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Nashville Predators @ Montreal Canadiens: Canada, Then Columbus

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Just one more stop before the All-Star break: Club de Hockey Canadien!

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

You know the best thing about the Predators losing to the Red Wings 5-2 on Saturday? They are still in 1st place!

Ladies and gentlemen, non sequitur at its finest.

The Preds have a chance to enter the All-Star break on a high note with a visit to Montreal on Tuesday night to take on the Canadiens. This will be their 8th and final regular season road trip to Canada this season, where they have had mixed results. They have a record of 4-3-0 and have outscored opponents 24-14 in 7 games in Canada, but the 9 goal explosion against the Maple Leafs offsets that goal difference significantly. The Preds have actually had some of their more disappointing efforts in Canadian arenas this year, including a 3-2 loss to Ottawa, a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg, and a 3-2 loss to Calgary.

But... happy thoughts!

The Montreal Canadiens

Sitting in 4th in the Eastern Conference (3rd in the Atlantic Division), the Habs are led by Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and young-gun Alex Galchenyuk. But they haven't exactly been lighting it up. The Canadiens are 21st in the league in scoring at 2.64 goals per game. And most of that has been during 5-on-5 play, as their power-play is remarkably similar to ours (Montreal is 23rd in the league on the power-play, Nashville is 24th). If Montreal intends on making a playoff run, they will have to get more production from their offense.

Montreal's defense, however, has been spectacular. They are holding opponents to 2.36 goals per game, good for 5th in the NHL, 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Along with Carey Price's impressive .927 save %, the Canadiens have two solid defensive pairs in Andrei Markov-P.K. Subban and Nathan Beaulieu-Sergei Gonchar.

The Canadiens have shown they can shut down top teams this year. Look at some of their results vs. top teams in the East:

  • Red Wings: 2-0, holding them to only 2 goals combined in those games.
  • Bruins: 3-0, outscoring them 13-5 in 3 games
  • Islanders: 2-0, outscoring them 9-5 in 2 games
While they haven't fared as well against some other top teams like the Penguins, Lightning, and Rangers, the Canadiens' record has mostly suffered at the hands of Western Conference opponents: they are 8-7-1 in 16 games vs. the West.

The Nashville Predators

Amid the undignified cacophonous pleas for a backup-backup goaltender (my, how far we've come as a fan base), let's give a little love, shall we?

To who? To Mattias Ekholm.

With Ryan Ellis on IR and Anton Volchenkov in and out of the lineup, Ekholm has helped lock down the 2nd defense pairing with some impressive play of late. But he hasn't just been playing well recently, the man is having himself a YEAR. Take a look at some of his numbers as compared to last year:

2013-14 2014-15
GP 62 44
Points 9 13
ATOI 16:49 18:36
5v5 Corsi % 50.1 55.7
Blocked Shots 55 57

(source: hockey-reference.com)

In 18 fewer games, he has produced more offensively and defensively with more time on ice, while improving his possession numbers drastically in 5v5 play.

And though it isn't typically an important statistic for defensemen, I will add that his shooting percentage is also up... by over 10% (11.9% compared to 1.7% last year).

Last year, Ekholm was constantly in Trotz's doghouse. Like an ASPCA advert with sad Sarah McLaughlin songs doghouse. But Eks has flourished under Laviolette. Being used more because of the injuries to Ellis and Volchenkov, he has responded with great possession play and tremendous effort on both offense and defense.

All eyes will be on the goal-tending situation for tonight and the coming weeks, but with guys like Ekholm stepping up, we have to feel good about where the Preds are right now.

And where are they right now? In 1st place. Boom.

Reasons To Watch

  • Do yourself a favor and just watch Roman Josi for a shift or two. Don't watch anyone else, just watch him. It's fun.
  • The last time we visited Montreal, Seth Jones scored the game-winner. He also scored last Saturday vs. Detroit. See if he can build on that momentum for a solid second half of the season.
  • Mike Ribeiro has done well when facing the team that drafted him back in 1998: in 9 games vs. the Canadiens he has 11 points. Let's see if the wizard goes back to work tonight and puts up a few points.

Pre-Game Music For Your Listening Enjoyment

How about some nice colorful synthpop to groove your way into tonight's matchup?

Finally, Some Important Details

6:30 tonight, on FS-TN and 102.5 The Game as usual.