One of the hottest teams in the NHL, the Nashville Predators (9-2 in their last 11 games) heads into Colorado to face the season's early surprise, the 14-7-3 Colorado Avalanche, who lead the Northwest Division despite widespread predictions for a finish in the Western Conference basement. In their previous meeting this season, the Preds won 3-2 in Nashville.
After the jump, let's break down this matchup...
Meet the Enemy
Mile High Hockey is your SB Nation blog covering the Avalanche, and they're concerned that the wheels might be coming off the Colorado wagon. The power play has gone dry, the team gets out-shot consistently by the opposition, and Craig Anderson has leveled off after an amazing start.
Part of that leveling off has also hit the two rookies, #3 overall 2009 draft pick Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly (yes, Cal's younger brother). O'Reilly still boasts 17 points in 24 games (which would make him the leading scorer in Nashvile) and leads the team with a +11 rating, but Duchene has gone the opposite direction in recent weeks. With Scott Hannan and Adam Foote expected to play after recent injuries, and Darcy Tucker back playing after missing a few games, the Avs should have a pretty complete lineup.
Meet the Good Guys
The Predators are red-hot these days, thanks in large part to secondary scoring provided by David Legwand and Martin Erat.
With Wade Belak likely to continue as a health scratch, the lines carrying over from last game are as follows:
Even Strength Play
|5-on-5 Team Data from Behind the Net|
|Team||GP||GF||GA||GF/60||Shots For/60||Sht %||GA/60||Shots Ag/60||Save %||+/- per 60|
Talk about extremes - Nashville's shooting percentage in 5-on-5 hockey is the worst in the NHL, but they've been firing at will lately (quantity over quality) to power their recent success. The Avalanche have a fantastic 10.7% shooting percentage; incredibly dangerous, but they give up plenty of chances in return. The Predators have the 4th-best winning percentage in the league when outshooting their opponent (.636), and that's just the formula they'll try to apply tonight.
Colorado PP vs. Nashville PK
Like many other aspects of the team, Colorado's PP started off hot, but has cooled off in recent weeks. Nashville's penalty killers have now killed off 30 of the last 34 shorthanded situations since November 7th, and have risen to 16th in the league (80.3%) since languishing in 30th early on.
Nashville PP vs. Colorado PK
Having scored in five consecutive games, the Nashville power play is finally riding to the team's rescue (they are 11-0-0 when the PP scores this season). At 17.2% (24th), the conversion rate is roughly double what it was in October. With an 81.4% PK unit, the Avalanche are in the middle of the pack defensively, and they do take a relatively high number of penalties (6th-most PK's in the NHL).
Craig Anderson was a great free agent pickup for Colorado, but there's no way he was going to keep his insanely hot October performance going:
#41 / Goalie / Colorado Avalanche
May 21, 1981
|2009 - Craig Anderson||22||1320||13||6||57||2.59||719||662||.921||2|
Pekka Rinne has been outstanding of late, although with 4 games between tonight and Monday, you have to expect that Dan Ellis gets a start sometime soon. Tonight, however, I'd expect Pekka to get the nod:
#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Nov 03, 1982
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||15||840||10||4||32||2.29||392||360||.918||2|
The game plan for Nashville will certainly be to keep up what they've been doing for a few weeks now; stay out of the penalty box, keep the lines rolling, and make sure the forwards keep hustling to help the defense. The Avs are a wobbly bunch right now, and the Preds need to seize the advantage as quickly as they can.