By Amanda DiPaolo
Minnesota Wild 35-25-7
Nashville Predators 33-24-9
Thursday night the Nashville Predators begin their most important homestand of the season. With 15 games remaining in the regular season, the Predators are currently three points out of a playoff position in the Western Conference standings.
With a win Thursday, Nashville would be at 78 points on the season and could jump the Wild and the Ducks in the standings, but would still be at least one point shy of the 8th and final playoff spot by night’s end.
The Wild and the Predators both last played on Tuesday night. Minnesota beat the Avalanche handedly by a 5-2 score. Nashville lost in overtime to the San Jose Sharks for the second consecutive meeting between the two clubs. In fact, Patrick Marleau scored the overtime winner with under two minutes to play in the overtime period for the second consecutive game against the Predators. Nashville has yet to score a goal during the overtime period this season.
Nashville is 2-1 against the Wild this season. The last two games against the Wild, Nashville posted convincing 4-1 and 5-1 victories. But the Wild are no easy opponent. The first time these two teams met up on November 26, Nashville scored two power play goals but lost the game 5-2. And Minnesota is a good road team at 18-12-3 on the season.
A couple of injured members of the Wild made the trip to Nashville. Cal Clutterbuck, who missed time after suffering a Trevor Gillies hit, as well as Cody Almond and Clayton Stoner are question marks for Thursday’s game and are listed by TSN as questionable. The Predators do not have anyone they expect back from injury and in fact are in jeopardy of losing another player to the injury bug.
Kevin Klein left the ice with just under a minute to play Tuesday night when he took a puck to the foot. There was no immediate update as to his status after the game.
Even as injuries continue to threaten the Predators post-season hopes, with Pekka Rinne in goal, Nashville has a shot to win every game, and that includes even when scoring has been difficult to find, as has been the case lately.
Despite the scoring woes, the Predators continue to be led by their veterans at just the right time. David Legwand and Marty Erat continue to lead the offense for Nashville. Legwand picked up assists on both Predators goals Tuesday night in San Jose and now has 13 points in 13 games. Erat picked up an assist on Ward’s goal and now has 20 points in 23 games since January 16th in Chicago, just one game after coming back from an injury that kept Erat sidelined from December 26th until January 13th.
And then there is the Predators captain. Shea Weber has put up amazing numbers since New year’s Eve. Weber has 14 goals on the season and 41 points after his 2 point game in San Jose on Tuesday night. From October 9th until Nashville’s New Year’s Eve tilt against Columbus, Weber recorded 5 goals and 10 assists for 15 points. Since December 31st, Weber has collected an additional 9 goals and 17 assists for 26 points. Weber ranks in the top 5 in goals, shots, and hits by defensemen. He also ranks in the top 15 in average ice time as well as points by blueliners.
“I have no idea. Honestly, I haven’t tried to change anything. It’s tough to say,” Weber said when asked about his improved statistics. “That stat is new to me. It’s nothing that I tried to change.”
Weber needs only two more goals to tie Kimmo Timonen for the most goals in franchise history by a defensemen, a record that Weber is surely to hold by season’s end.
The Predators will be looking for a win tonight to get that homestand started on the right foot and to build momentum for the road ahead, a road that they hope will end in a playoff berth.
Tickets are still available for tonight’s game. The puck drops at 7pm at Bridgestone Arena.
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