After a successful disappearing act on Monday night, the Nashville Predators (15-10-1) travel in to the Wild to face Minnesota (10-12-3) in a critical Western Conference match tonight at 7 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center.
After an 11-2 run that included a seven game win streak, the Predators have gone 1-2 in their last three games. The Wild are on a modest streak going 3-0-1 in their last four games and are 7-3-1 at home this season.
The Preds played the Wild in Minnesota on October 28 in an odd game where Dan Ellis gave up three goals in 2:18 in the second period and was pulled in favor of Pekka Rinne who shut down the Wild for the rest of the game and got credit for the 4-3 victory.
This will be the second game in a row for Preds Goalie Pekka Rinne (11-6-0, 2.47, .913) to play a fellow Finnish goalie that is in consideration for the National Olympic team. On Monday it was Mikka Kiprusoff and tonight it will be Niklas Backstrom (9-9-3, 2.59, .910).
The Wild's point leaders are Mikko Koivu (6 g,8 a) and ex-Pred Andrew Brunette (9 g, 10 a). The Preds continue to be led by J.P. Dumont (5 g, 12 a) but have seven others in double digits in points.
Minnesota is almost as anemic in scoring goals as the Preds have been averaging 2.44 goal per game compared to the Preds at 2.27.
Both teams are in the leagues least penalized category with the Preds ranked first (8.9 min per game) and the Wild fourth (11.0). Nashville and Minnesota are similar on the power play (16.7% and 18.7% respectively) and on the penalty kill (80.0% and 81.9%).
The Wild are without several key players due to injury. Petr Sykora (concussion), Brent Burns (concussion), and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) are out. D Kim Johnsson (illness) missed practice on Tuesday is questionable. Antti Miettinen (illness) and Martin Havlat (hamstring) have been out but are expected to return.
Preds Keys to the Game...
Forget Monday's Loss
The Preds need to shake off Monday's loss and get their head back in the game with the confidence and swagger that they were playing with during their seven game win streak. It will be important for the Preds get on the scoreboard first to take the home crowd out of the game. Pekka needs to be confident and receive defensive support in front of him.
Control the Pace of the Game...
The Wild have not played since Saturday so they will be well rested and will try to establish their game early. The Preds need to quicken the pace of the game and not fall into the Wild's more deliberate style of play. They need to shoot early and often and keep pressing the puck toward the Wild zone every chance they get. The Preds need to reach the 65 or better range of Corsi shots.
Special Teams Need to Lead the Way...
After a six game power play streak where the Preds scored two per game the last three games of that streak, the PP has gone three games without a goal, going 0-12. That needs to change tonight with the PP unit getting on the board quickly. The shoot first mentality needs to return. The team has fallen back into the passing mode and have looked tentative on the power play.
The penalty kill was also MIA in the last game on Monday going 0-2. Part of that was too much Calgary but that can't be the situation tonight.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass