Nashville Predators @ Vancouver Canucks Preview: Leave It on the Ice
Nashville has two more games before they join the All-Star festivities, but needs to focus on getting out of Vancouver with two points.
A rumble in British Columbia awaits as the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks exchange pleasantries for the first time this season. Nashville is looking to continue their winning ways through Western Canada, while a Henrik-less Canucks squad needs two points (and some help from Winnipeg) to draw even with the Coyotes in the Pacific division.
The Vancouver Canucks
Much like Nashville, Vancouver followed up their surprise playoff appearance last year with a mediocre campaign so far this year. Their 51 points leaves them 10th in the conference right now, though they aren't completely out of the picture yet. With the two wild card spots likely going in favor of Central teams, Vancouver will be fighting out the third and final spot in the Pacific with Arizona, Anaheim, and possibly (but not likely) Calgary.
That the Canucks are this close to a playoff spot is kind of amazing, considering they are 27th in the league in SACF%, 25th in total goals scored, have allowed the seventh most goals against, and both special teams are bottom 10. They allow nearly 30 shots per 60 minutes, while taking less than 27 themselves.
This is not a good hockey club.
Goaltenders can only mask those type of problems so much, and Ryan Miller is doing just about all he can short of learning telekinesis. The former Sabre is playing to almost his exact career numbers at a .913 Sv% and 2.73 GAA. That's not terrible, but when he's getting peppered with shots every night, more of those are going to go in than he wants. Jacob Markstrom is statistically performing better, though he has 16 starts and 900 minutes fewer than Miller.
The loss of Dan Hamhuis hurts, considering their top three defensemen by 5v5 time on ice are Alexander Edler, Matt Bartkowski, and Christopher Tanev. Not exactly a blue line to chill the bone, and it's showing in the stats column. Henrik Sedin's injury is going to be felt as well, since his production isn't going to be replicated. The hope is for him to return to practice after the All-Star break, and Vancouver needs him back as soon as possible. Until then, Daniel, Jannick Hansen, Radim Vrbata, and Bo Horvat are going to have to step up to fill the gap.
The Nashville Predators
It's another back-to-back, which means it's time to start debating who should start in goal and why. (Of course that also means anything we speculate will be obsolete by the time this publishes, but c'est la vie.)
On one hand, Pekka Rinne looks like he's starting to get in a groove, so keeping his momentum going would be advantageous. On the other, that's potentially a week between starts because of the All-Star break. On the third hand, Rinne will be busy with festivities for the weekend, so maybe getting a week off isn't the worst thing in the world.
On the fourth and final hand, there's a chance to confuse the audience with "save by Hutton on a shot from Hutton!" throughout the night. So I vote Carter Hutton starts. You're welcome, Ben Hutton.
Let's also take a second to appreciate what Mattias Ekholm is doing. We knew the departure of Seth Jones meant the young defenseman would get to spread his wings and thrive in Columbus. What may have flown under the radar was that Ekholm could do the same exact thing here. He's average the same amount of even strength ice time since before the trade, but now is being used almost two minutes more a game on the power play.
He has six points since the trade, and his possession stats have stayed as strong as ever. Ekholm is on the ice for 55% of all total shot attempts, and performs 5.2% better relative to his team. Since Jones' exit, he's had six points in eight games, includinga three-game poitn streak. He can have as many dogs as he wants.
No trip to Vancouver would be complete without blasting the recently disbanded 3 Inches of Blood. Even though they're Canucks fans, they still brought a classic but heavy sound to the ear drums of metal heads everywhere. Whether they were bragging about destroying Orcs, sharing tales in the Great Hall of Feasting, or serenading about the trials and tribulations of hockey players, this is a band that will be missed.
The Important Stuff
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