Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Game Preview: Preds Face Blues Needing a Victory

The Nashville Predators (22-14-3) hope to end their recent three game slide when they travel to St. Louis to play the Blues (17-16-5) at the Scottrade Center.

The Predators played somewhat better in the 5-4 loss to Chicago on Sunday night with a two goal rally to tie the game late. However, a leaky defense and a Hawks team that takes advantage of every mistake doomed the Pred's comeback chances.

The Blues have lost their last two games including a 5-3 setback to Buffalo at home on Sunday. St. Louis has played well on the road going 11-4-3, but have been miserable at home with a 6-12-2 record.

The two teams have met twice this year with each team winning 3-1 on the opponent's home ice. The last meeting was on November 27, in Nashville when the Preds debuted their third jersey.

Both teams have injures to key players with Jordin Tootoo (foot) and Jerred Smithson (hand) out for the Predators. The Blues will be missing Paul Kariya and D. J. King.

According to John Glennon, Pekka Rinne (14-7-2, 2.80, .905) will start for the Predators while ex-Pred Chris Mason (11-11-4, 2.54, .910) will be in goal for the Blues. Mason has had great success against the Preds going 3-1-2 in his career.

Predators Keys To The Game

Forget the Last Three Games...

The Predators need to leave the last three games behind and return to playing the hockey that they were playing a couple of weeks ago. The Predators need to improve their play against top teams like Chicago, but when the best team in the league plays "the perfect road game" as Chicago did on Saturday, you probably will lose.

Likewise, a half-hearted effort in Vancouver led to the loss there against the Canucks who played one of their better games of the year.

The key tonight is to return to playing Barry Trotz-style Predator hockey with a "Band of Brothers" mentality and put in a full sixty minute team effort.

Focus on Defense Without Losing the Offense...

This is a lot easier said than done. The Preds have given up three or more goals a game for their last nine games. When you are scoring five or more goals the GAA does not appear relevant, but when you return to your average 2.8 goals scored per game, it will leave you in a hole on a regular basis.

The increased tempo of recent games and sloppy puck handling in the defensive and neutral zones has lead to far too much pressure being put on Predator goaltenders. While it has contributed to an increase in Predator scoring, the loose play has had its consequences.

What the Predators do not need to do is to get so overwhelmed with "puck management" that they forget how to shoot the puck. This has happened in the past and the result has not been good. You can still shoot the puck 35-40 times in a game without having one of your defenseman on the rush on every play.

Special Teams Need to Improve, Now!...

The Predators penalty kill unit has given up goals in 13 of their last 14 games and are currently 28th (75.8%) in the league. The Blues power play is 25th (15.7) so this would be a good game to be perfect on the PK.

The Predators power play has been even more dismal being ranked 29th (15.5%) in the NHL. 29 of the Predators last 30 goals have come at even strength and they have not had a power play goal since December 17, in Edmonton. The Blues have an excellent penalty kill (4th, 86.2) so the Preds will have to improve against one of the best PK units.

Up Next...

The Predators finish their brief three game road trip with a game Thursday night in Columbus before returning home to play Anaheim on Saturday.

More Later...

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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