The Predators return tonight to the place where the turnaround began for them this season. Back on October 28, they came into Minnesota with a 3-6-1 record, and appeared on their way to another loss when they coughed up a two-goal lead in the second period, but a dazzling shorthanded goal by Jerred Smithson lifted them to a 4-3 triumph that started a three-game winning streak, and led to the successful month of November.
Can the Wild serve as the tonic for the Preds once again? With two losses in their last 3 games Nashville would like to get back to their winning ways. Let's check out the matchup after the jump...
Meet the Enemy
The big story tonight for Minnesota is all the players expected back in the lineup after battling injury and illness: Martin Havlat, Shane Hnidy, Antti Miettinen, and Marek Zidlicky. There will still be a number of gametime decisions, however, per Mike Russo. With three wins in their last four games (including back-to-back wins over division rival Colorado), the Wild hope to have found a way out of the darkness that is 15th position in the Western Conference.
The main guys to watch out for are Havlat (who hasn't clicked in Minnesota yet but is too talented not to eventually), captain Mikko Koivu (who leads the team with 24 points) and former Pred Andrew Brunette, who paces the Wild with 6 power play goals.
Meet the Good Guys
With Alexander Sulzer sent back to Milwaukee so he can get into some games, it appears that Barry Trotz is happy with his defense lineup for the time being. The big question up front is whether any of the line-shuffling from the Calgary game will carry over to tonight. If now, here's what we've got:
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|
These are the two lowest-scoring teams in the NHL in 5-on-5 play - while it take another Smithson shorty to save the day for the Preds?
Minnesota PP vs. Nashville PK
The injuries noted above have impacted the Wild power play, where even former Pred Greg Zanon has been pressed into service lately. Given all that, their 18.7% success rate (22nd) isn't too shabby. While they gave up a couple PP goals to Calgary, the Preds PK unit has been excellent over the last few weeks, and overall the team sits at 80%, good for a tie for 15th. It also helps the cause that Nashville kills off the 2nd-fewest penalties in the league. The best PK unit is the one that doesn't have to play very much.
Nashville PP vs. Minnesota PK
After carrying the offense for a while, the Predators power play has hit a funk over the last week, slipping back to 16.7%, 25th in the NHL. Like Nashville, the Wild don't take many penalties either (5th-fewest), and when they do they boast a solid PK unit as well (81.7%, 10th). Both sides of the special teams matchup point to few goals being scored.
It's another big-name Finnish goalie on tap for tonight, in Niklas Backstrom for Minnesota:
#32 / Goalie / Minnesota Wild
Feb 13, 1978
|2009 - Niklas Backstrom||21||1253||9||9||54||2.59||601||547||.910||0|
Will Pekka Rinne get the chance to redeem himself after Monday's 5-0 loss to Calgary? Stay tuned for an update as to Nashville's goalie for tonight... UPDATE: Yup, Pekka's in!
#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Nov 03, 1982
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||18||1021||11||6||42||2.47||481||439||.913||2|
Let's see, we have two teams with anemic 5-on-5 offense, sputtering power plays, strong penalty killers and good goaltending. All signs point to a scoreless tie followed by a 32-round shootout, right?