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Jan 10 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz talks to left wing Colin Wilson (33) during the first period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Game Day Preview: Predators vs. Panthers: Pushing Towards The Playoffs



 NASHVILLE PREDATORS: 30-20-7 (81 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 30-21-12 (72 PTS.)




While this game won’t draw the same amount of attention as Ron Wilson being fired by his good friend Brian Burke in Toronto, it’s still a game with significant playoff implications for both teams.  The Florida Panthers hold a slim lead over the Winnipeg Jets (two points) and a three point lead over the Washington Capitals, whom last night had their dinner handed to them by the New Jersey Devils 5-0.  Although we’ve said it before, the Panthers cannot expect other teams to continue doing them favors, and must take care of their own business, and with this game being a non-conference affair, it cannot be taken lightly.

Florida will be looking to get back on track on home ice where they’ve lost four of their last five games, and have an overall record of 15-8-8.  At this point in the season, they are the only division leader with more combined losses at home than wins.  They are also coming off a spanking at the hands of the Jets Thursday night by a score of 7-0.  Save the Jets won by a touchdown jokes please.  That loss was not an indication of how the Panthers have played most nights, but it showed that the Jets wanted the game more than the Panthers did.  Sloppy plays, giveaways and poor decisions with and without the puck saw the Panthers backpeddling all night long.  Jose Theodore was pulled after four goals, of which at least three were not his fault.  If the Panthers defencemen don’t learn to clear the crease, they will continue to have trouble keeping the score low.

Poor preparation was the blame for Thursday’s performance, and in an 82 game schedule it’s obvious that there will be some games where you just don’t have it, and Kevin Dineen spelled it out after the loss:

“We had lots of turnovers and they ended up in our net and you can’t play that kind of hockey in October and you certainly play it in March,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “It’s definitely a man’s game this time of year and we did not look prepared”

The Panthers will have to bring their “A” game tonight against a Nashville team that can be suffocating at times.  The good news is the Panthers do have a wnning record against the Predators going 5-0-2 with a tie in eight overall meetings here in Sunrise.  In the most recent matchup the Panthers won 3-2 at the Bank Atlantic Center last January.  Kris Versteeg remains out of the lineup with a lower body injury.  The offence needs him to return to return no doubt, but will collectively have to pick up the slack.

As I prepare this, not sure who gets the start in goal, as Scott Clemmensen was probably slated for this one with Ottawa coming to town Sunday and Theodore expected to start in that.  Clemmensen gave up three goals on eight shots while relieving Theodore on Thursday against the Jets.  Whomever is in goal tonight, and my guess it will be Clemmensen, will have to be extra sharp as Nashville is always difficult to score on, especially if you allow them to get the lead.

The Predators meanwhile is coming off their fifth loss in six road games and will play 10 of their last 18 on the road.  They are chasing both St. Louis and Detroit for the lead in the Central Division in hopes for home ice advantage in the playoffs. Nashville has been off for three days and will come out with a tenacious forecheck and try to force the Panthers into making a mistake.  That’s the Barry Trotz way.  Without a superstar offensive player, Nashville chases the puck as though it has a $100 dollar bill attached to it, and when you have it, they want to take it away.

Pekka Rinne is expected to be in goal tonight and that spells bad news for the Panthers offence.  Rinne is 5-1-1 with a 1.70 GAA in his past seven starts.  He’s a big goalie at 6′ 5″ and covers a lot of net.  His GAA for the year is 2.33 and his save percentage is .926, and he has four shutouts.

Playing in his first game for Nashville tonight will be rugged center Paul Gaustad who was acquired from Buffalo on Monday.  He was held out of the lineup with an upper body injury when Nashville played Carolina on Tuesday, a game Nashville lost 4-3.  Also the Predators now have their set of brothers with Andrei Kostitsyn joining his brother Sergei on Monday as well.  Both players were acquired from Montreal, with Sergei coming over in the summer of 2010.  Both are very talented, but have streaks where they become invisible.  Nashville is hoping that a reunion will allow them to shed that image, and with Trotz as your coach, it literally is his way or the highway.  Hal Gil was also acquired from Montreal before the trade deadline as well to bolster the defence. A towering player who’s specialty is shot blocking.  You’ll never use the words fast skater and Hal Gil in the same sentence, but he has become a very reliable defender.

Part of the reason for Nashville’s success and stingy defence is the blueline pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.  Two of the very best defencemen in the NHL, and a two players that are highly coveted throughout the league.  While their styles are slightly different with Weber having a superior slapshot and displaying more physicality, these two are the reason that Nashville keeps their games as close as they do.

Without a sniper of pure goal scored Nashville has 10 of their players in double digit goals on the year.  Andrei Kostitsyn has a dozen but those came in Montreal, so we won’t count him.  Martin Erat a feisty little right wing is the leader in points with 46, including 14 goals.  Patric Hornqvist is having a down year with only 18 markers after scoring 30 two years ago.

When you look up and down the Nashville lineup  all you see is grit and players with excellent work ethic and character.  Barry Trotz is the only coach the organization has ever had, and he gets his players to believe in his system and play it consistently.  If they ever get a sniper watch out.  They would become a very dangerous team.  They are hoping that youngsters Craig Smith and Colin Wilson can fill the bill with more experience.

Big game.  Two big points.  It’s Saturday night.  Get off the couch, get away from the sports bar and bring yourself over to the Bank Atlantic Center and help cheer our push to the playoffs.

Nerdy Notes/Numbers:

* Man games lost to injury now is up to 283 for Florida.

* The Panthers have matched last season’s point total with a 30-21-12 record.

* The Panthers have been in first place for 92 days this season.  57 of them were consecutive.

* Wojtek Wolski has 16 points (8g-8a) in 21 games against Nashville.

* Nashville has scored 54 goals in the second period.

* Nashville is 21-8-3 in the past two March’s.

* Nashville is 3-2-0 against teams in the Southeast division.

* In 34 non-shootout wins Nashville’s winning goal has been scored by 15 different players.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

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Tags: Barry Trotz Florida Panthers Kevin Dineen Nashville Predators Pekka Rinne Ryan Suter Shea Weber

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