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Nashville Predators @ Colorado Avalanche Preview: Melee in the Mountains

The Predators embark on a three-game journey that takes them into the mountains, through the desert, and near the Bay.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators hit the road for a string of games out west, including two that should be classified as winnable. Well, on paper at least.

It starts tonight with the season's first tilt between the Preds and the Colorado Avalanche.

The Colorado Avalanche

You know that injury bug that was infesting Columbus at the beginning of the season? It's spawned offspring and they've migrated to the Rocky Mountains. The amount of injuries they have right now is staggering. Though they're still able to ice their top line players (a luxury the Blue Jackets didn't have) they're without Dennis Everberg, Jamie McGuinn, Ben Street, Jesse Winchester, Brad Stuart and Ryan Wilson.

Oh, and Semyon Varlamov, who will once again miss some time due to a nagging groin injury. Varly was the team's MVP last year, and pretty much singlehandedly carried the Avs to the playoffs. His .927 SV% and 63 games played were both career highs. But shot volume has caught up with the team (more on that in a second) and the injuries certainly haven't helped. Varlamov has started 15 games this year (only three more than Reto Berra and Calvin Pickard combined) and is currently sported a .909 SV% with an ugly 3.22 GAA.

But it's not his fault.

Realistically you can't expect him to bail out the team for ever and ever amen. Colorado was an awful possession team last year, and are second-worst this year. The team won even though it was getting constantly outshot, and generally that's not a great recipe for success. Management didn't think so, though, despite overwhelming evidence that something had to give. Some lessons have to be learned the hard way.

Don't worry. It's not all doom and gloom for the future. Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan "Faster Than a Speed Skater" MacKinnon are all part of the core, and that's scary to think about. If they can get Ryan O'Reilly to stop fooling around with other teams, and get a competent defense, things could get competitive quick for the Avalanche. Just no more terrible intro videos, please.

In the "We Totally Forgot These Guys Existed" department, Jarome Iginla and Daniel Briere are doing a great job skewing the average age of the team upward. Actually, Iginla has fit in nicely with the club, cranking out 17 points so far, which is tied for fourth on the team with Alex Tanguay.

The Nashville Predators

The Preds themselves are getting a little banged up. Paul Gaustad has missed two games, Anton Volchenkov missed Saturday's tilt, and now Taylor Beck has been diagnosed with a concussion and isn't on the road trip. Tough break for Beck, who has been doing a heckuva job with his role on the fourth line. Both Goose and A20 are on the trip and could play, but are still listed as day-to-day.

Let's take a look at the Preds' overall team play last week, since Week 10's version of LBFA got killed:

Last Week
Games Fenwick% PDO Off ZS % TeamGF TeamGA TeamG+/- TeamG% Faceoff % TOI
3 56.91 101.49 55.91 5 3 2 62.5 46.72 135.2
This Week
3 52.58 98.11 42.86 6 7 -1 46.15 47.93 156.98
Season
26 53.79 102.58 49.77 55 22 33 62.05 48.17 1276.17

It wasn't the best of times, that's for sure. For the first time this season, Nashville ended the week with a negative goal differential. Impressive it took that long, but red lights have not come easy lately (game against the Blues notwithstanding.) They've scored 9 times in their last five games. That's under two goals per game, which has to change.

You'll also notice the PDO ended the week under 100 for the first time ever. It's slowly been coming down as of late, but possession metrics are holding firm. Don't read much into that, other than maybe thinking things are evening out a little bit. Long term, that's good. Short term, extremely frustrating.

Which brings us to tonight's game. Simply put, this is a game that Nashville has to win. Colorado is 12 points behind the Preds and occupying the cold, damp cellar of the Central, and have a hard time keep pucks out of the net. Berra is not having much success this season, helping contribute to 5v5 team save percentage of 91.2 (24th). Rookie sensation Chet Pickard's brother may have some sparkling numbers, but he's still a rookie with only 7 games of experience.

The Predators are coming off a tough loss at home, where they lost out on first place in the division and were embarrassed by a home barn full of visiting fans. They need to take advantage of the injuries, the call-ups, and the opponent, and start the road trip with a win, but they also need to take the Avalanche seriously. We already saw in Carolina what happens when you play down to an opponent.

And Now, This...

Filip Forsberg has hit the big time, and everyone wants to say they knew him before he was a superstar. From the Avs captain:

"They’re playing well. They’ve been playing well all season," Landeskog said of the Predators. "They picked up some guys over the course of the summer, and they’ve got Fillip Forsberg—a Swedish friend of mine that’s playing well. They’ve surprised a lot of people. A lot of people counted them out."

Emphasis added. I see you there, Gabriel. Look, I get it. You miss the Calder. We didn't make a scene when you won it, because you earned it. We didn't say anything when you volunteered to help teach MacKinnon the proper polishing techniques and best showoff poses. It's just going to be a little weird when you call up Filip to hang out, but you only really spend time with the trophy. Maybe just take it easy, OK?

Sights and Sounds

You have an extra hour to do whatever it is you do on a Tuesday night. This one comes to you from Denver with a unique 8 p.m. CST start time. FS-TN and 102.5 El Juego have you covered. Don't forget to bring your munchies.