The Nashville Predators go for the coveted Western Canada sweep tonight in Calgary (8:00 start Central), against a 26-15-6 Flames team that has lost three games in a row on home ice. At 28-16-3, the Preds are striving to keep on the front side of a 7-team pack (from 3rd to 9th place) that is within 5 points in the Western Conference standings.
Follow after the jump for a complete breakdown...
Meet the Enemy
The scribes up in Alberta expect an offensive explosion from the Flames, who are frustrating their fans by dominating the shot clock but not the scoreboard. Failing that, Calgary doesn't mind stirring things up by dropping the gloves, however; as noted at the Calgary Herald, 14 different Flames have fighting majors this season, They lead the NHL with 49 fighting majors so far, while the Preds are tied with Washington for the fewest (12).
As always, the big guy to watch out for is their captain, Jarome Iginla, who boasts a gaudy 26 goals and 24 assists in 39 career games vs. the Preds. Dion Phaneuf (5-11-16 in 18 games) has also been dangerous against Nashville. Their big breakout story this year is winger Rene Bourque, who is near a point-per-game pace with 17 goals and 21 assists in 41 games.
Per Matchsticks & Gasoline, here are the Calgary lines:
Meet the Good Guys
Injuries continue to dog the Preds, as Jason Arnott, Jerred Smithson, and Jordin Tootoo remain out of the lineup, although Glennon reports that the captain may be back Monday vs. Toronto. The team has responded well, however, bouncing back from a 3-game losing streak to go 4-2 in their last six. They are a remarkable 10th in Goals For/Game at 2.81, thanks to a total team effort. While J.P. Dumont leads with 31 points (9 goals, 22 assists) there are five more players right behind him, with 29 or 28 points each (Patric Hornqvist, Shea Weber, Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat, and David Legwand).
Buddy Oakes likes to refer to Nashville's "Band of Brothers" mentality, but this is a concrete example of what that means. If one key player is out, the others fill in the gap, and are supported by call-ups from Milwaukee to round things out.
As to the lines... here's a guess:
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|
You'd be hard-pressed to find a closer match in 5-on-5 action, as the Flames tend to play a slightly slower-paced game in terms of Shots For and Against, but overall most of these numbers are withing a rounding error of each other.
|PP %||16.7 (23rd)||84.1 (8th)||PK %|
|# of PP's||174 (19th)||182 (15th)||# of PK's|
|PK %||76.5 (27th)||16.6 (24th)||PP %|
|# of PK's||153 (29th)||163 (28th)||# of PP's|
Probably the most significant aspect here is that the Predators don't take many penalties, and the Flames don't draw many from their opponents, so Nashville has a good chance to tip the number of power plays in their favor tonight.
Miikka Kiprusoff has had a resurgent season, and if he keeps it up, will surely enter the Vezina Trophy talk this spring. Against Nashville, however, he's been fairly average - in 20 career games, he sports a .906 Save Percentage, 10-8-2 record (with one shutout), and 2.74 GAA.
#34 / Goalie / Calgary Flames
Oct 26, 1976
|2009 - Miikka Kiprusoff||41||2425||23||12||88||2.18||1188||1100||.926||3|
#39 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Jun 19, 1980
|2009 - Dan Ellis||21||1129||10||8||51||2.71||575||524||.911||0|
This should prove to be the stiffest test on the current road trip, but at least the Preds are coming in well-rested, after last having played on Tuesday. They will be keen to show up against a potential playoff opponent, so I'd expect a high-paced, intense game this evening.
Be sure to check back later for the game thread and join the discussion!