Patric Hornqvist screened Semyon Varlamov for a Ryan Ellis goal last season. (PHOTO: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Gameday: Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche, 2/18/13

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

at COLORADO AVALANCHE

February 18th, 2013
Pepsi Center
Denver, Colorado
2:00 p.m. CST
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee, NHL Network
Game available in Atlanta market

The Nashville Predators swept the Colorado Avalanche in four games in 2011-12, including a 6-1 blowout in the last game of the season.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

(5-7-1, 5th in Northwest)

The Avalanche continue to struggle without Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog, though the bulk of their issues have been of the defensive variety.

Semyon Varlamov takes on the Nashville Predators

A goalie alone in the Rockies. (PHOTO: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Semyon Varlamov (3-7-1, 2.81 GAA, .909 SV%) made 50 saves the other night to tie the franchise’s single-game record, but the Avalanche still lost as Edmonton beat him five times before sealing the game with an empty-netter. Still, he does have one shutout to his credit this season, so he can steal a game on occasion.

Duchene scored in the Avalanche's last game against the Nashville Predators

Matt Duchene scored the only Colorado goal in last season’s finale against Nashville. (PHOTO: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

After coming on strong lately, former number-three-overall pick Matt Duchene (5G-9A) leads the Avalanche in scoring. He has one goal in each of his last three games, and he added two assists in that last game against Edmonton. He plays heavy minutes in multiple situations, so shutting him down will need to be a top priority for the Preds.

Others to watch

Offseason acquisition P.A. Parenteau (7G-4A) has been every bit as effective as Colorado hoped when they signed him, leading the team in goals – but he hasn’t scored one in the last four games.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(7-3-5, 3rd in Central)

Following Saturday’s overtime loss to the Ducks, Nashville is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games.

Chris Mason was outstanding in goal for the Nashville Predators

Chris Mason was excellent in his second start of the season. (PHOTO: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

The key to Nashville’s success lately has been goalie Pekka Rinne, but he’ll be watching from the bench today as backup Chris Mason (1-0-1, 1.45, .952) gets the start in Denver. Mason has been sharp in his only two starts this season but will need better goal support from an anemic Nashville offense than he got last time against Minnesota.

Colin Wilson (4G-6A) leads the Preds in scoring at the moment. His performance has been the second-biggest indicator (behind Rinne’s) of how the team finishes a given game: they are 5-0-2 when he picks up a point, 2-3-3 when he doesn’t.

Others to watch

Patric Hornqvist, out the last three weeks with a sprained knee, makes his return to Nashville’s lineup this afternoon. He’s expected to play limited minutes but should be a boost to a power play that has sagged since his departure to IR.

The Nashville Predators are 3-0-2 when Martin Erat logs a point this season and 3-2-2 when he gets booked for a penalty.

Bottom line

On paper the Nashville Predators are the favorites against the Avalanche. But they’re giving their top goalie the day off, they’re facing an unpredictable netminder on the other end, and their opponents have an offense capable of producing lots of goals. If the Preds can keep things strong on the defensive end – and hold their tendency to play down to the competition in check – there should be no upset.

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