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Predators Game Preview & Open Thread: Minnesota @ Nashville

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The Nashville Predators (16-10-2) get a chance to make up for losing in overtime Wednesday night on the road, as they host the Minnesota Wild (12-12-3) in a rematch tonight at the Sommet Center Smashville Arena.

After the jump, let's take a look at the matchup; and we'll use this post as our Game Thread tonight...

Meet the Enemy

The Wild are on a bit of a roll these days, with four wins in a row (1 in OT, 2 in the shootout), enough to lift them past Anaheim and Edmonton at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. According to Hockey Wilderness, their lines from last night's 5-4 shootout victory over the Ducks were:

Forwards

Andrew Brunette - Mikko Koivu - Antti Miettinen

Owen Nolan - Eric Belanger - Chuck Kobasew

Guillaume Latendresse - Kyle Brodziak - Cal Clutterbuck

Martin Havlat - Andrew Ebbett - Derek Boogaard
Defense

Greg Zanon - Marek Zidlicky

Kim Johnsson - Nick Schultz

Shane Hnidy - John Scott

It's mind-blowing to me that Havlat is pulling 4th-line duty opposite Boogaard, but he simply hasn't found his stride yet with Minnesota (2 goals and 7 assists in 21 games, and a team-worst -16 rating, 2nd worst in the league after Rod Brind'Amour). Their captain Mikko Koivu and former Pred Andrew Brunette are really leading the way, with 9 goals apiece.

Meet the Good Guys

Even though the big win streak has passed, the Preds are still earning points and wins even when not playing their best hockey, and over the course of 82-games, that can make a big difference in the final standings.

Carrying over from last night, the lines should be:

Forwards
Sullivan - Arnott - Dumont
Ward - Legwand - Smithson
Erat - Goc - Tootoo
Jones - O'Reilly - Hornqvist
Defense
Suter - Weber
Bouillon - Klein
Hamhuis - Franson

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
Minnesota 27 43 56 2.1 27.5 7.5 2.7 27.6 .903 -0.6
Nashville 28 44 49 2.0 29.1 6.7 2.2 28.6 .923 -0.2

The big differentiator here is Nashville's goaltending, which is among the best in the league. It helps make up for their league-worst shooting percentage, which contributes to their low-scoring games. As for the Wild, that .903 save percentage is 6th-worst in the NHL, and something the Preds will want to take advantage of. Fire early and often, boys!

Minnesota PP vs. Nashville PK

The Wild boast a moderate power play (19.6%, 18th in the NHL) and get a decent amount of opportunities with the man advantage (13th in PP chances). The Predators need to continue being disciplined and avoid the penalty box, as their PK has been good, but not great of late.

Nashville PP vs. Minnesota PK

After cracking the top half of the league standings the Predators' power play has dropped off, and currently sits in 25th at 16.0%. The Wild don't take many penalties either, so this might turn out to be more of a 5-on-5 battle tonight.

Goaltending

Mike Russo informs us that Josh Harding takes to the net tonight for Minnesota:


Josh Harding

#37 / Goalie / Minnesota Wild

6-1

197

Jun 18, 1984

GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Josh Harding 5 264 1 3 15 3.41 108 93 .861 0

For the Predators, does Barry Trotz go with the hot hand? That would be Dan Ellis (I'll update here after we get confirmation)...

Summary

Nashville has enjoyed some success against Minnesota over the last couple seasons, going 4-2-2 in their last 8 games with the Wild. In front of the home crowd on a Saturday night, a win could bring them within a point of Chicago at the top of the Central Division, something even die-hard fans would have found hard to believe at the start of the season, when the Blackhawks and Red Wings were expected to run away from the pack.

For discounted tickets to this, or any Nashville Predators home game, you can follow this link and use the special offer code "PREDS".