The Predators have their first of eight back-to-back contests Tuesday night as they face off against the Minnesota Wild. The Predators have dropped their first two home games in the shootout against Columbus and St. Louis. Both games saw Nashville give up a lead to go into a shootout where the opposing team dominated the skills competition.
The Minnesota Wild had extra duty over the weekend with a back-to-back Saturday/Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars. Minnesota took both games in regulation and the re-emergence of Dany Heatley and the play of Zach Parise has helped the Wild in their two victories.
Puck drop is at 7 p.m. Central and can be followed on the air waves at 102.5 the Game with Tom Callahan and Stu Grimson and viewed locally on FS Tennessee with Pete Weber and Terry Crisp with the honors.
The Predators have played to their opponents much of the first two games. Columbus was supposed to be the whipping boy of the Western Conference this season which makes them a tough match-up as a team with nothing to lose. The Predators squandered a one goal lead twice to end up in a shootout going to six rounds with Derrick Brassard finishing off for the extra point.
Against St. Louis, the Predators took the early lead, then gave up two goals and battled back to take a one goal lead going into the third period. The determined Blues found a way to net one more goal midway through the third period to force overtime and the shootout which the Blues handled with ease scoring on their first two shots.
The Wild are showing everybody why they paid huge for the services of Zach Parise. Parise is just the kind of offensive distraction that opens up players like Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley to work their magic on net. Heatley leads the team with 2 goals and 3 points (tied with Parise). Harding pitched the shutout against Dallas and Backstrom only allowed two goals in the 4-2 win over the Avalanche.
Looking at the Wild: It was up in the air for most whether or not the changes made in Minnesota would translate to on-ice success this season. Many of those questions have been answered over the weekend. Half the lineup for the Wild have contributed points in the two games, but interesting enough, Ryan Suter has yet to register a point and is a -1 so far (FWIW Shea Weber hasn’t registered a point yet either, but is a +1).
The other acquisition, Zach Parise, is lighting up the scoresheet as most predicted he would. He has 1 goal and 2 assists in the two games played and tallied the game-winner against Dallas. It is good to see Pierre-Marc Bouchard back to mid-season form after suffering a concussion last season limiting him to only 37 games. He has 1 goal and 1 assist so far this year.
Looking at the Predators: The Predators looked much better in their go-round with the St. Louis Blues, aside from Craig Smith and David Legwand. Colin Wilson has added another gear to his game and his drive to score and keep the opponent off-balance is exactly the right step in managing Trotz’ system. Hornqvist worked his methods in his office down front and scored on a nifty wrister on the power play for Nashville. Fisher chipped in with a PP goal and the fourth liners, Spaling, McGrattan and Clune, performed admirably in help to even out some of the ice time knowing the Predators would be playing a back-to-back on Tuesday.
Pekka Rinne. What more can be said than he kept the Blues off the scoreboard on some brilliant saves. His shootout skills may be less than desired, but his in-game larceny of the Blues top offense was without a doubt the reason the Predators made it to overtime. To give Rinne a break on Tuesday, especially with both home games going to extra innings, expect Trotz to roll with Chris Mason in relief. There will probably be word in the morning as to whether or not Gaustad will be in the lineup against Minnesota (he was scratched Monday night with an upper-body injury).
The expected lineup for the Predators (based on Monday’s lineup):
Yip/Spaling(Guastad if healthy)/Halischuk
For the Wild to win: Continue to utilize the power play. Two of the Wild’s five goals scored have been on the PP and both by Dany Heatley. Minnesota has too many offensive options to just have the Predators concentrate on Heatley and Parise. They can score with Koivu, Setoguchi, Clutterbuck and Bouchard. The Wild have had the Predators number far too often at the Xcel Energy Center and they will be looking to continue that trend Tuesday night.
The play of Harding/Backstrom will continue to be strong. Much like the Blues with Elliott/Halak, the combination of two solid goalies makes it a nightmare for coaches to plan for the game. As seen against the Blues, a goalie change led to the Predators not scoring anymore and the Blues evened up the game and stone cold denied the Predators shootout attempts.
For the Predators to win: A point is a point and this year every point is going to be hard-fought. The Predators have to lock down when they have a lead and possibly add some insurance to win some games in regulation. Nashville did graze a few posts in the third period and very easily could have added the Frosty-inducing insurance marker, but these chances were not buried and the end result was still a loss. Each point they can steal from another Western Conference opponent could be huge come seasons end.
The Predators showed great resolve by coming back from a one goal deficit to take the lead against a very skilled St. Louis team. The Predators also made St. Louis take on extra penalties which kept the ice shifted to Nashville’s side for much of the second period. It’ll be up to players like Legwand and Smith to step up their game and follow the example of Erat, Hornqvist and Wilson who have been up to the task of finishing off plays and scoring chances.