Following a so-so home stand where the Nashville Predators (26-16-3) were 2-2, they head to Western Canada for a meeting with the hard charging Vancouver Canucks (27-16-2) who have points in nine straight games (7-0-2).
Vancouver is 11-2-2 since losing to the Preds in Nashville on December 8th when Marty Erat had a hat trick. Their run also includes a 4-1 shellacking of the Preds in Vancouver on December 22.
Vancouver is 18-6-1 at home with the shoot-out loss coming in their last game against Calgary on Saturday night in one of the more intense games in the league this season. Alexander Burrows was named the NHL player of the week for last week based on his back-to-back hat tricks on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Predators are 12-7-2 on the road this season and hope to regain some of the intensity that has been missing in recent games when they take the ice tonight in Vancouver.
The Predators remain without Captain Jason Arnott, Jerred Smithson and Jordin Tootoo. Based on the fact that Ben Guite was returned to Milwaukee, it is assumed that Joel Ward will return. The status of Francis Bouillon, who suffered from flu-like symptoms on Saturday is also unclear.
An announcement has not been made as to who will start in goal for the Predators but Pekka Rinne (2-1-0, 2.36, .926) has done far better career-wise than Dan Ellis (1-5-0, 3.36, .898). Roberto Luongo (23-12-2, 2.20, .924) is probable in goal for Vancouver.
Predator's Keys to the Game
Predators Need More Intensity as Race Tightens...
In the post game Saturday, Barry Trotz lamented the fact that the Preds were inconsistent during the four game home stand going back and forth between being OK and so-so. Neither OK or so-so will gain success it on this Western swing, with the division being closer than ever with a spread of two points between Calgary in third and the Predators in seventh. Additionally, Detroit is now only three points behind the Preds and are closing fast.
Better Defense in Front of the Net...
In the last two games, Pekka Rinne has been victimized by sloppy puck handling and bad decisions in front of the Predator net. Communication still seems to be lacking, especially in the Klein and Hamhuis pairing.
The troubling part in the last two games is that hey appeared more disorganized against the lowly Hurricanes than they did against the much better Ducks team.
Return to Being Road Warriors...
The Predators play eleven of their next sixteen games on the road leading up to the Olympic break. The Predators have played well on the road this season and need to used Wednesday's "team building" activities to come together and play more cohesively as a team.
With a large dependency on Barry Trotz's "Band of Brothers" mentality, everyone needs to be "all in" every game. The three remaining injured players should return over the next couple of weeks so there should be a sense of urgency among the call-ups from Milwaukee to not be the odd man out when the other players return.
The Preds will be back at it tomorrow night as they leave for Edmonton after tonight's game for a date with the Oilers on Tuesday.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass