While the attention of Predators fans has been on the pending arrival of You-Know-Who (no, not Lord Voldemort), Nashville has a game to win tonight, as they seek to consolidate their hold on 4th place in the Western Conference. Tonight's opponents, the
Washington Generals Edmonton Oilers, present an opportunity for the Preds' team defense to prove their mettle against a talented group of forwards.
Follow after the jump for an abbreviated preview!
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The Oilers find themselves once again preparing for a lottery pick at the NHL Entry Draft, as the "rebuild" in Edmonton prepares to enter another year (the new tagline at mc79hockey says it all). Over at Cult of Hockey, they've even been holding an open discussion on who should take over as general manager (Preds assistant GM Paul Fenton is one of their finalists), considering the fact that Steve Tambellini has had an awfully long time to turn things around, but results still aren't there.
Despite that dismal showing, the Oilers are 2-1 against Nashville so far this season, as their combination of speed and effort up front sometimes gives the Predators fits. One guy who has been tearing it up this year has been Jordan Eberle, which is pretty remarkable considering how cross-eyed he looks here:
#14 / Center / Edmonton Oilers
May 15, 1990
|2011 - Jordan Eberle||68||32||38||70||6||8||9||0||4||165||19.4|
Now they've been reduced to playing out the string without star winger Taylor Hall, who suffered a concussion against Calgary Friday night, and Derek Zona hopes that the Oilers shut him down for the rest of the campaign:
Hall was on pace for 31 goals and 30 assists, a stellar second season, especially considering he missed ten games due to injury already and he's demonstrated the ability to play tough minutes.
Hall is out indefinitely, and if I were in Oilers' management, I'd tell Hall that he's done for the season no matter his diagnosis. I'd tell him to take time off, follow the doc's orders and heal. As yet another lost season comes to a wrap, there's no reason to risk Hall's long-term health for this team.
Edmonton Oilers Last 5 Games
In terms of injury status, Roman Josi is still listed as "out" with his upper body injury, while Colin Wilson and Paul Gaustad are "day to day". That still leaves a number of decisions for Barry Trotz to make, as the Preds are carrying 26 guys on the Active Roster these days, tied with the Rangers and Red Wings for most in the NHL (recall that after the Trade Deadline, the 23-man limit goes away).
On the blueline, the likely question is between Jack Hillen and Ryan Ellis for the 6th D spot, while up front, guys like Brandon Yip, Matt Halischuk, Craig Smith and Gabriel Bourque are all potential scratches (many fans have been saying that Jordin Tootoo might benefit from a night in the pressbox, as well). If both Gaustad and Wilson can't go, however, there should be spots in the lineup for all of the forwards I just mentioned tonight. But with the addition of Alexander Radulov coming soon, competition is about to get especially fierce for ice time.
While I know most Preds fans are geeked up about Rads' return, let's not overlook the man of the hour, who needs just one point to tie his career-best of 57 in a season:
#10 / Left Wing / Nashville Predators
Aug 29, 1981
|2011 - Martin Erat||64||18||38||56||+15||24||4||1||3||98||18.3|
Perhaps the biggest challenge tonight will go to the penalty killers, as Edmonton has boasted one the top power plays in the league all season. Nashville's PK unit has been strong of late, however. Over the 16 games and 35 shorthanded opportunities, they've only given up 3 PP goals against (91.4%).
So what do you think? Do the Predators risk a dreaded "trap" game against the Oilers, given all the distractions surrounding them right now, or do they dispatch this basement-dweller and continue their drive for home-ice advantage in the first round?