After dropping their last three games, the Nashville Predators hope to right the ship out west, as they begin a three-game California road trip tonight when they take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center.
Head coach Barry Trotz returned to the basics the past couple days at practice, focusing on the defensive breakdowns in addition to drills in the defensive zone, the squad touched on forechecking and supporting teammates while breaking the puck out.
“I won’t feel better until we win another hockey game, but I feel better that we have looked at it and assessed it, and the players recognize the mistakes,” Trotz said. “If you do that, and make purposeful steps you will have a better chance at success.”
Another key to getting back in the win column will be a quick start – Nashville has surrendered the first goal of the game in each of the past three contests. In St. Louis last Wednesday, the Predators were behind 4-0 before getting on the board in the third period, while Phoenix got out to a quick two goal lead the following night.
“That is an area we have to be better –I was disappointed the past few games that we were behind from the start,” Trotz said. “Traditionally, it has been a real strength for us, and our building has a lot of energy, but we have come out and only have urgency when we got off to a bad start.”
There have been a few bright spots for the Preds through five games though, one of them being the offensive contributions of Dan Hamhuis. Averaging a team-high 23:22 of ice time, Hamhuis (1g-5a-6 points) has at least a point in all five games, and is tied for second in the NHL for points among defensemen. Last season, Hamhuis didn’t hit the six-point mark until Dec. 17, 33 games into the campaign. Alexander Radulov has also begun to come into his own, notching points in three straight games (1g-2a).
Overall, captain Jason Arnott paces the team with seven points (3g-4a), including a pair of multi-point contests.
As for their opponent, the Ducks have suffered a bit of a post-Cup hangover, beginning the 2007-08 campaign with 3-4-1 record. Two of the three wins have come since returning home from a season-opening five-game road trip that included a pair of games against in London, England against Los Angeles, and home-openers for Detroit, Columbus and Pittsburgh. Overall, they have played a league-high eight contests.
Rising star Ryan Getzlaf currently paces Anaheim with eight points (3g-5a), while Chris Kunitz and Corey Perry are tied for the team lead in goals with four apiece. Between the pipes, the Ducks have just recently welcomed back starter J.S. Giguere who started the year on the injured list. Ilya Bryzgalov started the majority of the games in his absence, garnering respectable numbers (2.58 goals against average and .915 save percentage) though only posting a 2-2-1 record.
Tonight is the first of four meetings between the teams, with the next clash coming Dec. 8 in Nashville. The home team captured all four victories in last season’s series, and Anaheim has won its last four home games with the Predators dating back to Nov. 1, 2005. The Ducks also lead the all-time series 11-16-5.
Start time for the contest is scheduled for 9 p.m. CT with all the action being carried on both FSN South and WGFX-104.5 The Zone.
Alternate Channels: Dish Network 445, Direct TV 664
TONIGHT’S STORYLINES: Nashville’s last victory at the Honda Center came Feb. 20, 2004 – a 3-2 overtime decision… Departed stars Kimmo Timonen (2g-2a) and Paul Kariya (1g-3a) led the Predators in scoring against the Ducks in 2006-07, notching four points in four games…With a goal last game against Calgary, Radek Bonk has three goals in two games… Nashville’s power play is 5-for-23 (21.7%) through five games, good for ninth in the league. Meanwhile, the penalty killers have only surrendered three goals on 25 attempts against (88%), sixth-best in the NHL…Both J.P. Dumont and Radek Bonk have scored three goals on just nine shots, a shooting percentage of 33.3%...Defenseman Greg Zanon ranks among the league’s top 15 in both hits (16) and blocked shots (15)…Following tonight’s game, the Predators travel to San Jose for a game with the Sharks on Saturday, then come back down the coast to Los Angeles to finish the trip Tuesday.