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Minnesota Wild @ Nashville Predators preview: Fine Tuning

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Tonight the Nashville Predators continue preparing for the playoffs with a home game against Minnesota (7:00 p.m. on FS-TN). The Wild have plummeted through the NHL standings over the last few months and are staring at a summer rebuild, so on paper this is a game which a hungry Predators team should dominate.

I imagine it would be really hard to skate on paper, though, so let's take a deeper look...

Tale Of The Tape

Minnesota (34-35-10) at Nashville (45-26-8)
MIN Offense vs. NSH Defense NSH Offense vs. MIN Defense
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
MIN Offense 1.8 (30th) 25.9 (30th) 7.1 (26th) 2.4 (11th) 31.0 (27th) 924 (7th) MIN Defense
NSH Defense 2.4 (11th) 30.4 (24th) 922 (9th) 2.4 (11th) 27.2 (25th) 9.0 (4th) NSH Offense
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %
Special Teams
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
MIN 5-on-4 5.1 (23rd) 48.4 (13th) 10.5 (27th) 6.0 (13th) 49.1 (12th) 879 (16th) MIN 4-on-5
NSH 4-on-5 6.4 (19th) 53.3 (24th) 881 (15th) 7.8 (1st) 45.9 (21st) 17.0 (1st) NSH 5-on-4
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %

One might say "there but for the grace of the percentages..." regarding these two teams. Both get out-shot severely in 5-on-5 play and get above-average goaltending, but the Preds have been scoring on the shots they do take more often than most (4th-best in 5-on-5, best in 5-on-4). Therein danger lies (we'll have more on that separately).

Minnesota Wild

The fates have certainly been cruel to Minnesota fans this season. Two months into the campaign, the Wild rode atop the entire league with a 20-7-3 record, and hopes were high that a summer of transition (which included two major trades with San Jose) was paying off.

However, some outside observers weren't buying it:

A couple of Wild fans had meltdowns in the comments of the Edmonton-Minnesota postgame because I called the Wild the "Best/worst team in the West", wrote "the Minnesota Wild aren't a good hockey team", and "their record is a house of cards".

Like the the Avalanche and Stars before them, Minnesota is playing well above their heads thanks to unsustainable percentages and out-of-this-world goaltending. But the team struggles at even strength.

--- Derek Zona, Copper & Blue, November 30, 2011

It's hard for people to accept that when their team is doing well, the good fortune of the hockey gods may be playing a significant role (especially when that argument is being made by someone bent on provocation). Indeed, a back-and-forth developed between Wild fans at the stats guys over the course of the season that still leaves the crowd at Hockey Wilderness bitter over things.

Certainly, injuries to key players and a disappointing campaign by Dany Heatley haven't helped things. The two-time 50-goal scorer looks like a shell of himself:

Dany Heatley

#15 / Left Wing / Minnesota Wild



Jan 21, 1981

2011 - Dany Heatley 79 22 28 50 +3 24 8 0 3 228 9.6

Since those heady days of December, the Wild have gone 14-28-7 and find themselves in 24th place overall, leading to discussion at Hockey Wilderness on whether the team should roll some kids out there and not mind so much if they fall a few spots more into the NHL Draft Lottery, which allows the bottom five teams a chance at the first overall pick.

That's certainly not the type of conversation Wild fans were hoping to have at this time of year, that's for sure. But if they want to roll over for one night at least, we'd appreciate it...

Minnesota Wild Last 5 Games

@ Chicago Sun 04/01 SO - W 5 - 4
Los Angeles Sat 03/31 SO - W 4 - 3
Florida Thu 03/29 OT - W 3 - 2
New York Rangers Tue 03/27 L 2 - 3
@ Washington Sun 03/25 L 0 - 3

Nashville Predators

Things are a bit more optimistic with the Predators, to say the least, but with three games remaining, it's about time to see the team kick into high gear, now that Barry Trotz has the luxury of a healthy lineup. Despite the sizzle that Alexander Radulov has brought, and the recent milestone achievements reached by David Legwand (500 points), Shea Weber (team mark for career PP goals) and the franchise itself (500 regular season wins), they've only been playing .500 hockey over the last couple weeks.

John Glennon(!) filed the following from practice yesterday:

"It's time for us to make sure our game is in order," captain Shea Weber said. "We've had glimpses here where we've shown our best. But we've got to be more consistent - especially this week - to solidify our playoff spot, maybe get the fourth seed and be rolling into the (postseason)."

Against a down-and-out Minnesota club, the Predators should be well prepared to come out with guns blazing. They've had a few days at home with the benefit of practice, and when it comes to the wingers, there should be plenty of motivation to give it their all. Jobs are out there to be won (or lost) up and down the depth chart, and Trotz obviously isn't shy about benching talent (Colin Wilson) in favor of less established players who demonstrate hustle and are riding a hot streak (Gabriel Bourque).

Colin Wilson

#33 / Center / Nashville Predators



Oct 20, 1989

2011 - Colin Wilson 67 15 19 34 +3 21 5 0 5 113 13.3

With millions riding on the new contract he is due for this summer, can Willy do whatever it takes to earn his way back onto the ice? A productive playoff run could put him in line for JVR money, but watching from the press box isn't going to get it done.