The Nashville Predators (14-9-1) hope to regain the momentum they enjoyed during a recent 7-game winning streak when they take on the 10-10-4 Florida Panthers this evening in front of the home crowd.
After the jump, let's break down the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
Litter Box Cats, SB Nation's Florida Panthers blog, chronicled their defeat last night to the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs. While they made a spirited (but ultimately unsuccessful) run towards the playoffs last spring, the Panthers have had a tough time filling the gap left by the departure of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. They currently sit at the bottom of a very big pack in the Eastern Conference in 13th position, with only Carolina and Toronto having truly dropped out of touch.
The main guns to watch out for are the young trio of Nathan Horton, Steven Reinprecht and Stephen Weiss. Cory Stillman provides some offense as a veteran presence, and Bryan McCabe is the mainstay on the blueline.
One guy you won't see is former Predators defenseman Ville Koistinen, who cleared waivers and was sent to the minors recently.
Meet the Good Guys
The recall of Dave Scatchard paid instant dividends as he scored the only goal against St. Louis, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Alexander Sulzer get some game action tonight as well. With Florida lacking a major-league goon in the lineup, we're likely to see Belak a healthy scratch, allowing Mike Santorelli to get back into the lineup as well:
The big question is whether that Erat-Goc-Tootoo line has any staying power.
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|
The real opportunity here for Nashville is that the Panthers give up the 2nd-most shots in the league in 5-on-5. Offensively, they may not take a great deal of shots, but they finish their chances well (as opposed to the Preds, who boast the worst 5-on-5 shooting percentage in the NHL).
Florida PP vs. Nashville PK
At 14.0% (26th), the Panthers are having a tough time with the man advantage, whereas the Preds are still trending upwards on the penalty kill (80.8%, 14th). Nashville needs to continue the solid work on that front and avoid giving Florida any cheap goals.
Nashville PP vs. Florida PK
Despite not scoring on the power play last night, Nashville's unit has played well lately (17.9%, 24th) and is their best hope these days for offensive production. Florida's PK, on the other hand, is 2nd-worst at 73.4%, although they do have 3 shorthanded goals. Last night the Preds tried lots of dump & chase to get possession deep in the St. Louis end, and hopefully they won't have to resort to such tactics against the Panthers.
After getting shelled last night in Florida, will Tomas Vokoun get a rest tonight? That would mean Scott Clemmensen in net for the Panthers. He's the guy who filled in very well for Martin Brodeur when the Devils mainstay was injured for much of last season:
#30 / Goalie / Florida Panthers
Jul 23, 1977
|2009 - Scott Clemmensen||5||247||3||1||17||4.13||139||122||.878||0|
Barry Trotz has mentioned that Dan Ellis is due for a start, and tonight would seem the ideal time to work him in:
#39 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Jun 19, 1980
|2009 - Dan Ellis||10||496||3||4||24||2.90||241||217||.900||0|
The Panthers come into this game on a 3-game losing streak, although they earned the OTL "loser point" in the first two. Ellis and Clemmensen will both be charged up to make an impression in a rare start, so this might turn out to be a goaltenders duel.
The Erat-Goc-Tootoo line also needs to prove that it wasn't just a flash in the pan, and provide secondary scoring after a top line that can't be relied upon to carry the entire offensive burden.
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