Before heading back on the road for three games in five days next week, the Nashville Predators are hoping to make it three straight victories against the Colorado Avalanche to pull a 2-2 record from this four-game homestand that started last Thursday against Vancouver.
“It is important for us to get a win, because out of these last three home games we have only won one of them,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “We have played well enough in all the games, and our play has been ok, but we need to pull out some wins. We have to win our games at hand on teams to move up in the pack.”
In the first Preds-Avs showdown of the season back on opening night (Oct. 4), captain Jason Arnott netted two goals and added another assist at one end of the rink, and Chris Mason made 35 saves at the other, to lead Nashville to a 4-0 victory to start the 2007-08 campaign. That, paired with a victory in Game 82 of the 2006-07 season gave the Preds back-to-back wins against the team from the mile-high city. Colorado leads the all-time series by the slimmest of margins though, holding a 14-13-6 advantage, but Nashville is 9-3-0 in the past 12 meetings dating back to Nov. 24, 2003.
The Avalanche have struggled on the road so far this season, going a Western Conference-worst 4-10-1 away from the Pepsi Center. Just last night, Colorado was defeated in Columbus by a 4-1 margin to fall to 2-7-0 in its last nine away from home. Much of the roads woes can be credited to an ailing power play, which has gone just 5-for-63 (7.9%).
Still, Colorado has produced the second-most goals in the West, thanks in large part to Paul Stastny, who has taken over with Joe Sakic currently out with a groin injury. The sophomore, who turns 22 two days after Christmas, has tallied 39 points (13g-26a), good for Top 10 in the league, and a plus-13 rating, second-best among NHL forwards. Milan Hejduk, fresh off a six-point (3g-3a) effort on Sunday, is tied with Stastny for the team lead in goals with 13.
“He is a good young player that plays with skill and power,” Trotz said of Stastny. “He is very efficient in his game on both sides of the puck and he is strong on draws. He reminds me of a Bryan Trottier (a Hall-of-Famer who won four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders from 1980-83, and two more with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 90s) the way he plays with skill, along with a certain amount of weight and strength. He doesn’t quite play with the edge that Trottier did, but as far as the heaviness of his game, he is going to put up numbers.”
Nashville, meanwhile, will look back to its winning ways of last month – the Preds hold a 2-3-0 record thus far in December. The penalty kill has been one of the bright spots lately, killing 23 of the last 25 chances against, in addition to producing shorthanded goals in back-to-back games and three shorties in the last five contests. Shots on goal have not been an issue for the Predators lately either – last game was the first time in seven contests and just the second time in 12 outings they have been outshot. On the other side of the coin, Nashville is 7-1-0 in the last eight games when producing a man-advantage goal, but has just one in its last 25 attempts.
“We are doing some good things on the power play, they just aren’t going in,” Trotz said. “We are going to have to tweak some things, but I think if we keep doing the right things long enough we’ll break through. It can be frustrating, but the foundation of your power play has to be getting pucks to the net, creating traffic, and having good crease hunger. You also have to have a sense of anticipation as to where you can attack.”
Martin Erat continues to pace the Preds in assists (16) and points (25), while ranking second in the league in both game-winning goals (4) and shootout-deciding goals (2). He has 19 points (9g-10a) in his last 16 contests.
Marek Zidlicky (13 points) paces a Predators blue-line corps that has six of its nine goals this season in the past six games. Zidlicky has produced three helpers in the past five games, while fellow d-men Dan Hamhuis, with four points (1g-3a) in six contests, and Ryan Suter, with five points (2g-3a) in the last eight games, have boosted production of late.
Following tonight’s game, both teams head to Denver for the back end of this home-and-home series on Saturday night at 8 p.m. CT. The Predators will then play games at Minnesota (Tuesday) and Chicago (Wednesday), before coming back to the Music City for a Dec. 22 clash with the Los Angeles Kings. Tickets to both tonight’s contest, and the game vs. L.A. are available by calling (615) 770-PUCK, logging onto ticketmaster.com or nashvillepredators.com and by visiting the Sommet Center Box Office located in the arena tower.
GAME NOTES: The Predators are 8-5-1 at home and 12-6-2 since Oct 25, outscoring opponents in the third period by a 30-17 margin in that span… Nashville has outshot its opponent in 10 of the last 12 games, accumulating a 408-314 (plus-94) shot advantage in that span… Radek Bonk leads the team in goals (10), and is among the league leaders in shooting percentage (22.7%)… Ville Koistinen is fourth in the league in rookie plus/minus (+7), and second on the team to Alexander Radulov (+8)… Dan Hamhuis leads the Preds in time on ice (23:41)… Greg Zanon is one of only two players in the league (along with Montreal’s Mike Komisarek), with at least 80 blocked shots and 60 hits. He also leads the Predators and ranks among the league leaders in shorthanded time on ice (4:26/gm)… This is Colorado’s last trip to the Sommet Center this season – these teams play in Denver on Saturday, and again on Jan. 22.