The Blues played the Preds just 9 days ago, back on 03/06. That 2-1 victory was Pekka Rinne's second game back from a lengthy injury, and was also the Predators' first-ever game without David Legwand, who was traded at the deadline to the Wings. At that time, there was still enough hockey left to play to make a run for the last playoff spot. They were only 6 points out, and had about 20 games remaining. The Blues won that game, but since then, the Predators have gone 3-1-0, including a tough win last night against the Blackhawks in Chicago. Despite a reasonably good record, they are now 7 points out from that last playoff spot, and time's running out. They're just not getting any help from the rest of the league. Imagine that.
The Predators have done everything that they could to turn their season around (and possibly save the jobs of GM David Poile and coach Barry Trotz). After our last meeting, the Preds dropped a 1-0 game to the Blue Jackets, then went on to win 3 in a row on the road - in Ottawa, Buffalo, and last night in Chicago. The typically low-scoring Predators have a combined 11 goals in that span, and after tonight's game will go on the road again for another 4-game stretch. That'll be a Western Canada trip, with a bonus stop in Chicago. With that in their future, the playoffs are looking more and more distant. Now, it's about playing for pride, for next year's roster, and for the fans.
The scoring for the Preds is led by defenseman Shea Weber, with 43 points on 16 goals and 27 assists. The departed Legwand would be 2nd, still, on the team. Now, that position is held by goals leader Craig Smith with 40 points (20g, 20a). Mike Fisher (17g, 19a) is next with 36 points, and then Patric Hornqvist (13g, 21a) with 34 points. The top 5 is rounded out with another defenseman, Roman Josi . His 30 points (9g, 21a) includes 4 in this last 2 games, and 3 in the win against Chicago yesterday. The defense has been a real bright spot for the Perds (a shocker, I know). Two of their top five scorers are from a defense that is awfully young. From the Yahoo preview comes this money quote from Barry Trotz:
''That's the strength really of our group, our D-men,'' coach Barry Trotz said. ''They're all young and talented. We're the youngest team in the league by three years on the blue line. The future is really bright for us there."
Now, that win last night was built on those 3 assists from Josi, another from Weber, and the game-winning goal by Ryan Ellis . Add to that mix Seth Jones, and this could be a defensive corps that we'll learn to loathe in the upcoming years. That'll the the chief reason they'll be tough to play against for years to come.
As for goaltending, the Preds have Pekka Rinne back from injury, and playing very well. Since coming back, Rinne has a .925 Sv%. As long as the team in front of him keeps burying pucks, he gives them a chance to win against any team. Having secured the win against the Hawks, the Preds may play him again tonight - this would be the first time that they've played him in both games in back-to-back nights. Otherwise, the alternative is Carter Hutton (.904 Sv% and 2.79 GAA). It will be a tough choice for Trotz - play Rinne on short rest, or play the guy that has given up 12 goals in 4 games (3 starts) to the Blues? Hutton has a career .891 Sv% against St Louis. Neither option is very attractive. Thankfully, that call isn't up to guys like me.
In the preview for the 03/06 match, I looked at the #FancyStats charts for Nashville. The Rolling 10-game Fenwick (5v5, when the score is close) Percentage was spiking to just above 55% ... since then, they've maintained that through last night (now 55.8%). Compare last preview's chart with now:
Another comparison can be made with their Rolling 10-Game PDO numbers. Last time, though they were doing well possession-wise, they weren't getting much in the way of puck luck. Either a lack of goal-scoring (measured in shot-percentage) or goaltending (measured in Save Percentage) prior to Rinne's return was pulling the combined measurement PDO down away from the "norm" or "average" 100-mark. Now, however, that measurement is starting to bounce back:
Note that the "bottom out" moment was the loss to us on 03/06. Since then, that winning streak and scoring outburst has lifted the Preds back towards the mean. All info/visuals courtesy of the Predator page on ExtraSkater.
What does that mean? Well, the Preds were due for some success, and it has come around. Whether that continues tonight in their game against The Best Damn Team In The League (tm) remains to be seen. They've been getting their chances, and those will eventually start going in. A lot depends on which Blues team shows up tonight (or when they show up). Suffice it to say, the Preds won't go down easily. This game could be hell on the heart. Of course, with the history between these two teams, that shouldn't be a surprise. I'll be watching with a drink in my hand.
Final Verse: We're starting at 7:00 STL time tonight, although I know we have some GameTimers in Nashville that probably "started" at breakfast. You can't drink "all day" if you don't start in the morning. The puck drops at 7:00, but the GDT should drop shortly beforehand. The TV broadcast is on FoxSports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. Until that time, consider this your pregame skate. Gather here, talk about your preferred playoff matchups, the ButtGoal lead in the gif tournament (vote!), and enjoy a little light entertainment...