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Game 74: Nashville @ Pittsburgh – Welcoming Rads and Visiting Sully


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AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

In the only meeting of the two squads, the Nashville Predators visit the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh to take on the surging Penguins. The Pens are benefiting from the services of Sidney Crosby who has recovered remarkably from neck and concussive injuries. Evgeni Malkin is playing like a man amongst boys with 93 points (league leader) and 43 goals (2nd in league).

The Predators are also having a banner year for some players. Martin Erat who was named Third Star of the Week on NHL.com is one point away from breaking his season-high point total in his career.

Aside from a nasty loss to the Edmonton Oilers, the Predators will have new blood in the form of the prodigal Predator Alexander Radulov in the lineup. Amidst all the would he/wouldn’t he, Radulov answered many questions today in a press conference with David Poile and may have put all fears to rest as he is “here to help the team in any way he can.”

The Predators also face one of their beloved forwards, Steve Sullivan, for the first time since he signed with the Penguins. Sullivan was a fan favorite for the duration he was with Nashville, endearing himself in his first game with a hat trick and providing the speed and hands that pushed Nashville into their first playoff appearance. (personal stick-tap to one of my favorite former Predators)

Puck drop is at 6:00 Central.

This Year’s Series: N/A

Looking at the Penguins: Possibly the most complete team from forwards to goaltender in the NHL…and this was before they got Crosby back. Evgeni Malkin is truly an amazing athlete and has vision comparable to the likes of Joe Sakic or Alexander Mogilny. Malkin can score at will and his frame can out-muscle just about anyone off the puck while driving hard to the goal with finesse and speed.

The icing on this impressive pale yellow and black cake is the supporting cast around Malkin. First, you have the equally deadly Sidney Crosby back from injury and scoring at a blistering pace, but the secondary scoring is the stuff of champions. This laundry list includes Neal, Dupuis, Kunitz, Staal, Sullivan and Cooke. To put things in perspective, the top five goal scorers for the Penguins have 20+ goals (Malkin has 43). Only two Predators have 20+, Fisher with 23 and Hornqvist with 24.

Looking at the Predators: The Oilers finished off a season in which they had the Predators number through most of the year. Edmonton put up another 6 goal effort in front of the Nashville faithful in a 6-3 bludgeoning of the Predators. The Predators played a fast and loose game that may have been to their downfall. The Predators can’t expect to out run-and-gun a team like the Oilers with their youth and speed and it cost the Predators a very valuable two points.

The Predators now have to go into Pittsburgh and try to muster two points in a very unfriendly environment. With Chicago winning last night and Detroit getting the loser point in overtime against the Rangers, the Red Wings stand in 4th with the Predators and Chicago tied for 5th in points (Nashville has games in hand).

For the Penguins to win: Keep playing the Bylsma system and aggressively forecheck the Predators. It has been stated here time and time again that the Predators have a tendency to fold under the pressure of a heavy forecheck and Pittsburgh has the resources to keep the play in their offensive zone.

Malkin and Crosby will be a nightmare to defend against, but too much emphasis on shutting those two down will open up the rest of the roster and players like Dupuis, Cooke and Staal can add the supplemental scoring. Having Fleury in net doesn’t hurt matters either: he is 9th in GAA and tied with Pekka Rinne for 1st in wins.

For the Predators to win: Put the debacle that was Tuesday night’s game against the Oilers behind them and capitalize on the newest injection of talent in Alexander Radulov. Now, Radulov won’t be the end all, be all of the hockey world but he does command attention. Radulov is wily and speedy and he can dish or shoot depending on what the goalie gives him. If and when the Penguins focus on Radulov, that will open the other lines up for scoring opportunities. Look for Hornqvist to keep up his goal scoring pace and Andrei Kostitsyn to break out of his slump.

Pekka Rinne on Tuesday night wasn’t tracking the puck well and only stopped 4 out of 7 shots on goal. Rinne will shake off that game and return revitalized for the stretch run to the playoffs. Rinne still leads the league in wins, shots faced, saves and is 5th in goals allowed and 9th in SV%. Nashville has a thing it may have never had before going into the playoffs and that is depth at almost every position. Trotz has the ability to ice players that best match-up against another team rather than as a stop-gap because of injury.

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If you like what I have listed out here or if you have any questions/comments/concerns, feel free to let me know on Twitter…@Preducated
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