Nashville Predators vs. San Jose Sharks: Nashville Called For Icing
If all you need for a hockey game is a solid surface of ice, most of Nashville is ready to play.
The Californians certainly didn't bring any good weather with them. As I type this, all of middle Tennessee is in a panic over a bit of snow and ice on the roads.The only ice I am concerned with is the 200' X 85' rectangle of it over at 501 Broadway.
Well, I'm a bit concerned about the 1/2 inch of it that is on my driveway, but WHO CARES GO PREDS.
The Predators will face the Sharks tonight at Bridgestone Arena. Strap on the tire chains, muzzle up the sled dogs, dig out your cross county skiing gear... the boys need you there and they need you to be LOUD.
(Disclaimer: don't put yourself in danger just to attend a hockey game... use sound judgement people.)
The San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are in 2nd place in the Pacific Division. With a goal differential of -1, they should probably feel good about that. While they are not out of the race for the division title, they are 11 points out of 1st and not playing particularly well right now. Still, if they were to scrape together a 2 or 3 game win streak, they could make a run at the division leading Ducks. The Sharks absolutely owned the season series (4-0-1) and the Ducks aren't playing particularly well either, so it is certainly possible. But unless they vastly improve certain areas of their game (defense, goaltending), I do not see the Sharks being a threat in the playoffs.
Defensively, the Sharks are well below average for a playoff contending team. Giving up 2.76 goals per game puts them at 21st in the league. The Sharks defensemen player usage and relative possession chart indicates some reason why:
The Sharks defense does not have a consistently productive defensive pairing anywhere on its roster. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been solid relative to the rest of the team, but he just came back from injury. Along with Vlasic, Brenden Dillon, who came over from Dallas this year, and Brent Burns are the top performing defensemen, but have not been featured together for some reason. Scott Hannan, who just recently turned 62 years old, has played significant minutes for the Sharks in Vlasic's absence and has been terrible. He has consistently performed below average against lesser competition and with generous offensive zone starts.
Dillon and Burns would make sense together, being opposite handed and being decent possession defensemen, but Vlasic probably needs to be on the top pair, as he has shown he can handle the top-tier opponents most effectively. So that leaves a host of badness to fill out the remaining defensive pairings, with guys like Matt Irwin, Matt Tennyson, Justin Braun and Mirco Mueller forced into unfavorable matchups. Combine this with a disappointing year from Antti Niemi, who is 25th among regular starting goaltenders with a .911 save %, and you have Bad Defense.
Offensively the Sharks have held their own, though not nearly enough to make up for that Bad Defense. They are scoring at an average of 2.79 goals per game, good for 13th in the league. Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 31 goals and 52 points. Familiar Pred-villain Joe Thornton has 51 points (12g-39a). Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Tommy Wingels, and Tomas Hertl all have double-digit goal totals.
The key to beating this team will be getting to the defense and Niemi early. The Preds are certainly capable of out-scoring this team, but they have enough offensive weapons to scare you.
The Nashville Predators
While we are on the subjective of effective defensemen, and with the recent addition of Cody Franson to the team, let's take a look at the same defensive usage and relative possession chart for the Predators:
Shea Weber and Roman Josi are still among the best in the league, when you consider their TOI, tough opponent match-ups and lack of favorable zone starts. Their relative Corsi % is only hurt by the solid play of Seth Jones, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis throughout the year. As Jon pointed out, the addition of Franson will only help provide more defensive depth, something we should be welcome happily with Ellis still out.
Franson's play this year would suggest a demotion for Volchenkov, but Volchenkov hasn't been awful. If Franson's arrival means Volchenkov sees more minutes against even lesser opponents, look for Anton's numbers to also improve. This also means less need to rely on Bartley and Bitetto, who certainly don't need any more 2:00+ shifts out there. More defensive depth is always a good thing. And there probably isn't a much better defensive structure in the league than this:
Weber - Josi
Franson - Jones
Volchenkov - Ekholm
Further, when Ellis comes back, the 1st half season duo of Ellis-Ekholm will reunite as the third pairing. Good luck, Western Conference.
Of course, a lot depends on how well Franson clicks with this team. He has already indicated his understandable excitement to be back in Nashville. But the culture shock of leaving a disastrous locker room in Toronto to a warm and fuzzy one in Nashville could take a game or two. And adjusting to Seth Jones' somewhat unpredictable nature on the blue line could take even longer. As long as Franson isn't asked to do too much in his new role, I see him doing well here. Again.
Reasons To Watch
- New (old?) Preds to cheer for in Franson and Mike Santorelli, plus all your old favorites!
- The NHL leader in wins (33) and 3rd star of the week Pekka Rinne has been incredible. 3-0-0 last week with a .954 save %. Wear your #35 jerseys if you've got 'em!
- Colin Wilson is back in business. And business is booming:
Pre-game Music For Your Listening Enjoyment
A song for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli.
The Important Details
Puck drops at 7pm, TV: FS-TN, Radio: 102.5 The Game