The Nashville Predators (15-9-1) conclude their homestand tonight with a match with the Northwest Division leading Calgary Flames (16-6-3) at 7 p.m. at the Sommet Center. Both teams have had great records in the month of November and hope to finish with a win. The Preds have gone 9-3-0 while the Flames have gone 9-2-2.
This will be the first meeting of the year between the two teams. The Preds had had a good run against the Flames going 9-2-1 from 2005-08, but fell flat on their face last season losing all four contests with the Flames in regulation. The Predators will have their hands full with a Calgary team that has many offensive weapons and an all-star loaded blue line.
Calgary is lead in scoring by Captain Jerome Iginla (16g, 11a), the injured Rene Bourque (7g, 14a), Olie Jokinen (5g, 14a) and Daymond Langkow (8g, 8a). On Defense, the Flames sport a top defensive threesome of Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester, and Dion Phaneuf which many consider to be the best group in the NHL.
The Flames are also one of the best teams on the road in the NHL going 9-1-3, while only having a 7-5-0 home record. This is the third of six games on the current road trip after already posting wins in Detroit and Columbus.
Tonight’s match in goal will be a a good preview of Finland’s Olympic hopefuls in goal with Miikka Kiprusoff (14-5-3, 2.38, .922) going against Pekka Rinne (11-5-0, 2.37, .916). Recently, Kiprusoff pulled somewhat of a power move by saying that if he was not going to be the starter for Finland that he would take the time off.
Along with Kiprusoff and Rinne, the other Finnish hopefuls include Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom (9-9-3, 2.59, .910) and Boston’s Tuukka Rask (7-2-2, 2.02, .929). With less than a month before the final three are named, all four of the goalies have to have the Olympics in the back of their mind.
Preds Keys to the Game…
1. Pekka needs to play like he is fresh from a couple of days off and play one of his best games of the year. The Preds will need every advantage they can have against the Flames and a soft goal like the one against the Blues on Friday will not help the cause. This is a game where Pekka needs to have his head clear of the Olympics and may need to steal one for the home team.
2. The Preds need to get back to throwing pucks to the net and crashing the net for any stray rebounds. Barry Trotz had emphasized not getting shots blocked against Florida to avoid their transition game and it left the Preds looking tentative at times. Tonight, When in doubt, shoot and skate to the net.
3. Special teams will be a focus in this game. The Preds need to avoid the undisciplined penalties that they had against Florida and keep Calgary’s potent offense off the power play. Their own power play needs to score at least a goal after missing out the last couple of games.
4. Finally, the line of Legwand, Smithson and Ward will need to continue their recent solid play on both ends of the ice but especially on defense shutting down the Flame’s top line of Lundmark, Jokinen and Iginla.
Tomorrow, the Preds will travel to Minnesota for the year’s second meeting with the Wild before heading to Chicago for an important division match-up on Friday. They return home Saturday for a re-match with the Wild which starts another four game home stand.