Around this time last year, tonight’s game between the Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Ducks would have been a playoff preview. The fates of the two franchises are much different this season, as the Predators are third in the Central Division while the Ducks have fallen from first to third in the Pacific.
One cannot fault the Ducks’ fall too much; rather it was somewhat expected. They fired Bruce “First in the Division” Boudreau (and just take a look at the Wild, hmmm) and handed the coaching duties to their former skipper Randy Carlyle. Aside from that downgrade, their core is aging and the Ducks aren’t getting the same production out of their bottom-six forwards.
That being said, it’d be nice if the Predators could get production out of their bottom-nine forwards. Were it not for the now-famous JOFA line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson, the Predators would likely be neck and neck with St. Louis for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Hopefully some forward other than those three can contribute tonight.
The Ducks, although still a playoff team right now, have a pretty bleak outlook for the future. Both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, first and third respectively for the Ducks in points, are regressing at age 31 and will only continue to do so. Furthermore, their salary cap situation is in no way enviable. Despite having a wealth of young, defensive talent, there are major concerns in Orange County about being able to keep all of their players under contract. This problem was unsuccessfully attempted to be solved during the last summer and, at the trade deadline, the Ducks were widely known to be willing to trade some of their defensemen.
The Ducks are trying to stave off the Calgary Flames from taking the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division. Their current playoff opponent, the Edmonton Oilers, is probably the most desirable opponent that the Ducks could hope for at this point of the season. The chances they would draw the Flames, Predators, or Blues is extremely slim.
That being said, although they are under pressure in a number of ways, the Ducks do have a winning percentage over .500, something that, unless they win tonight, the Predators do not have.
Tonight P.A. Parenteau may be making his debut for the good guys in gold. He will likely be filling in a spot on either the third or the fourth line. Speculation has it that he will potentially bump the under-performing Craig Smith down to the fourth line or out of the starting lineup completely. Ryan Ellis, who needed help leaving the ice in Montreal last Thursday after sustaining another knee injury, also practiced Monday. The Predators defense looked significantly weaker without him against the Blackhawks, so his speedy return will be critical for the Predators.
What would also help the Predators would be
some any production from any forwards other than the first line. The Predators only have four forwards who either already have or are on pace to crack twenty goals this season. Colin Wilson has been the disappointing “regular season Colin Wilson”, while Craig Smith’s production has been utterly abysmal. The one bright spot has been Kevin Fiala who, after his most recent call-up, has been buzzing up and down the ice getting chance after chance. That being said, Fiala is the only non-first line forward who really looks like “he’s due” for a breakout game.
However, the worst issue is the fourth line. From #FancyStats to #MoulsonStats, they are not good. It is bad. Very bad. Cody McLeod, Vernon Fiddler, and Austin Watson have been a liability each time they have taken the ice as a unit. That’s not as much Watson’s fault as much as the former two players.
When looking at former Stanley Cup winners, do they have players like McLeod on their roster? No. Sure, he brings a lot of energy, but most of it is spent in the defensive end or in the penalty box. On the other hand, look at a team like the Columbus Blue Jackets. Their fourth line of Scott Hartnell, Lukas Sedlak, and Sam Gagner is in no way a checking line and -GASP- has been a big contributing factor to Columbus’ success. With the game being so speed and skill oriented, there is no time nor opportunity to ice players with the sole purpose of bashing skulls. Hopefully, with Parenteau in the lineup and Miikka Salomaki, an energy player who isn’t a liability, returning from injury soon, the Predators will be able to put a different fourth line on the ice. It’s a change that has to happen.
Reasons to Watch
- P.A. Parenteau, enjoy your first game as a Predator!
- The JOFA line alone is a reason to watch any Predators game.
- We get to see our good guys deck Corey Perry tonight!
- Speaking of which, don’t expect there to be any lost love between Perry and James Neal tonight. There’s plenty of hate there.
Gameday Hockey Lingo Word of the Day
The Iron Lung, noun.
Definition: While formerly used to describe the team bus, technology has shifted its meaning to be the team plane. The team bus or plane is where the life and character of the team is grown because of the time spent together on it, hence it being a “lung” for the team.
Example: “The Preds will be spending a lot of time on the ‘ol Iron Lung out to California.”
Sights and Sounds
The puck drops at 9:00 PM CST in Anaheim. The Predators will be televised on FS-TN or you can catch them on the radio at 102.5 The Game.