The Nashville Predators return to the ice Thursday against one of their long time nemesis, the San Jose Sharks. The puck will drop at 7 p.m. at the Sommet center as the Preds fight for their life in the Western Conference playoff race.
For fans clamoring for playoff hockey, there is no need to wait for April, as what is being played now is as intense as any post season ever will be. Tuesday night’s chess match with the Anaheim Ducks, where the Preds lost in the fourth round of a shoot out, was a battle from start to finish with true playoff implications.
With nine games left and quality opposition every night, each game is critical. Three points separate the five Western Conference teams that are bunched between seventh and eleventh place and Dallas is only two points behind the pack. The Predators have gotten points in their last five games, but the last three were losses in overtime, where they only received a single point.
David Legwand stated the need for getting two points after Tuesday’s loss, “We need to move forward toward Thursday and getting two points there. We’re coming down to the finish and it’s an exciting time of year, but we need to get two points every night. We need to do everything we can to get them”.
The value of points and level of competition has risen to each game being a potential “do or die” situation for both teams. Three-point, overtime games, are becoming the order of the day. Barry Trotz commented on the situation, “You do expect to have three-point games in a lot of ways. In some ways, it is part of the playoff run. Teams are desperate, teams are hanging in there, and teams are finding ways (to get points)”.
The first two periods of play in Tuesday’s game was as good of a defensive effort by both teams as you will ever see in a game. Barry Trotz described it in a nutshell, “They (teams) were sort of jockeying, there wasn’t much room out there, teams were checking pretty well.”
The Predators, playing without Captain Jason Arnott, have again become scoring challenged, causing an increased emphasis on defense. The Preds only have 16 goals in their last eight games going 2-2-4 during this most recent scoring drought.
On Tuesday, Nashville did an excellent job of limiting Anaheim’s scoring chances by keeping the puck in the Anaheim zone. Trotz explained that it was strategic, “Part of the game plan was to do what we always do, to get pucks deep and skate and put pucks on the net.”
The Sharks are in a different kind of battle chasing the Detroit Red Wings for the NHL’s President’s Cup, which is awarded to the team with the best regular season record. Along with the trophy goes home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Predators left nothing on the ice in Tuesday’s game using every bit of physical and emotional energy that they could muster. The extremely quiet and somber locker room was indicative of the effort that had spent during the course of the game. Barry Trotz will have his work cut out for him to resurrect the intensity that will be required to overcome the San Joes Sharks in Thursday’s game.
Defense and goaltending is key at this time of year, but scoring more than a goal or two a game would give the Predators a much needed boost against San Jose. The keys to the game for the Preds will be to score early, limit the Sharks scoring chances, and to play with discipline and not put the Sharks on the man advantage. The time has come for Barry Trotz to pull another rabbit out of his hat.
Legwand Out for Sharks Game
John Glennon of the Tennessean reports that David Legwand will not play against the Sharks due to taking a puck to the face during Wednesday’s practice. He also surmises that Cal O’Reilly is on the way to Nashville as a possible fill-in for Leggy since he did not appear in the Milwaukee Admirals game Wednesday night with no other plausible explanation. It’s good to have John back on the Preds beat after a week off during the Preds recent West Coast swing.