The Nashville Predators (22-11-3) close out their pre-Christmas schedule and put their franchise record seven game road point streak (6-0-1) on the line tonight when the visit the Vancouver Canucks (20-16-0).
The Canucks bring a 6-4 December record into the game after losing their last game to St. Louis 3-1 on Sunday night. Vancouver has the fourth best home record in the league going 14-6-0 this season. Tonight's game is the seventh of eight on the current home stand.
The Predators defeated Vancouver 4-2 on December 8th in the two teams only meeting this year. Marty Erat led the Preds with a hat trick and Pekka Rinne played one of his best games of the year stooping 34 shots. Jerred Smithson also received a game misconduct based on some B-rate acting by Alex Burrows in the game.
Roberto Luongo (16-12-0, 2.42, .916) will start in goal for the Canucks while Dan Ellis (8-5-1, 2.67, .910) will start for the Predators.
The Predators will have Captain Jason Arnott back in the lineup after he sat out Saturday's game against Calgary with an "upper body injury".
Several Preds have point streaks on the line including the NHL's third star of the week, Patric Hornqvist with 7 points in four games and David Legwand with seven points in his last five games. Marty Erat has six points in his last four while Marcel Goc (2 goals, 4 assists), Joel Ward (1 G, % A) and Jerred Smithson (2 G, 1 A) all have three game point streaks.
Vancouver has more offensive weapons than you can count, led by Henrik Sedin (15 goals, 29 assists), Ryan Kessel ( 9 G, 22A), and Mason Raymond (14 G, 11A).
Predators Keys to the Game
If Pekka Rinne is healthy, it is a surprise to see Dan Ellis starting based on past performances against Vancouver. Ellis is 1-4-0 with a 3.20 goals against average in five games against the Canucks. Pekka Rinne had one of his better games against the Nucks two weeks ago and is 2-1-0, 2.36 in three career games. There was an indication last week that Rinne may not be 100% so that could be contributing to the somewhat surprising start for Ellis. Hopefully, Barry Trotz will not have to "change the luck" with a goalie pull in tonight's contest.
Vancouver brings the leagues sixth best power play (22.4%) and third best man advantage at home (25.9%) into the game against the league's third worst penalty kill unit (76%) in the Predators. The Preds are still third in the league in fewest penalty minutes but have shown a tendency to get drawn in to more trips to the box against chippy teams like Vancouver. It will be imperative for Nashville to play a disciplined game and avoid needless penalties.
Conversely, the Pred's power play unit is languishing in 27th place (16.3%) and need to start contributing at a better pace.
Remember the 2008-09 Phoenix Coyotes...
Predator fans and the national media has suddenly started to recognize the Predators unexpected rise rise to the top of the Western Conference. Hopefully the players have not been distracted by all the accolades and forget what got them to the top in the first place. They have had an ability to sneak up on a few teams but that will no longer be the case now that they have everyone's attention.
I realize that here were other factors involved but the Phoenix Coyotes of 2008-09 provide a great case study of teams that were flying high and quit doing the things that got them in a competitive position and paid the price in the standings. Phoenix was as high as fifth place in the Western Conference in January and played a completely different game during the second half of the year and ended the year in thirteenth place.
Guard the Puck...
The Predators have had tremendous issues with unforced turnovers in the last few games, especially in their defensive zone and the neutral zone. Dan Hamhuis alone contributed directly to two Flames goals on Saturday. If the Preds have too many errors in tonight's match, it could get ugly very quickly.
The Predators have an abbreviated three day Christmas break before they regroup in Nashville on Saturday morning to prepare for a weekend home and away set with the Chicago Blackhawks which will be followed by road games to St. Louis and Columbus next week.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass