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Predators @ Red Wings preview: A playoff dress rehearsal?

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Taking on the Detroit Red Wings is always a big game for the Nashville Predators, but tonight's battle (6:30 p.m. on FS-TN) at Joe Louis Arena carries special importance. Not only is 4th place in the Western Conference on the line (along with home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs), but after Chicago's victory last night over St. Louis, the Blackhawks are sneaking up from behind as well, so neither the Preds nor Red Wings are safe from dropping down as far as 6th.

And remember, the Preds have never finished ahead of Detroit in the standings, so there's a real benchmark to aim for here as well.

Follow after the jump as we set up tonight's action...

Tale Of The Tape

Nashville (44-25-8) at Detroit (46-26-5)
NSH Offense vs. DET Defense DET Offense vs. NSH Defense
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
NSH Offense 2.4 (11th) 27.1 (25th) 8.9 (5th) 2.4 (12th) 30.4 (24th) 922 (10th) NSH Defense
DET Defense 2.0 (3rd) 26.2 (2nd) 923 (8th) 2.9 (2nd) 32.0 (4th) 9.2 (2nd) DET Offense
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %
Special Teams
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
NSH 5-on-4 7.7 (1st) 45.9 (22nd) 16.7 (1st) 6.3 (19th) 52.1 (21st) 879 (16th) NSH 4-on-5
DET 4-on-5 6.9 (23rd) 47.8 (10th) 855 (27th) 5.9 (17th) 50.0 (11th) 11.9 (17th) DET 5-on-4
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %

The Red Wings are a stellar 5-on-5 team, with the best goal differential in the league when both teams are at full strength.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings have been ravaged by injury lately, so while the fight for playoff position is nice, the bigger concern is Detroit is whether they'll have a healthy lineup when the playoffs begin. While Nick Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk have returned to duty over the last week, and Johan Franzen played his first game after missing two weeks Wednesday vs. Columbus, the spotlight now turns to their #1 goaltender, Jimmy Howard, who has been out with groin trouble, but is close to game-ready. If he's not ready to go tonight, the Preds will face the ultimate journeyman backup, Ty Conklin:

Ty Conklin

#29 / Goalie / Detroit Red Wings



Mar 30, 1976

2011 - Ty Conklin 15 805 5 6 1 44 3.28 378 334 .884 1

If Ty takes the nets, Fang Fiction recommends firing blocker-side on him. We'll keep an eye on updates coming out of the morning skate to see if he'll be in, or perhaps Jimmy Howard might give it a go.

One guy that will still be on the shelf for a while is spark plug Darren Helm:

The impact of the loss of Helm for the last several games - and likely the first round of the playoffs - is difficult to overestimate.

The speedster is no 20-goal scorer. But without him in the lineup, the overall defensive effort - power play and secondary scoring - suffer. He also is second among forwards with 97 hits, behind Justin Abdelkader's 142.

Helm is walking much better, but his first skate is not yet scheduled. His return in the first round is the hope, but the second round might be more realistic.

This rash of injury trouble has hindered the Wings for a few weeks, as attested to by their recent 5-9-3 record.

Detroit Red Wings Last 5 Games

@ Columbus Wed 03/28 L 2 - 4
Columbus Mon 03/26 W 7 - 2
Carolina Sat 03/24 W 5 - 4
@ New York Rangers Wed 03/21 OT - L 1 - 2
Washington Mon 03/19 L 3 - 5

Nashville Predators

For the Preds, the injury news appears to be getting much, much better. The reports out of practice yesterday were that Martin Erat, Jordin Tootoo and Roman Josi(!) are all expected to rejoin the lineup tonight, giving us our first look at a fully armed and operational Nashville team since Alexander Radulov's return. Will things click right from the start? That's not likely, but the five games remaining before the playoffs can serve as a tune-up for when the real shooting starts.

It's a good thing these guys are returning, as you may be surprised to see who the team's leading scorer is against Detroit this season:

Jordin Tootoo

#22 / Right Wing / Nashville Predators



Feb 02, 1983

Jordin Tootoo vs. Det 5 1 3 4 0 0 0 0 0 12

The Red Wings have given Nashville trouble so far this season (Preds are 2-3-0 against Detroit so far), and with the likelihood of a first-round playoff matchup, it's imperative not only play well against their ancient rivals, but to put a good beating on them as well. Can Tootoo rebound from a recent stretch of sloppy play to deliver a disciplined, physical effort tonight?

Determining the forward lines for this game will be a fascinating exercise for Barry Trotz. I'll start with a proposal, but really this could go in any number of directions:


I know, I know, Colin Wilson has been in the doghouse lately, but as much as I admire Gabriel Bourque's speed and tenacity out there, Willy is the superior talent, and he needs to be a productive part of this team when the playoffs begin. Yes, he had a horrid shift in St. Louis which included a neutral-zone turnover which eventually (35 seconds later) led to the Blues' third goal, but kicking him back to the pressbox now isn't going to help things.

I like the makeup of that 4th line, too, a pure chip-it-in-deep-and-hammer-the-D line. Paul Gaustad, of course, would make cameo appearances throughout the game to take key faceoffs for other centers and switch out for the snipers as the play moves up-ice.

Make sure to check back later for the Game Thread for what should be a doozy tonight. The lovely & talented Sam Page will be on recap duty, as I've got a rec-league game. Who the heck schedules a game for 6:40 on a Friday evening? Ugh...