The Nashville Predators (15-9-1) face a tough opponent tonight on home ice in the Calgary Flames, who lead the Northwest Division with a 16-6-3 record overall, and an even more impressive 9-1-3 performance on the road. Tonight's game is the third in six-game swing for Calgary that began with victories in Detroit and Columbus over the weekend.
After the jump, let's break down the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
The truly excellent Matchsticks and Gasoline is SB Nation's Calgary Flames blog, and provides the following lineup:
Their captain, Jarome Iginla, is the driving force up front; last week he tallied a hat trick against Los Angeles, and is humming along at his typical point-per-game pace.
#12 / Right Wing / Calgary Flames
Jul 01, 1977
|2009 - Jarome Iginla||25||16||11||27||3||30||4||0||3||0||77||20.8|
They really love their captain up there in Alberta...
The real strength of the Flames, however, is on the back end, where they added All-Star Jay Bouwmeester to an already solid group led by Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr. Calgary won all four games against the Predators last season, so Nashville will look to resume their prior success against the Flames, a 9-2-1 stretch from 2005-8.
Meet the Good Guys
The Predators have been on a roll over the last few weeks, climbing all the way to 9th place in the overall league standings, using the tried-but-true formula from recent seasons; strong goaltending, superior two-way play by their defensemen, and just enough offense to squeak by the opposition on most nights. On Saturday they kicked into high gear during the 3rd period to defeat the Florida Panthers, but can't afford to start slowly against an elite foe like Calgary.
The hot hands for Nashville are David Legwand (3 goals & 3 assists in 5 games since his son Ryder was born), Jordin Tootoo (with points in 4 straight games) and Jason Arnott, with 4 goals and 3 assists in his last six. Dan Hamhuis may not be lighting up the scoresheet like crazy, but his +7 rating this month is 6th-best among NHL defensemen.
We keep hearing that Alexander Sulzer is due to get some game action, so is tonight the night? UPDATE: According to Bryan Mullen at The Tennessean, Sulzer will continue to wait.
|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|
Calgary's Goals For & Against differential of +0.6 per 60 minutes is 3rd-best in the NHL during 5-on-5 play, and is a testament to the overall talent level of the team. Despite getting out-shot by a healthy margin, their 3rd-best shooting percentage ensures that they get the most of the chances they generate.
Calgary PP vs. Nashville PK
Somewhat surprisingly, the power play isn't a significant factor in Calgary's success. Their conversion rate is an ordinary 19.8% (19th), and they get the 3rd-fewest power play opportunities in the league. Nashville's penalty killing has been a strength of late, killing 27 of 29 chances in the last 10 games and rising to 10th in the NHL after spending much of the opening month in the league basement. The Preds also have had the 2nd-fewest penalties to kill off, so this part of the battle tips heavily in their favor.
Nashville PP vs. Calgary PK
After a lengthy hot streak the Nashville power play hasn't scored in the last two games; this is a matchup of mediocrity, pitting the #25 PP vs. the #18 PK. Given Calgary's excellent 5-on-5 work, this may be Nashville's best hope for generating some offense.
After experiencing a slow but steady decline in performance over the last several seasons, "Kipper" is off to a good start for the Flames:
#34 / Goalie / Calgary Flames
Oct 26, 1976
|2009 - Miikka Kiprusoff||22||1312||14||5||52||2.38||667||615||.922||2|
After yielding a start to Dan Ellis, Pekka Rinne is back in goal for Nashville, pitting Finn against Finn:
#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Nov 03, 1982
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||17||961||11||5||38||2.37||452||414||.916||2|
As the hockey world fawned over Colorado's surprising start, the Flames quietly did their work in the background, and over the last 10 games have assumed their projected place atop the Northwest Division. They are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and represent a big test for a surging Predators team. In a similar matchup the Preds beat San Jose on home ice a couple weeks ago - can they repeat the feat against Calgary?
Interestingly, three Canadian writers seem to think they will.
For discounted tickets to this or any other Nashville Predators home game, you can follow this link and use the special offer code "PREDS".