The Preds will be hungry for a win in Minnesota. (PHOTO: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)

Gameday: Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild, 1/22/13

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

at MINNESOTA WILD

January 22nd, 2013
Xcel Energy Center
St. Paul, Minnesota
7:00 p.m. CST
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee
Game available in Atlanta market

Two straight shootout losses was not the start the Nashville Predators probably envisioned, but they’ve managed to earn two points in the standings despite losing. On the other side of the ice, the Minnesota Wild’s season so far looks about like they would’ve drawn it up on paper. Can Nashville change both teams’ fortunes with its first win of the season?

Ryan Suter takes on the Nashville Predators

Ryan Suter’s old team visits Ryan Suter’s new team. (PHOTOS: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

MINNESOTA WILD

(2-0-0, 1st in Northwest)

Key players

In his first career game against Nashville, Ryan Suter will see a lot of action against Nashville’s top line of Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, and Sergei Kostitsyn. They’ve combined for two goals and five assists so far and will test him, as will Nashville’s 3-for-7 power play units.

Niklas Backstrom gave up two goals Saturday against Colorado and has two days of rest, so he’ll likely be starting tonight. But Josh Harding pitched a shutout against Dallas on Sunday. Whoever starts, Nashville needs to crack Minnesota’s goalie code to have a chance at winning.

Others to watch

Much of the focus offensively is on Zach Parise, but veteran forward Dany Heatley carried the team to victory in its first game against Colorado and had an assist on the Wild’s only goal against Dallas on Sunday. He’s big and dangerous.

Finnish rookie Mikael Granlund picked up his first NHL goal in the opener. He’ll see somewhere around 14 minutes of ice time and the Preds will need to keep him from getting too much space.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(0-0-2, 4th in Central)

After two games at home, the Nashville Predators embarks on a seven-game road trip tonight in Minnesota against Ryan Suter and the Wild.

Key players

Pekka Rinne has played in both of Nashville’s games so far, including a 36-save performance in last night’s shootout loss to St. Louis. It looks like backup goalie Chris Mason, who came back home over the summer after a few years in St. Louis and Atlanta/Winnipeg, might get his first start. Pekka Rinne has stopped 62 of 67 shots so far, setting the standard Mason will need to live up to if he gets the nod. If it’s Rinne instead, Pekka will have his first back-to-back endurance test of the season. UPDATE: It’s been announced that Chris Mason is tonight’s starter.

Patric Hornqvist has four points in the Predators’ two games, including two goals and an assist last night against St. Louis. His power play goal came from a quick-thinking move to the net, and he picked up two hit and a blocked shot in his 17:54 of ice time. If he can continue to bring that level of energy he might finally be able to get linemate David Legwand involved in the action.

Others to watch

Colin Wilson got his first goal of the season against St. Louis. The team is counting on his contributions this season, and more plays like this will keep him skating on the second line:

Kevin Klein and Scott Hannan looked pretty good in the first game but they were picked apart by Vladimir Tarasenko and St. Louis’ second line. The potential for Nashville to succeed in replacing Suter with contributions from up and down the roster is pinned at least partially on this pairing working better than it did against the Blues. If they don’t work out together Coach Trotz might try Ryan Ellis out on the second pair. Ellis has chipped in on offense already, but he’s on the third pair with Hal Gill because he’s not quite ready for carrying that kind of load just yet. So Klein and Hannan need a better showing than the −2 they both logged last night.

Gabriel Bourque just got the call-up from Milwaukee this morning. No telling where he’ll be slotted in just yet, but he added a lot of energy to Nashville’s game last season wherever Coach Trotz played him.

Nashville Predators center David Legwand

Maybe Hornqvist’s energy will wake David Legwand from his offensive slumber. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Bottom line

In the two games so far the Nashville Predators have presented two distinct looks: good on defense but sloppy on offense, and sloppy on defense but energetic on offense. The level of play in the second game was vastly improved over the opener, though, giving plenty of reason to believe their funk can’t last too long.

It’s a good thing, too, as the long road trip and compressed schedule could have this team worn out by the time it comes home again in February. Getting two points tonight could help to offset the effects of any fatigue issues over the next two weeks. But it won’t be easy against a Minnesota team that has displayed both offensive firepower and defensive discipline so far, albeit in different games from each other. As long as the Preds continue to tighten up their game, they stand a good chance of handing the Wild their first loss of the year.

Tags: Minnesota Wild Nashville Predators

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