When Colin Wilson plays well, so do the Nashville Predators. (PHOTO: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)

Gameday: Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild, 2/9/13

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

at MINNESOTA WILD

February 9th, 2013
Xcel Energy Center
St. Paul, Minnesota
7:00 p.m. CST
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee
Nashville leads season series 1-0

Going back to last season, the Nashville Predators have beaten the Minnesota Wild in four consecutive games. That includes a 3-1 victory earlier this season in Minnesota. The two teams only play three times this year, so the Preds can claim the season series with a win tonight.

MINNESOTA WILD

(4-5-1, 3rd in Northwest)

It’s been a streaky year for the Wild, who are currently enduring their second three-game skid of the season. During that stretch they’ve only put up three goals – the same amount Nashville has given up in its last four games.

Goalie Josh Harding gets his first start since January 25th against the Nashville Predators

Josh Harding has been alternately excellent and awful this season. (PHOTO: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Josh Harding (1-1-0, 2.92 GAA, .885 SV%) is expected to get the start in goal for Minnesota. He’s been alternately excellent and awful this year, though the latter probably has a lot to do with a porous defense on the ice in front of him. Still, he’s been the backup to Niklas Backstrom since giving up five goals to Detroit on January 25th. Nashville’s offense has started clicking the last few games so Harding will need to be on point tonight.

Zach Parise (6G-4A) is the number-one scoring threat in Minnesota, averaging more than four shots per game. Shutting him down will be a test of Nashville’s NHL-best defense.

Others to watch

Former Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter

How often do you get to see Ryan Suter in the air? (PHOTO: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

Ryan Suter (0G-4A) is supposedly the reason for Nashville’s decline on offense this year, but he hasn’t added any pop to the Wild so far. He hasn’t been too big a help on defense, either; Suter is −7 for the season so far in Minnesota.

Dany Heatley (4G-2A) has been a Nashville-killer, scoring 24 points (14G-10A) in 18 career games against the Predators. He’s also has been held pointless for the last five games. Keeping his skid going would be a moral victory for the Preds that also helps on the ice.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(5-2-3, 2nd in Central)

The Nashville Predators are riding a four-game winning streak right now thanks to excellent team defense and an offense that appears to be waking up from a long winter’s slumber.

Key players

Given Nashville’s back-to-back games this weekend, it seems likely that Pekka Rinne and his four-game winning streak will rest up to take on the Chicago Blackhawks while Chris Mason (1-0-0, 1.00, .967) is given the task of taking down the Wild. Mase got his only other start of the season against Minnesota in January and made it count, stopping 28 of 29 shots for the win.

Colin Wilson (3G-4A) has been on fire the last two games, piling up five points (2G-3A) against the Blues and Kings. The Preds’ resurgence has coincided with him playing a more physical, driving game of hockey, and they’ll need to see more of that from him tonight.

Nashville Predators center Paul Gaustad

Gaustad ranks fourth in the league in faceoff winning percentage. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Others to watch

Paul Gaustad (0G-2A) is one of the league’s best at winning faceoffs, currently ranking fourth among all players who have taken more than 50 faceoffs this season. During the Predators’ winning streak he won better than 60 percent in every game, with his best performance to date (68.7 percent) coming in the last game against the Kings. Barry Trotz has relied on Gaustad to win defensive-zone faceoffs but has also used him in some other situations, making him one of the team’s unsung heroes.

Bottom line

The Nashville Predators have won four games in a row, while Minnesota has lost three in a row. With a win tonight, the Preds can simultaneously win the season series with the Wild and send a statement to the rest of the league that they mean to be taken seriously.

Tags: Minnesota Wild Nashville Predators

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