Tonight’s opponent for the Flames are a club that might be fortunate to be in the league at all given the iffy financial picture that’s surrounded them for much of their tenure in the league, but they’re again thriving on-ice despite all the handicaps they face.
The Predators find themselves in the upper division of the conference on the back of quality goaltending, a first rate corps of young defenders and some good fortune in terms of shooting at EV. Nashville gets outshot more nights than not, but the bounces have pretty much followed them around all season, leaving them with a healthy 5v5 goal differential thus far.
The good shooting at EV certainly isn’t because they have much in the way of elite talent up front. Patric Hornqvist is a nice enough player, and the Preds have gotten a fair bit of mileage out of Habs castaway Sergei Kostitsyn, but it’s a thin looking group that is somehow shooting around 9% at EV. Considering that Steve Sullivan has been hurt for the last few weeks and Matt Lombardi has played all of two games, I have a hard time believing that we’re seeing the true talent of their forwards. That doesn’t mean that they’re a poor team by any means, but as we saw with Dallas the other night, sometimes teams are less impressive by eye than their position in the standings might otherwise indicate.
One thing that’s always a constant with the Preds is their line matching. Barry Trotz invariably uses David Legwand and Joel Ward in the tough spots, using the duo against everyone’s best and having them do so from their own end of the ice more often than not. It’s a formula that the Predators have used to get players like J.P. Dumont and Hornqvist better looks and easier comp, and Trotz is one of the few coaches to use this approach with any sort of rigour, largely because he’s rarely had the type of top-end players that could run things PvP.
He does have a nice set of defencemen at his disposal, though. The 2003 draft gave Nashville three of their top four, with Shea Weber the last one of the three to be selected. Weber is a player of interest not only because he’s become a top player, but because there’s the hint that he might be moving on when he gets a chance. I’ve always thought that Nashville would do whatever they have to in order to keep him, so his impending RFA summer should be watched with interest. In the meantime, he’s the player that I think most of us would have hoped his more famous 2005 WJC D partner might have become.
It’s in the net where Nashville has gained an edge this year, and that’s been a characteristic of that franchise from the get-go. They’ve been an absolute goalie farm, turning out Vokoun, Mason, Ellis and now Pekka Rinne as useful NHL keepers. Anders Lindback has shown signs that he might be the next one in the pipeline, sporting a .930 EVSV% thus far, and with Rinne playing in last night’s 3-2 shootout win at Rexall, Lindback could well get an outing at the Dome.
Gamewise, this might be a night where both teams would rather play 5v5, since the Preds don’t draw or take many penalties, and the Flames’ special teams have spent most of the year causing heartburn for anyone that’s had the misfortune of watching them. Nashville does sport an excellent PK %, doing a fine job of suppressing shots against when down a man.
One last thing that I’ll add is that whatever bounces that the Preds might have had to this point in the season, they’re a team that always gets the maximum from their talent, and that’s an admirable trait in any outfit. Calgary has to match the effort if they expect a result of any kind.