It has been a back and forth affair between the Minnesota Wild and the Nashville Predators. Each have a win over the other, but Minnesota holds the edge in points since their loss was in a shootout making them 1-0-1 against Nashville. Both games were very close and aside from an uncharacteristic blunder by Rinne in the first game that saw Clutterbuck score the game-winning shorthander, that game would have probably gone to overtime also.
In what should be another goaltending duel with stingy defense, expect the match-up in Minny to go the same as the last two meetings. Can the Predators stay hot even after the break? Can Minnesota continue to “claw” their way into contention? Game time is 7 P.M. Central.
This Year’s Series: 1-1-0 Home (1-0-0) Away (0-1-0)
Looking at the Wild: The Wild find themselves 8th in the West with 55 points. Minnesota is lead by their off-season acquisition Dany Heatley with 34 points (who also leads in goals with 15). The Wild are built like the Predators in many ways where many different people contribute to their success. The range of forwards they carry is a working man’s group with players like Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen and Kyle Brodziak providing the depth scoring needed for the Wild to roll out four solid lines (sound familiar?).
The goaltending in Minnesota has been consistent and each goalie has a winning record. Backstrom has taken the yeoman’s work with 30 games played with a GAA of 2.43 and a SV% of .921. Amazingly, Backstrom has 2 assists on the year, something that goalies rarely get.
Looking at the Predators: The Predators were on fire going into the All-Star break. Many are hoping that the lay-off was a great rest and the Predators will get right back into their winning ways tonight. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter participated in the All-Star game and should be game ready. It is up to the rest off the team and especially the veterans to lead by example and get the train rolling again.
Pekka Rinne, who many think was snubbed by the All-Star selections has been one of the best goaltenders since December and earned the Second Star of the Week by the NHL for his performance before the All-Star break.
For the Wild to win: Play with a chip on their shoulder. Since the entire Wild team was a no-show on the All-Star roster (aside from rookie Nick Johnson), they must play like they deserved to have a couple players from their squad representing the league’s best. Starting with team leader Heatley, players like Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi can be dangerous and need to be put to use in this manner.
Backstrom will more than likely get the start tonight and should show well against his Scandinavian counterpart. The defense for Minnesota needs to be held accountable. Only three players hold a positive plus/minus rating on D (Justin Falk/Clayton Stoner/Jared Spurgeon) and Stoner is known to be the enforcer for Minnesota so Zidlicky and Scandella have to start clearing the crease and clogging the corners to frustrate Nashville’s offense.
For the Predators to win: Knock the rust off early. By doing this, Nashville can set the tempo of the game with some hard hits and aggressive play to overwhelm the Wild and take an early lead. With four lines rolling, Trotz can wither down the Wild defense, which is sketchy, and lure them into taking a penalty which Nashville has been happy to oblige with a timely goal or two.
Weber and Suter have been skating all weekend (although I wouldn’t call the All-Star game a workout by any means) and the rest of the team has been using the time to heal any bumps and bruises and take a well-deserved rest. Look for Fisher and Hornqvist to continue their play and the 3rd and 4th lines of Nashville to keep contributing to the cause. If Nashville can get back to winning more of the faceoffs, the Predators have a chance to take control and put this game out of reach of the one-goal affair fans have grown accustomed to this season.
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Stay HardCore, friends