The Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche hook up for the second time in three days to wrap up a home-and-home series tonight at the Pepsi Center in Denver (8 p.m. CT). The Avs took the opener on Thursday night in Nashville, getting third-period goals from Ryan Smyth and Ian Laperierre to down the home team, 2-1.
“This is not characteristic of our hockey team, we are usually really tough to play against at home,” said goalie Chris Mason following the game. “Two points separate you from a playoff spot, and with games at hand, you have to take advantage of it. We just had a difficult time getting pucks through tonight.”
The Predators will be looking to get back on track after four losses in five games dating back to Dec. 4 in Toronto. For the first time since that Eastern Canada road trip, Nashville will welcome Scott Nichol back to lineup after serving a five-game suspension handed down for his hit on Montreal’s Patrice Brisebois on Dec. 1. Nichol’s return to the lineup will give the Preds a full complement of forwards, allowing the coaching staff to put lines together for longer than just a few shifts.
“Getting Scotty back will give us some energy, some speed, and another veteran player up front,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “Hopefully the combination of a couple of those things will help make a difference.”
Added forward Vernon Fiddler: “You are playing with different guys each night out there because of a few guys out of our lineup but we aren’t making excuses. We have to find a way to find the back of the net regardless of how we do it. We are creating opportunities, we just have to capitalize on them a little more.”
Like several games in this current snide, a few defining moments determined the outcome. Monday it was a penalty-shot goal that was the difference in a close game with Detroit, and last night a disallowed marker by Radek Bonk at 12:24 of the second changed the complexion of the game.
Nashville went on to outshoot its opponent in the third period, 15-11, including several in a frantic last 20 seconds while trying to get the game-tying goal. Overall, the Preds were outshot for just the third time in 13 contests, this time by a 32-31 margin. They have outshot the opposition by 94 shots in that 13-game span.
“We came pretty close there at the end,” said forward J.P. Dumont, who nearly had a centering pass deflect off teammate Jason Arnott and past goalie Peter Budaj as time ran down. “We didn’t have much time left, but I knew some guys were going to be in front, so I threw the puck there, but didn’t get it in. It has been like that for us for a while now. When we were winning games, those pucks were going in.”
Despite not getting the timely goals they were in the month of November, the Predators have become harder to score against, especially on the power play. Thanks to 25 successful kills in the past 27 attempts against, the Predators penalty killers continue to ascend to the top of the league in the department, and are currently situated 12th overall (82.7%) and seventh on the road (85.7%).
The Colorado Avalanche, meanwhile, have been a tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at home versus on the road, compiling a robust 12-3-0 mark in Denver, but only a 5-10-1 mark as the visitors. Their 60 home goals ranks among the league leaders, and the Avalanche boast a plus-21 goal differential at the Pepsi Center. On the road however, they have been outscored by 18 goals in 16 outings.
All of tonight’s action can be caught in beautiful high definition on FSN South, in addition to on the radio dial at WGFX-104.5 The Zone. Following the contest, the Predators will head to Minnesota where they will play the first of two games in two nights, meeting the Wild on Tuesday. Twenty-four hours later, the Preds will clash with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City.
Game Notes: With leading scorer Martin Erat (25 points) placed on injured reserve, the Predators recalled forward Antti Pihlstrom from their primary developmental affiliate in Milwaukee on Friday… With assists in back-to-back games, David Legwand is now tied for the team lead in helpers with Erat (16)… Marek Zidlicky, who leads Predators blueliners with 14 points (1g-13a), has four assists in the past six games… Alexander Radulov had the lone goal against the Avs on Thursday and now has two tallies in three games… Goalie Chris Mason is 4-2-0 all time against Colorado, boasting a 1.67 goals-against average… Four players (Jason Arnott, Alexander Radulov, Greg de Vries and Ville Koistinen) are currently tied for the team lead in plus/minus (+7)… Scott Nichol’s return will also add a much-needed boost in the face-off circle – he is fourth in the NHL among players taking more than 100 draws (60.1%)… This is the third of four meetings between these two teams in 2007-08, they clash for the final time on Jan. 22 in Denver.
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