Tonight the Nashville Predators take on the Colorado Avalanche in a Western Conference battle that, if possible, gained importance with the Predators' disheartening loss to the Phoenix Coyotes last night. There certainly were several positive things to be taken away, though, with Jordin Tootoo returning from a broken foot, 40+ shots put on net, and Martin Erat breaking out of his slump.
The Avalanche sit 1 point ahead of the Predators with 62, which is good for a 28-15-6 record and 3rd place. They've been hit by a rash of injuries, and will be without Milan Hejduk, Marek Svatos, and Ryan Wilson. The Predators have dropped to 6th in the West with a 29-18-3 record and 61 points. They'll be boosted by the return of J.P. Dumont, who missed the game against the Coyotes with the flu.
Follow below where we break down tonight's matchup.
Nashville coming in:
The Predators are coming off two games where they cooled significantly since sweeping a Western Canada road swing. Things haven't gone completely dry, though, as they didn't take a penalty against the 'Yotes and have scored 5 goals in two games, which on many nights is enough for Dan Ellis or Pekka Rinne to work with. The main problem, however, has been some boneheaded defensive lapses leading directly to goals. Against Toronto, Marty Erat coughed the puck up at his own blueline leading to a breakaway goal, and last night Joel Ward attempted a weak backhand pass all the way through the zone which Matthew Lombardi promptly slotted into the back of the net. If Nashville can remain disciplined and shore up the lousy giveaways, tonight could be an entirely different story against a depleted Avs squad.
Colorado coming in:
As mentioned, the Avalanche are coming into this one a bit banged up, but have maintained their hold on the Northwest Division. Their special teams, while better than the Predators', are still only average as both the PK and PP sit at 16th in the league. They're lead by United States Olympian Paul Stastny, and rookie scoring leader Matt Duchene. The Avalanche are, like the Predators, one of the league's biggest surprises this year. Rookie coach Joe Sacco has done a fantastic job and has to be considered a leader for the Jack Adams Trophy. For some Avs perspective head over to Mile High Hockey, where apparently they don't care for Jordin Tootoo (thats a nickname I hadn't heard yet).
|2009 - Patric Hornqvist||49||20||11||31||12||22||6||0||6||0||162||12.3|
For the Avs, rookie Matt Duchene just took over the rookie scoring lead:
|2009 - Matt Duchene||49||15||18||33||-7||8||5||1||1||0||98||15.3|
Nashville defenseman Dan Hamhuis nearly gifted the Coyotes a goal last night, and hasn't shown up on the scoresheet in quite a while:
|2009 - Dan Hamhuis||46||4||8||12||-1||28||0||0||0||0||67||6.0|
For the Avalanche, I don't know, but Mile High Hockey recently did some good stat work on whether or not Paul Stastny was under performing, so check that out instead.
The Guys in Goal
The Preds are on the back end of a back-to-back, and since Dan Ellis started the first game, its all but a guarantee that Pekka Rinne gets the call tonight.
#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Nov 03, 1982
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||32||1719||18||8||81||2.83||843||762||.904||2|
For the Avs, Olympic snub Craig Anderson will be between the pipes.
#41 / Goalie / Colorado Avalanche
May 21, 1981
|2009 - Craig Anderson||41||2461||24||11||105||2.56||1327||1222||.921||4|
With the return of J.P. Dumont, I'd expect enforcer Wade Belak to be the healthy scratch, leaving us with these: