After a disappointing effort on Friday night in a 3-1 loss to St. Louis the Nashville Predators (14-9-1) return to the ice tonight to face the Florida Panthers (10-10-4) at the Sommet Center.
Barry Trotz called tonight's matchup "the most important game of the season" pointing out the critical nature of how the team responds to having its seven game win streak snapped.
Trotz also pointed out that the weekend's opponents (St. Louis, Florida, and Calgary) were three of the leagues best teams playing on the road with a combined record of 20-6-7.
The Panthers also had a streak snapped on Friday night losing 6-4 to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs in a home game in Florida. The Panthers had gone eight games in a row collecting a point going 5-0-3.
Florida is another team that has played better on the road (7-4-1) than at home (3-6-3). Scott Clemmensen (3-1-0, 4.12, .878) is expected to start in goal after ex-Pred Tomas Vokoun (7-9-3, 2.74, .921) gave up five goals on 32 shots last night.
Barry Trotz refused to comment on tonight's starter in goal for the Predators, but it is possible that Dan Ellis (3-4-1, 2.90, .900) will get his first start since taking the loss on a muffed shot in San Jose on November 10. Pekka Rinne (11-5-0, 2.37, .916) has played eight straight games, winning seven in a row prior to Friday's loss and may be ready for a night off.
The Predators have become heavily dependent on their power play which failed to register a point for the first time in seven games last night. Florida has been inconsistent on the man advantage as they are ranked 26th (14.0 %) in the league.
Both teams have played with discipline this season with the Predators leading the league in fewest penalties (8.5 per game) and Florida ranked sixth (11.5). The Predators have the advantage on the penalty kill with a 80.8% success rate while Florida is 29th in the league at 73.4%.
Dave Scatchard provided the only score for the Predators on Friday which was his first goal since December 12, 2006. He also was involved in the team's third fighting major of the year when he was attached by Carlo Colaiacovo as he raised his arms to celebrate the goal.
Florida is led in points by Nathan Horton (7g, 13a) and Steven Reinprecht (10g, 9a). Rookie Dmitry Kulikov had his first two goal game in the NHL in Friday's loss.
Florida is missing a couple of key players due to injury in David Booth (concussion) and Cory Stillman (knee). The Predators are injury free at this time.
The Preds will return to the Sommet Center ice again on Monday to play the Northwest Division leading Calgary Flames.
Keys To the Game...
1. The Predators need to come out and play with more jump and enthusiasm than they showed on Friday and score early in the first period so not to let Florida establish a comfort level on the Pred's home ice.
2. In last night's game, the Predators did not have as much net presence as they have had during their recent streak. They need to crash the net hard and pick up rebound goals or tips on shots from the point.
3. Scoring early and often on the power play against the low ranked Florida penalty kill will restore confidence to the power play unit that was shut down on Friday night.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass