Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Game Preview: Preds Hope to Snuff Out Flames

The Nashville Predators (25-14-3) hope to extend their modest three-game win streak against the Calgary Flames (24-12-5) at the Sommet Center tonight as the Flames appear to have brought the frigid Canadian weather with them.

With temperatures dipping into single digits and snow in the forecast, Calgary may feel more at home than the Predators. In two previous meetings this season between the Preds and Flames the visiting team has been victorious.

The Flames beat the Preds 5-0 on November 30th in Nashville in what was deemed Calgary's best game of the year. The Preds proved turnabout was fair play with a 5-3 win at Calgary on December 19th in Calgary.

The Flames are currently riding a season high four game win streak and are tied in points with he Predators at 53, but do have a game in hand. They have allowed only one goal in each of the last four games. At times this year, the Flames have not seemed to be hitting on all cylinders in a season where they were expected to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

The Predators will continue their every other game goalie rotation by starting Dan Ellis (9-7-1, 2.79, .908) in goal. The Flames are expected to go with Miikka Kiprusoff (21-10-5, 2.16, 9.28)

Both teams have players out due to injuries. The Preds are still missing Marty Erat, Jerred Smithson and Jordin Tootoo. According to the Calgary Sun "Cory Sarich (ankle/foot) and D Dion Phaneuf are probable. C Craig Conroy (foot/ankle) is out".

Predator's Keys to the Game

Contain Calgary's Top Scorers...

Calgary has four players at 27 points or more (Jarome Iginla 41, Rene Bourque 34, Daymond Langkow 27, and Olli Jokinen 27) while the Preds leading producer is Marty Erat at 27 points who remains out for another week or so. The Predators have been especially victimized by Jerome Iginla who has 3 goals and 2 assists in the prior two meetings between the teams this year.

Improved Special Team Play...

I realize that this sounds like a broken record that this is a key to every game, but this is the area that he Predators have the biggest potential for upside during the second half of the season. A casual fan looking at the stats, seeing a team ranked 28th (14.9%) on the power play and 29th (76.3%) on the penalty kill would expect to see that team mired in the bottom of the conference standings.

In fact, statistically the Preds do not look good in may areas other than having the fewest penalties in the league (9.3 min per game). The fact that they are in the middle of the playoff hunt is a testament to the team concept where a different player seems to step up every night.

Control the Area in Front of the Flames Net...

One of the biggest improvements this season has been the the increased pressure put on the opposing goaltender by players like Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Jones in establishing position in front of the opponent's goal. In franchise history, the Preds have rarely had much of a presence in front of the net so it is good to see players that are willing to go to the "hard" and "dirty" areas to receive their "rewards" as Barry Trotz like to say..

Up Next...

The Preds have games on Thursday against Carolina and Saturday against the Ducks before hitting the road again for a trip through Western Canada next week.

More later...

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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