Gameday: Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

at SAN JOSE SHARKS

February 2nd, 2013
HP Pavilion
San Jose, California
9:30 p.m. CST
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee

It’s a Groundhog Day showdown tonight between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks. Preds fans may want to brace themselves for more bonus hockey: half of the games between these teams the last two seasons have been decided in overtime. Nashville is 4-1-3 against the Sharks over that span.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

(7-0-0, 1st in Pacific)

The last undefeated team in the NHL, the Sharks have scored 15 goals more than their opponents. Much of that production came in the first five games, as the Sharks have only won their last two games in the shootout. They’ve also faced fairly weak opposition, with three of their wins coming against Calgary, Phoenix, and Colorado.

Nashville Predators will have to contain Joe Thornton tonight

Even after two quiet games, Thornton leads the league in assists. (PHOTO: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Joe Thornton piled up three goals and 10 assists in his first five games this season. Then he was held to just one assist and two shots on goal in the last two games combined, all while seeing more ice time than he had earlier in the season. It’s no coincidence those were the toughest games so far for the Sharks.

Antti Niemi has stopped 166 of 178 shots faced this season, good for the eighth-best save percentage in the NHL (and fourth among goalies with at least four starts). Like Pekka Rinne, his team relies on him to be the foundation of any victory: he’s only taken one game off this season. Hopefully the Preds will check out this piece on how to beat Antti Niemi before the game begins.

Patrick Marleau has been a thorn in Nashville's side for years

There’s a been a lot of this from Patrick Marleau in 2013. (PHOTO: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

Others to watch

The ageless Patrick Marleau leads the league with nine goals in seven games. Everybody is expecting him to slow down at some point soon, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be tonight.

At age 23, Logan Couture has already had two 30-goal campaigns in the NHL. It’s not beyond possibility that he could do the same again in this shortened season, since he already has five. He’s been a consistent producer for San Jose this season, picking up at least one point in six of seven games.

Joe Pavelski is tied for sixth in the league in points (12) and assists (8). He played with Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne for Dinamo Minsk in the KHL during the lockout.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(2-2-3, 4th in Central)

The Nashville Predators’ offensive woes are well-known, but they currently rank fifth in the league for goals allowed so defensively things are still going according to plan. The defense looked very solid against the Kings on Thursday night, as did Pekka Rinne. They’ll both need to be great again tonight to beat the Western Conference’s top offense.

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne

His old pads seemed to do Pekka some good against L.A. (PHOTO: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

After switching from his new CCM pads back to his old Reeboks last game, Pekka Rinne played his first true standout game against the Kings Thursday night. He came up big behind the Preds’ penalty killers five times and stopped six of eight shooters in the shootout. A big night from Rinne seems like a necessity against a team with as many weapons as the Sharks, regardless of whether or not they’ve been firing on all cylinders the last two games.

Martin Erat has been held pointless in his last four games, but he had four points in the three previous contests. He may not have a chance to break his slump tonight. After taking a shot on his lower body in practice yesterday he “crumpled to the ice,” and now he’s questionable for tonight:

Any improvement in the Nashville offense is likely to include a return to form by Erat. Missing him tonight would be a big blow to a team that’s already without Patric Hornqvist for a few more weeks, especially since his spot in the lineup (though not on the top line) would be filled by either Brian McGrattan or Jonathan Blum as a seventh defenseman.

Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi

Roman Josi has been solid this year, but has no points. (PHOTO: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

Others to watch

Roman Josi played most of the beginning of the season alongside Shea Weber but was moved down to the second line to make room for Scott Hannan in the game against L.A. Hannan took three penalties, at least one of which where he was completely beaten by a Kings forward. Will Coach Trotz move Josi back to the top pairing tonight, and if so, how will he respond?

Still no points from Shea Weber this year. Will tonight be the night for his breakthrough?

Bottom line

The Sharks have been the best in the west for offense so far. Everyone is expecting them to slow down at some point, and some are thinking it could be tonight as there are going to be some lineup changes tonight for San Jose. With those changes, and the possibility Nashville could lose another one its top forwards, this one is far too difficult to call. The only sure thing is that the Nashville defense will have to be at its best to keep the Predators in the game as they try to find some kind of offense.

Topics: Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks

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