FGD: Nashville North

For the first time this season, the red hot Nashville Predators come to town, as they try to continue their push up the Western Conference standings tonight against the similarly hot Calgary Flames (Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).  The Flames find themselves just five points back of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, and coming off back to back wins over division leading teams.

Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win in Vancouver certainly took on a playoff type atmosphere for one team, and with a little good fortune and some opportunistic hockey, Calgary was able to earn two points.  Tonight, they take on a Predators team that plays a much different style of hockey, and it’s the start of a pretty important stretch for the Flames.  Calgary plays six of their next eight games at home, and a good little stretch there could very well put them within striking distance of where they want to be.

The Lineup

The Flames come into tonight with points in seven of eight games, and riding those back to back wins over the weekend.  Sprinkled in there is a shootout win, and as Kent pointed out on Saturday night on Overtime, getting two points in regulation has to be a priority for this team.  Still, two points is two points, and Calgary earned four of a possible four coming off a 6-0 beating on Wednesday.

No lineup changes tonight, with Ales Kotalik sitting out his second straight game as a healthy scratch.  Do you think it’s a coincidence the Flames seem to play some pretty good hockey when he’s not in the lineup?  Must be a coincidence.  Overall, he’s been a very ineffective player…except in the shootout, but Calgary won without him on Saturday.  Here are lines and pairings for tonight:

Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Niklas Hagman-Matt Stajan-Curtis Glencross
Tom Kostopoulos-Mikael Backlund-Tim Jackman

Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Adam Pardy-Anton Babchuk

I liked the Jokinen line on Saturday, but more for the linemates than for the centre.  I felt Bourque had his best game in ages, actually affecting the play in a positive manner and using his attributes in an effective manner.  Moss continues to play some strong, strong hockey and he’s did it against some fairly strong Vancouver opposition.  You either trade the guy and get assets for him, or you sign him to a new deal next season, you can’t let Moss walk.

Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net after a strong performance Saturday against the Canucks.  I thought it was his best game in a while, and I really liked how he got into the game as the night went along.  By the third period and overtime, he was out challenging shooters and letting the puck hit him in the crest.

The Opponent

After a 3-2 shootout win Sunday night in Edmonton, the Predators enter with wins in ten of their last 12 games and riding a three game win streak overall.  They’ve moved into fourth spot in the Western Conference and within just four points of the Central Division leading Detroit Red Wings, and they’ve done it by playing sound defensive hockey (like that’s a surprise).

Nashville’s 114 goals against is second best in the NHL, and it comes on the back of a couple of really good defencemen and some fairly good performances from their goaltenders.  Pekka Rinne, who picked up the win in Edmonton, is the number one, and with numbers to back it up…he’ll start tonight.  His .929 save percentage puts him second overall, and with a goals against just over two, you can tell that his team plays well in front of him, but he puts in some pretty quality minutes.  Anders Lindback (seriously, where does Nashville find these guys?)  has turned in a 10-4-2 record as a backup, and a pretty respectable .915 save percentage in that time.

Defensively, and right now offensively, the Predators are lead by a couple of extremely important defencemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.  Weber is their leading scorer with 29 points in 48 games, and Ryan Suter would be right there with him had he not missed 11 games with an injury suffered in Nashville’s first meeting with Calgary back in October.  Both guys start in the offensive zone well under 50% of the time, and as they play a lot of ES time together, they do extremely impressive work affecting the play going north.  There’s no question the Preds rely heavily on Weber and Suter, but have also got some solid contributions from Cody Franson and yep, even Shane O’Brien from time to time.  The Preds blueline is without Francis Bouillon who’s now missed three games with an upper body injury.

Up front, it’s pretty impressive how the Preds are winning and scoring, even with the rash of injuries they’ve suffered all year long.  Cal O’Reilly, a somewhat significant player himself, is out indefinetely with a broken fibula suffered at the beginning of 2011, another long term injury that saw him join Steve Sullivan (lower body) and Matthew Lombardi (concussion) on the shelf.  Add in a lower body injury to Marek Svatos and an undisclosed substance abuse issue with Jordin Tootoo, and this Preds team is without a number of regular forwards.

Nonetheless, they’ve got some pretty significant contributions.  David Legwand’s line, and Legwand especially, sees a lot of defensive responsiblity, and the former second overall pick has turned himself into a pretty useful player in that regard.  But it’s the first line that actually baffles you a little, with Marcel Goc, Martin Erat and…Sergei Kostitsyn? giving you fairly solid minutes at even strength.  Goc and Erat aren’t that much of a surprise really, but Kostitsyn seems to actually be holding his own out there, with a 44.9% offensive zone start number.  He’s not Henrik Zetterberg…but he’s also not Eric Nystrom.  Here are lines and parings for tonight:

Sergei Kostitsyn-Marcel Goc-Martin Erat
Colin Wilson-David Legwand-Patric Hornqvist
Nick Spaling-Jerred Smithson-Joel Ward
J.P. Dumont-Chris Mueller-Matt Halischuk

Shea Weber-Ryan Suter
Shane O’Brien-Cody Franson
Alexander Sulzer-Kevin Klein

One thing that obviously goes into every Nashville team that has success is Head Coach Barry Trotz, who continues to do good things with his team.  They play a very committed brand of hockey, and Trotz is a huge reason why.

The Story

The Flames are the closest to the playoff picture they’ve been in ages, and they’re back above .500 for the first time since late October.  That’s something, and the team is feeling good.  What impresses me is the fact they made that 6-0 loss turn into just another loss.  Now they’ve got a Nashville team who is patient and who will pounce on any chance they’re given.  Should be a pretty close to the vest affair tonight.

  • T&A4Flames

    Lets hope the flames can take advantage of a tired road team in Nashville. This team is coming off 3 games in 4 nights and played into the shoot out last evening in Edmonton. A win tonight could have the blocks falling into the right place finally and we Could see the team in striking distance for a playoff spot by the end of the week.

    It could get fun again!!

  • You either trade the guy and get assets for him, or you sign him to a new deal, you can’t let Moss walk.

    Mosser has one more year at 1.3M after this one.

    As for tonight, looks like Legwand and Ward have been broken up thanks to all the injuries. It’ll be interested to see who Trotz gets to do the heavy lifting. He always buries someone. My guess is the Smithson and Ward third line gets fed to the Wolves.

    • Mosser has one more year at 1.3M after this one.

      Yep, which makes him valuable trade bait right now. I either think you re-sign him next season to an extension, or you make a deal.

      As for Legwand and Ward, yeah they’ve been split up and Smithson has been moved to centre, a spot he hasn’t played much in his career.

      • I’d personally like to keep Moss, depending on contract demands. He has the sort of counting stats that would keep his value below $2M and I think he’s really hard to replace at that dollar figure. For similar reasons, I’m guessing they wouldn’t get requisite value out of a trade.

        If the Flames indeed go the “rebuild” route, he’s the sort of guy who adds structure and such to the bottom-end of the roster and can help break kids in without them getting beat up. One of Edmonton’s problems during their, ahem, “rebuild” is the total lack of quality, middle tier guys who can play against other NHLers on the cheap. A huge reason Backlund hasn’t been perpetually swimming against the tide during his internship is the presence of guys like Glencross, Moss and Jackman holding his hand a bit.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Tonight will be my first live game of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing how they play in real life, as opposed to on the 16:9.

    They got schelacked by a mediocre team, then won 2 games against divison leaders. It makes me think that Dallas and Vancity might have taken the Flames lightly. I didn’t get to watch either of those games though, so maybe not. But maybe.

    Anyway, here’s hoping they don’t suck so bad that I want to leave early. Go Flames Go!

    • the forgotten man

      i’ve heard that langks still has numbness in extremities, ie: done. i’ve also heard that he’s been forbidden to train until march at the earliest, ie: done.

      re: moss —if i’ve said it once, i’ve said it a million times: teams these days need MORE good value contracts, not less (and why i am still furious about the dawes waiving). moss is a solid two-way player with a 1.3 million dollar contract through next year. you HAVE to keep him.

      as for trades: i’ve only just heard a thoroughly unsubstatiated rumour about iggy to NYR. i have no idea why this would make any sense, but when glen sather is involved you can’t know it’s fiction.

  • Bob Cobb

    This is going to be the most boring game of the year, the Flames can’t score, the Preds play nothing but defense and wait for turnovers, I swear, they have replaced the Minnesota Wild as the least entertaining team to watch. Should be fun, thank god I have a channel changer. Prediction: 2-1 Preds, not in a shootout.

  • everton fc

    You sign Moss. I’ve said this before, teams like the Wings grab talent like Moss because they recognize he will go places other won’t, and poach goals others never will. To say he’s part of “the Core”… I’d say right now he, and Jackman, are “Core”.

    Someone had mentioned Gio’s -14 on another thread here, yet everyone thinks he’s playing great. Someone also responded that the Sarich-pairing is not the reason Gio’s +/- has dipped. I agree. Sarich is +. Gio is -.

    But I do think it is an interesting stat, this – 14 last month… for Gio. Something to keep an eye on, perhaps?

    Any POVs on Morrison being our #1 centre by default? Is this the “space” for such a discussion? I think it relevant…

    (Anyone interested in Mike Fisher if the Ottawa fire-sale is a reality?)

  • everton fc

    The latest hockey rumor on hockeybuzz has huge implications. Yes I know the site sucks for any actual hockey related news, but Eklund seems confident in his source. The deal is, to New Jersey: Bouwmeester, Bourque, Backlund and a 1st and 3rd for New Jersey’s Zach Parise, Mattias Tenenby, Valdamir Zharkov, Bryce Salvador, Brian Rolston.

    I know both Steinberg and Wilson are well connected to the hockey world, and would like to know if any of this information has any validity to it. The only reason I would even bring this topic up on here is the prospect of having Parise on our team has my hockey juices flowing. Please give insight so I can sleep tonight…

      • Vintage Flame

        I don’t put any stock into anything he says, but I guess I want it to be true. But I don’t know if New Jersey will be able to retain Parise either. It seems they invested to heavily into Kovelchuk, who plays the same position as him, on a not very deep forward squad in NJ. And I would guess Parise isn’t to thrilled about Kovelchuk taking money that would’ve gone to him leaving his future hanging in the balance.

        • I don’t ever believe anything that comes from that guy, however, the thing with Parise is his contract situation.

          He’s restricted, and I think there’s a palpable chance a trade happens. I also think he’s one of the more attractive players to have an offer sheet tendered to him, even with those draft picks.

      • Vintage Flame

        yeah.. Line was a bit garbled.. but smoothed out, so it was all good.

        Kinda hard on the boys about the Van game though.. LOL.. I thought they looked like they played a pretty solid game but then again I didn’t have any volume where I was. Only saw the play, couldn’t hear any of the commentary.

        You think they got lucky vs. Van? Or did they actually play a game like they really wanted this one?

        I thought Morrison had a solid game vs. his former club. I was hoping he got the OT winner!!

        • You think they got lucky vs. Van? Or did they actually play a game like they really wanted this one?

          The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Flames played a pretty good game outside of a few gaffes and they were still relatively lucky to win. Vancouver is a better team and they were playing them in their own barn. Flames spent a lot of time in their own end at ES, they got outchanced something like 7-1 in the OT and they won the coin flip that is the shoot-out. They played as well as can be expected and they were still lucky to win.

  • If the Flames indeed go the “rebuild” route, he’s the sort of guy who adds structure and such to the bottom-end of the roster and can help break kids in without them getting beat up. One of Edmonton’s problems during their, ahem, “rebuild” is the total lack of quality, middle tier guys who can play against other NHLers on the cheap.

    Absolutely. As you said on the air, he’s a guy that may not get you value in a trade, and if he did, it probably wouldn’t be the same value that he has here.

  • Vintage Flame

    Agreed Pat.. Difficult contract situation, that I fear puts Calgary out of the running on him. Just don’t think Calgary has enough to offer to lure him away from NJ, rather than the draft picks.

  • Vintage Flame

    Hey Pat;
    I guess given the recent move, we can no longer look forward to Pierre McGuire or Darren Dreger in the mornings? Shame.. Must say… I’m NOT a fan of Elliot Friedman.

    Get Kaufmann on the air!!

  • But I do think it is an interesting stat, this – 14 last month… for Gio. Something to keep an eye on, perhaps?

    Not really. Like most plus/minus anomalies, it’s all bounces…

    Corsi = +10.12
    PDO = 95.3 (including a on-ice SV% of 88.6% at ES, which is lower than some SH SV% rates in the league).

    So Gio is still spending way more time in the offensive zone, but the pucks are going in at an alarming rate at the other end. It’ll even out eventually.

  • I guess given the recent move, we can no longer look forward to Pierre McGuire or Darren Dreger in the mornings?

    I’ve heard TSN isn’t loaning out it’s personalities anymore, instead saving them for their own radio shows.

    • Vintage Flame

      That makes sense.. Given that they are launching their own radio station, why would they loan them out to the competition?
      Shame.. I like Dreger and McGuire

  • Graham

    Half of me loves to see the Flames putting points on the board, the other half kind of wishes they wouldn’t… To be honest, the worst possible outcome for this team would be to narrowly miss
    the playoffs, or get booted early in the first round. I can hear King and company now, this team is on the right track and just needs some minor changes to be a legit playoff team.
    If you are going to miss the playoffs the bigger the ‘miss’ the better, that is, the better the draft pick, and a major retool becomes much likely!

    • Vintage Flame

      I was talking to a couple of former Hitmen… Who I’ll keep nameless. They both said it was King they should have gotten rid of, not Sutter. I thought that was interesting…

  • Vintage Flame

    In regards to the TSN radio station, are we going to get that out west here? I really enjoyed listening to Mcguire and Dreger. What they are getting to fill their spots now is down right garbage.

    • wattree

      If I have to listen to Doug McLean and Nick Kypreos on my drive in I’m going to swerve into oncoming traffic.

      Bob & Doug Mackenzie have a firmer grasp on reality.

  • everton fc

    @VintageFlame

    “I was talking to a couple of former Hitmen… Who I’ll keep nameless. They both said it was King they should have gotten rid of, not Sutter. I thought that was interesting…”

    You know, this does not surprise me.

    So what if this team makes the playoffs… and makes it past the 2nd round… What if… Does Feaster get any credit? Obviously Brent and the coaching staff would… And we had both injuries and slumps to start the season… I know, “what if”…

    But what if…

    Then again, Sutter signed Jokinen (though at $3mill at the time, many in the press thought it a reasonable deal). He did TRADE for Staois… and Kotalik… And he did sign Bouwmeester and Stajan for more than they were worth….

  • the forgotten man

    Battered Flames Fan Abuse Syndrome:

    Flames Fan can be subjected to viewing/listening victimization at the hands of any 1990-2003/2005-2011 Flames Team with whom they have contact. It could be Stajan, Hagman, Jokinen, Bourque, Badchuck, Kotalik—in short, anyone. Some Flames Fan are victimized by several Flames Players at once.

    The victimization can come in the form of erratic play, spotty goaltending, an abusive power play or fleeting flashes of greatness. If one of these factors is present, chances are that others are present as well. Battered Flames Fan Abuse Syndrome can go undetected for a long time. A Flames Fan who suffers repeated 9th place Western Conference finishes or 19th place draft positions (if not traded away) might be considered a “sucker for punishment”, or the subsequent emotional trauma might be brushed off as the kind of “bumps and bruises” all Battered Leaf Fans perpetually live with. Battered Flames Fan
    Abuse Syndrome might have no outward signs, or the victim might be unusually optimistic or demonstrate boughts of irrational exuberance regarding his perenially underachieving Calgary Flames.

    see also Stockholm Syndrome

    ~Mayo Clinic Case Review Chapter 15, Vol. 5 (2010)