay out of the box tonight.
Nashville PP vs. San Jose PK
Getting Weber back will provide a nice boost for the power play, which was just starting to click when he hurt his foot. At 12.3%, the Preds PP is still dead-last in the NHL, and it will be up to agitators like Jordin Tootoo to get under the Sharks' skin and create some chances for Nashville. San Jose is normally a pretty disciplined group, but with the bad blood between these two teams there could be some fireworks tonight.
Evgeni Nabokov continues to benefit from playing behind a stellar group of skaters, but according to Preds radio play-by-play man Tom Callahan, it's Thomas Greiss in net tonight for the Sharks:
#1 / Goalie / San Jose Sharks
Jan 29, 1986
|2009 - Thomas Greiss||2||87||1||1||2||1.38||47||45||.957||0|
For Nashville, Dan Ellis is expected to get the start, building on a 27-save performance in L.A. on Saturday:
#39 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Jun 19, 1980
|2009 - Dan Ellis||9||436||3||3||20||2.75||212||192||.906||0|
The Preds should come into this one with a "nothing-to-lose" mentality, and really all the pressure is on San Jose here. After topping the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-0 Saturday, there's definitely the possibility of the letdown on the part of the Sharks. If Ellis can put together another strong effort, and Weber can resume his dominance on the blueline, the Preds will have a puncher's chance tonight.
And speaking of a puncher's chance... here's a bit of a flashback to November of last year...