The red-hot Nashville Predators start a 3-game swing through western Canada tonight in Edmonton, against an Oilers squad that lost Tuesday to Los Angeles, ending a 5-game winning streak.
Can the Preds finish off an excellent December with some wins on the road? Let's check out the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
Derek Zona from The Copper & Blue was good enough to answer a few questions about the Oilers:
1) With Hemsky out of the lineup, who should Preds fans watch out for this evening up front? Penner's having a big year, but who else is playing well offensively?
Whoever is playing with Penner. He's carrying the forward corps in all facets right now and he is the team's best penalty killer. Brule's scoring numbers have taken a great leap forward, but the underlying numbers don't look good at all and when he's away from Penner all of his numbers fall apart. Two guys to watch are Robert Nilsson and Ryan Stone. Nilsson has been playing extremely well since his return from injury - he's been battling in the corners and his magical passing skills have been on display. He also scored a beauty goal against the Red Wings.
Stone's game is simple - get it in deep and hit 'em hard. He's not a great talent, but when he's in the lineup, the team has a different look. He's not a headhunting hitter - he just finishes every check and has had a few defensemen looking over their shoulders.
2) What's the scoop with Khabibulin? Some were upset about his long-term, high-dollar deal when it was signed, and now to see him out with back trouble, what's the plan in goal?
Got me. I'm one of those that was upset with his age 35 SPC, especially for an injury-prone guy, and now we can see why. A herniated disc is not something that an older player just bounces back from and Khabibulin isn't known for his quick recovery times. I think right now they're stuck with Jeff Deslauriers in goal and Devan Dubnyk as the backup. Deslauriers has done yeoman's work and played much better than I could have imagined. It's a shame Dubnyk is the backup though - he needs to be in the AHL getting more games under his belt.
The situation is going to stay this way until Khabibulin is back or goes on LTIR and the Oilers get to exceed the cap by his contract amount. I would imagine that if they are still hanging around the eighth spot, they will make a trade for a veteran goalie for the stretch.
3) How are the Oilers playing differently under Pat Quinn than they did under Craig MacTavish?
Tactically, Quinn and Renney don't believe in matching lines or defensive pairings. Scott Reynolds has tracked the defensive changes for a few games and Renney simply goes 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3 for the entire game. We've known since the summer that Quinn rolls lines in a 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-1-2-3-4 manner and he's been true to form. You can check our game threads to watch us going nuts when the third line and the third pairing end up on the ice in the last two minutes. Or when the 4th line starts in their own end in the last ten minutes.
It's the beauty of being an Oiler fan.
Meet the Good Guys
With seven different goal scorers Tuesday night along with Sully's hat trick on Monday, Nashville's offense is enjoying a productive stretch. Can they maintain the pace against an Edmonton team which gives up 3 goals per game?
The lines carrying over from Tuesday are shown below. What remains to be seen is whether Wade Belak will dress, and if Cody Franson plays after getting recalled yesterday:
Red Light District also looked at the Preds' incredible run over the last 17 games, and the task ahead to close out 2009.
Even Strength Play
|5-on-5 data from Behind the Net|
|TEAM||GP||GF||GA||GF/60||SF/60||Sht %||GA/60||SA/60||Save Pct.||+/- per 60|
At long last, the Preds have popped over the break-even point in 5-on-5 action, thanks to the outburst of the last two games. Nashville has also risen to middle-of-the-pack status in shooting percentage, a reflection of multiple things, but certainly in part a sign that the boys are getting more chances from in close rather than firing from the perimeter. I hope to have more detailed analysis on that front soon.
Edmonton PP vs. Nashville PK
Between the injury-related absences of Sheldon Souray (who has since returned) and Ales Hemsky (out for a long time), it's somewhat remarkable that the Oilers have maintained a middling power play; meanwhile, Nashville's penalty killers have sunk down to 29th (77.2%) in recent days, an uncharacteristic performance by Predators standards (helpful tip: let's see more Bouillon on the PK).
Nashville PP vs. Edmonton PK
This side of the special teams battle isn't very special; the Preds' power play is back to 27th (16.3%), while the Oilers PK is 25th (78.6%). Neither team takes many penalties, so this isn't likely to play a huge factor.
With #1 goalie Nikolai Khabibulin out with a bad back, we're likely to see Jeff Drouins-Deslauriers tonight for the Oilers. He won that 6-1 game back on October 12, and has fared well as the backup, but how long he can keep up the #1 role is an open question:
#38 / Goalie / Edmonton Oilers
May 15, 1984
|2009 - Jeff Deslauriers||15||865||8||5||38||2.64||443||405||.914||1|
#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Nov 03, 1982
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||24||1347||14||6||60||2.67||649||589||.908||2|
The Oilers strike me as a team, much like Vancouver, that's not as bad as their 15-14-4 record indicates. Losing both Hemsky and Khabibulin is definitely a tough break, but there is a combination of talent and grit here that makes this a dangerous team.
That, and the fact that Pat Quinn's getting hot under the collar these days tells me that Edmonton could come out flying tonight. The Preds will need to play a typical road game; weather the early storm and don't get cute around the bluelines. Dig hard for the net, and try to stay out of the penalty box as much as possible.
It's an 8:30 Nashville start tonight on Fox Sports Tennessee - no HD, unfortunately, and nor will there be any on this entire road trip. Do they not have HD up there in Western Canada?