The NHL leading Nashville Predators begin the sprint to the All-Star break with a couple of home games beginning tonight as the Vancouver Canucks come to town. The Canucks got off to a great start this season and still sit sixth in the conference, but they have been floating a bit since the holidays and have lost their last two, both at home.
Getting on the road may be just what the doctor ordered for Vancouver as their road record is better than their home record. Nashville has some signs of getting on a serious roll, winning four of their last five and gathering points in their last eight. All while not playing the best hockey we have seen from this team.
That seems a strange statement to make of a team that has 60 points at the midway point of the season, but the ability of this team to gather points while not playing their best is remarkable. But a different hero seems to step up every night. When the top line isn’t happening, the blueline is there. The team is dominating at home and very solid on the road and as long as Pekka Rinne can get the occasional break and the key players on this team stay healthy… who knows what may lie ahead?
The Predators have done well against Pacific Division teams, owning a 8-2-2 record so far which includes a 3-1 win over Vancouver back in November, however, Vancouver has won their last three times visiting Bridgestone Arena. Injuries may play a role here. The Predators are expecting James Neal to be back in the lineup after missing the last five games, he is still listed on IR but has practiced with the team for the past couple of days. Ryan Ellis and Eric Nystrom remain on IR. Vancouver is hoping for the return of former Pred Dan Hamhuis on this road trip, but he has been ruled out for tonight’s game.
In net, expect Pekka Rinne vs. Ryan Miller. Miller did not start in Vancouver’s Saturday loss to the Flamers due to “flu-like” symptoms, but is expected to go tonight. Offensively, keep an eye on Radim Vrbata who has 16 goals in 37 games… he is playing well and benefitting from time with the Sedin twins, who have 17 goals between them so far this season.
Game time is 7pm at Bridgestone Arena, coverage is radio only tonight on the Predators Radio Network, 102.5 the Game is the flagship station in Nashville.
And here is your preview courtesy nhl.com;
– If James Neal returns to the lineup tonight, expect him on the second line with Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson. Preds head coach appears to be trying a more balanced attack, keeping the top line of Filip Forsberg, Craig Smith and Mike Ribeiro together.
– The Predators are taking advantage of the extra off day this week by moving practice to the Ford Ice Center on Thursday. There will be free food and a free public skate. The event gets going at 10:45am, practice begins at 11am and the free public skate (including free skate rental) starts at noon.
– Nice moment of honesty from Patrik Elias yesterday. He was quoted as saying that none of his team deserved to go.
– The Flyers got a big win last night, finally breaking out offensively. It was a huge loss for the Lightning, not only on the ice, but Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson both went down with “lower-body injuries.” Flyer netminder Rob Zepp got his second NHL win.
– The question is being asked… is this the year a goaltender takes the Hart Trophy? You can make cases for both Pekka Rinne and Carey Price.
– Friday night should be special at Bridgestone Arena. Not only is it the return of Barry Trotz, but it is shaping up to be a showdown of two very hot teams.
-Ten games on the NHL schedule tonight – Lightning @ Bruins, Red Wings @ Sabres, Islanders @ Rangers, Wild @ Penguins, Avalanche @ Hurricanes, Oilers @ Blues, Canucks @ Predators, Panthers @ Jets, Senators @ Stars, Sharks @ Coyotes.
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