The big challenge for the Predators is to regain the defensive composure that's been missing in recent losses to St. Louis, Phoenix and Calgary. Even though it's still early in the season, pressure is mounting on #1 goaltender Chris Mason to shake off last week's outings and establish some consistency in net. Of course, it's not all up to him, as the defense corps has struggled while trying to make up for the loss of Shea Weber.
On the offensive end, there's reason for optimism. Alexander Radulov has stepped up his game of late, particularly when paired with David Legwand and Martin Erat (so much for that idea), and the Jason Arnott/J.P. Dumont combination is consistently producing, as each has 3 goals in the first five games. Even Radek Bonk, who was brought in to anchor the third line, has found the net lately, scoring twice against Phoenix last Thursday and again on Saturday versus Calgary.
In Anaheim, Nashville may be facing the proverbial awakening giant. The Ducks are coming off a ridiculous early schedule, that had them not just open the season in London, England with two games against the Kings, but then follow that up with three more games on the road in the span of four days in Detroit, Columbus, and Pittsburgh, before finally returning home. Contrast that with the absurdly easy travel schedule of the Boston Bruins, who (as pointed out by Matt at Battle of Alberta) for the remainder of the season don't have to leave the Eastern Time Zone. Yet another classic example of how badly the NHL needs to adjust scheduling for next season.
The other challenge the Ducks are overcoming is dressing a complete, healthy lineup. Besides Mathieu Schneider, Anaheim will also miss Todd Marchant and Todd Bertuzzi to injury.
In terms of some of the main metrics of performance; 5-on-5 Goals For/Against, PP%, and PK%, Nashville is handily outshining Anaheim so far, and without Marchant and Bertuzzi the Ducks' special teams may still be hampered somewhat. The Predators are catching the Ducks at a good time, and tonight presents an opportunity where a playoff-caliber team typically takes charge and nails down the road win.
NOTES FROM LAST NIGHT IN THE NHL
Wow, Calgary goes up 4-0 early in the 2nd in Colorado, but gives it all back by the end of the period and loses in a shootout. I'll bet Mike Keenan is thrilled to back coaching again.
The Minnesota Wild have been dominating in the early going, but that wasn't enough to help them against the juggernaut known as the L.A. Kings.
Tomas Vokoun is looking like his old self again as he stopped 36 of 37 shots and led the Florida Panthers to a shootout victory in Montreal.
The misery continues for Atlanta, as the Flyers toasted the Thrashers 4-0.
I've shown before that when it comes to the shootout, matching the shooting hand of the skaters with the catching hand of the goalie results in a significant increase in scoring percentage for the shooters, particularly against those few goalies who catch with their right hand. Last night, we saw Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun (both righties) in the shootout. Against left-handed shooters, they turned aside all five attempts. The lone righty who had a chance, Jarome Iginla, scored on Theodore. And it's not like those coaches didn't have good right-handed shooters available. Michael Ryder, Bryan Smolinski, Owen Nolan and Craig Conroy all stood by and watched their teams lose. Heck, Mike Keenan used Dion Phaneuf as his first shooter against Theodore, who made the save and pushed Phaneuf's career SO mark to 0-4. I guess not enough NHL coaches are reading this blog...