Gameday: Nashville Predators at Edmonton Oilers, 3/17/13

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

at EDMONTON OILERS

March 17th, 2013
Rexall Place
Edmonton, Alberta
7:00 p.m. CDT
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee
Nashville leads season series 1-0-0

The Nashville Predators play a little hockey in the Town That Gretzky Built tonight as they take on the Edmonton Oilers. Nashville won the teams’ only prior meeting this season, a 6-0 blowout at Bridgestone Arena in Week 7.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(11-11-6, 4th in Central)

This Nashville Predators team is so broken it’s hard to know where to begin fixing it. Even before losing Colin Wilson (7G-12A) and Patric Hornqvist (3G-5A) they were inconsistent at the best of times. Now they seem to be sliding off into the deep end.

Mar 12, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) faces the Dallas Stars attack during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Predators shut out the Stars 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Key players

Pekka Rinne (10-8-5, 2.20 GAA, .916 SV%) was in excellent form late last week and early this week, earning two shutouts in three games. He’s been the polar opposite since then. After surrendering four goals to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and getting pulled, he gave up two goals on two shots in Calgary on Friday. Nashville depends on Rinne being at the top of his game even when they’re not, and the strategy is failing this season because he’s being asked to do too much without support from the rest of the team.

Shea Weber (4G-11A) has points in five of his last six games now. Perhaps more importantly, he has power-play points in four of his last five – more than in his first 23 games this season combined. Special teams have been a sore spot for the Preds this season, so a Weber power-play awakening would go a long way toward helping the team’s bottom line.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars

Bourque has goals in three straight games. (PHOTO: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Others to watch

Gabriel Bourque (9G-2A) isn’t the most skilled Nashville Predators forward, but he is one of the hardest-working and that’s resulted in goals in three straight games for him.

How badly has Martin Erat (3G-10A) played over the last month? With just three points in his last 12 games, the one-time leading scorer on the team has now been surpassed by Weber and tied by super-slacker center David Legwand (6G-7A).

Matt Halischuk (1G-4A) appears to have gotten the message from management loud and clear after being sent down to Milwaukee on a conditioning assignment. He has four points in three games since returning to the Predators’ lineup.

EDMONTON OILERS

(10-11-6, 4th in Northwest)

Edmonton has been better over their last 10 games than the Nashville Predators have, but the difference is only a matter of degree. Like the Preds, they’ve lost seven of those 10, but three of those losses were in overtime to help them pick up ground on Nashville in the Western Conference standings.

Key players

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Minnesota Wild

Edmonton’s leading scorer, Sam Gagner. (PHOTO: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

There are five Edmonton scorers – Sam Gagner (11G-15A), Taylor Hall (6G-19A), Jordan Eberle (6G-12A), Ales Hemsky (8G-9A), and Justin Schultz (5G-10A) – with as many points or more than any active Nashville Predators player.

Devan Dubnyk (7-9-5, 2.74, .918) had a bad time out last time against the Predators, giving up two goals – including one to David Legwand from center ice – in the first period before getting yanked in favor of Yann Danis. If he can get any kind of defense in front of him at all he can steal a game, but that’s been a problem for him all season.

Others to watch

Word has it that Nail Yakupov (6G-8A) kid knows how to celebrate.

Bottom line

It’s just a bit too early to call this one a “must win” situation, but it’s certainly a “things would be markedly better if you win” situation. The Nashville Predators are on the verge of squandering the season right now, and this stretch of games against the West’s worst teams is their best chance to stay in the playoff race.

One of Nashville’s only strong performances of late came against Edmonton a week and a half ago. If they can pull off the win tonight they can bring their record on the current road trip back to .500 and create some momentary separation between themselves and the teams like Edmonton below them in the standings. If not, they’ll suddenly be tied with the Oilers and all their momentum will be heading in the wrong direction as the season begins to wind down.

Topics: Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators

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