This has all the makings of the game of the night.
The league's two best team square off in one of the most electric arenas in the NHL, where it's almost impossible for the visitors to get points. The Ducks and the Predators are tied with 72 points each, (Nashville has a game in hand) so the winner will be uncontested at the top of the mountain for the time being. Oh, and Nashville is getting their Vezina Trophy candidate back after three weeks on the injured list.
Buckle up, and hold on to your butts.
The Anaheim Ducks
What makes the Ducks so good?
No really, I'm asking. What makes them so good? Like the last time the teams met, they are league average in just about every major category (possession, goals for, power play, penalty kill), don't benefit from any outrageous save or shooting percentages, yet their record is anything but average. Anaheim also hasn't lost a one-goal game yet. It's freaking February.
Bruce Boudreau is one of the biggest reasons. He'll always have the stigma of a regular season coach until he can get his team to make a deep run, but the man knows how to use his players on the ice. But don't discount 59-year-old Ryan Getzlaf, who still paces Anaheim in points, and is eight in the league. Perennial pest Corey Perry is a little ways behind him, but he's still the second-highest scorer, despite missing a good chunk of time to injury. They aren't a two horse team, though. Anaheim has a good crop of scoring defenders (Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen) and productive forwards (Ryan Kesler, Patrick Maroon, Matt Belesky) to round out the team. That's probably why they're so good, even if their numbers don't jump off the page.
Anaheim coming off an overtime victory against the recently pesky Carolina Hurricanes. However, they lost their two games before that against the Sharks and the Blackhawks and getting outscored 10-4. In total, they've allowed 14 goals in their last three games, which isn't really the best way to win hockey games. If Rinne is playing how he's played all season, they could have a mountain to climb if they even allow two.
Frederik Andersen should be between the pipes tonight, though with the Ducks playing tomorrow in Washington, there is and of eensiest chances Ilya Bryzgalov could start. I'm sure Peter Laviolette would love that. But a big game against the top two teams when starting a five-game road trip? Expect Andersen, with his .917 Sv% and .686 QS%.
The Nashville Predators
He. Is. Back.
Pekka Rinne is Nashville's expected starter, just over three weeks after suffering a sprained knee against Vancouver. Fans no doubt had heart palpitations when seeing him get run into by Chris Higgins and Anton Volchenkov, especially after all the time he missed last year. No worries, though, as he is returning on the low end of his 3-5 week timetable.
In his absence. Montreal's Carey Price has all but overtaken the Hart and Vezina conversation. This is unacceptable. Part of me hoped the Preds bottomed out or a few weeks, just to make Rinne's claim even more concrete, but team went 4-2-2, the hacks. It also doesn't help that the Canadiens are possibly the most overrated team in the NHL, and would barely be clawing for a Wild Card berth without Price, while the Preds are actually a good team. Yet, they wouldn't be challenging for the division (or the league lead in points) without Rinne.
Pekka has some work to do to remind everyone who is the better netminder, and get his name right back at the top of the conversation. Super Finn, activate.
Reasons to Watch
- Boo Corey Perry.
Keep an Eye On
- The Second Line - Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher, and James Neal were by far the best players on the ice during Nashville's 4-3 win against Toronto. They scored six points between them and owned the possession battle. They've been tearing it up recently, and as long as Laviolette keeps that line together, they should continue to do so. Remember when secondary scoring was an issue?
Sights and Sounds
Pete and Stu have you covered on FS-TN, while Willy and Brent will soothe your ears on 108.5 The Weber. Game time is 7 p.m. Bring your hockey voices.