February 01 2011 07:25AM
Real hockey returns after a nice diversion of a weekend in North Carolina, and the Flames are back to work in another Southern locale. Tonight's foe is a familiar one, and despite their shiny record I have the same sorts of questions about their authenticity I did eight days ago.
As I've often mentioned, the Predators always seem competitive in spite of their economics, and it's fair to say that drafting and coaching are at the root of that state of affairs. Still, Nashville isn't a particularly imposing team up front, and their PP and PK are decidedly average. As I mentioned last time out, the bounces have been on their side most of the year.
That noted, it should be pointed out that the EV shooting data that JLikens has compiled through mid-January suggests that they've been adept at playing well when the game is tied (click the EV tied tab to reorder the spreadsheet) before falling back into a shell once a lead is obtained. That's a normal state of affairs around the league, although the manner in which the Preds do so is a bit extreme. Most teams don't have their possession numbers drop as completely as Nashville's do even once guarding an advantage, and they've scored the opening goal exactly half the time, so there isn't some sort of first-goal anomaly at work.
When I previewed the matchup before the last outing in Calgary eight days ago, it was clear to me from a general peruse of the numbers that the Predator goaltending has been driving the bus. Of all netminders that have played at least half the games, Pekka Rinne is still 9th in EVSV% at .930, and his understudy Lindback is right there with him. I certainly didn't notice any exceptional defensive work from the Preds on their last visit to Calgary, so their numbers look to be more or less fair value.
Rinne's PKSV% is pretty high, though, since there's no evidence that any goalie's true talent is .921 when his team is down a man, so that number might yet take a hit. The Flames themselves managed to score twice against Rinne on the PP last time around, which I'm sure was as much a shock to you as it was to me. Of course, as we often mention around these parts, the percentages usually equalize over time, so it's possible that Nashville's good PK% is headed for a mild correction.
Like a few other teams in the conference, the Preds are suffering from a full sick bay these days, with not much good news in their immediate future. Sullivan, O'Reilly, Svatos and Lombardi are still nicked, and Francis Bouillon is on the shelf with a concussion. One welcome item of note was the word that Jordin Tootoo is ready to resume practising, as his aftercare treatment for substance issues proceeds. He was managing against some pretty good competition before he was sidelined, so his return might be more than just a nice human interest story.
Gamewise, I'll confess that for a team that currently sits 4th in the conference, there wasn't much worth looking at from the Predators until the Flames were well ahead last Monday, and their PP lived down to expectations as well. The main surprise was the penalty parade that Nashville engaged in, but with last change and the other benefits of home ice, I'm not sensing that sort of game this evening. Still, the Predators don't seem to be the type of club that would overwhelm the Flames at EV unless Calgary is asleep, so a decent start likely means that the Flames will be in with a shout.