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Predators-Canucks: Clash of the Titanics

It's a battle of unstoppable forces tonight at GM Place, where the utter inability of the Nashville Predators to win on the road (0-5) matches up with the blundering incompetence of the Vancouver Canucks in front of their home fans (1-5). Right up front I'm going to pat myself on the back for sitting through this one. Staying up for a late-night game between two basement-dwelling teams is what being a dedicated hockey fan is all about, right? Anybody can tune in for Crosby vs. Ovechkin in prime time, but this one starts at 10:00 p.m. Central and I've got a meeting at work tomorrow bright & early at 7:30. So let's get on with it...

Period The First
Dan Ellis gets the start in net for Nashville, against Roberto Luongo for Vancouver. For a team that's scored 3 goals in 5 road games, facing Luongo has to be a daunting prospect.

The Preds open up with a line of Ortmeyer-Bonk-Smithson, but almost immediately switch them off for a new line of Tootoo-Legwand-Radulov (that first shift lasted maybe 5 seconds). Will Alexander Radulov continue to get more ice time? He got 17:20 against Calgary two nights ago, after having averaged 12 to 13 minutes per game in earlier games.

When it comes to stopping the Canucks, one theory I like to toss out is that to stop the Sedin twins, you might be better off focusing on Henrik (the setup guy) rather than Daniel (the goal scorer). Last season, over half of Daniel's 36 goals came after a first-assist from his brother Henrik, making him the most reliant scorer on a particular playmaker in the NHL in 2006-7.

Just over five minutes into the period, J.P. Dumont goes to the front of the net and draws a cross-checking call from Mattias Ohlund. The Preds desperately need an early lead, but the power play has been lousy of late. They do manage to convert when Legwand peels off the right half-boards and sends a low wrister that goes five-hole on Luongo, as Jason Arnott crosses through the crease.

That early lead allows Barry Trotz the luxury of rolling the lines, so the power play is followed up with the Smithson-Bonk-Ortmeyer line, which throws a few hits and keeps Nashville playing an up-tempo game. After a couple minutes pass, Sami Salo blasts a rocket wide of the Predators net, and as the puck caroms around the boards, J.P. Dumont quickly hits Martin Erat streaking up the middle of the ice, splitting Salo and his defense partner Ohlund and putting another shot (this one a backhander) through Luongo's five-hold to make it 2-0 Nashville less than halfway through the period. The boos come loudly and quickly, as the home team has already been feeling the heat lately. The goal is Erat's first of the season, and Predators fans have been waiting anxiously for that bubble to burst.

The boo birds turn to sarcastic cheers when a harmless dump-in is stopped by Luongo a few minutes later, but they really get something to get excited about as Ryan Suter dumps Daniel Sedin away from the play as Vancouver enters the Nashville zone. It's time for the Canucks to go on the power play. The Canucks get one juicy rebound opportunity that Vern Fiddler clears away just in time, but other than that Vancouver doesn't mount much of a threat.

Immediately as that penalty expires, however, Jerred Smithson gets called for Interference, so it's back to the penalty kill the Predators go. So much for rolling those lines... Nashville does kill off the penalty well, however. As the PK'ers head to the bench, Radek Bonk flips the puck in on Luongo again (so as not to ice it), which draws those derisive cheers once again. For a road team, you can't ask for a better start than this.

Although their power play wasn't effective, in 5-on-5 Vancouver has created most of the pressure so far. As the horn blows, the Canucks have outshot Nashville 13-3, but the scoreboard shows 2-0 Predators. If they want to hold this lead, however, the Predators need to generate more consistent offense. Leaving Dan Ellis as the target in the shooting gallery isn't the formula for closing out a game.

Period The Second
Jason Arnott heads to the box for high-sticking right off the bat, putting the onus on the Nashville penalty killers once again. The Canucks aren't shy at all when it comes to firing from the point, but they don't get anything particularly dangerous, and David Legwand does a good job killing some time forechecking in the Vancouver end, keeping them from even setting up their offense in the final 30 seconds.

The Bonk line puts in a good shift banging away and maintaining possession in the offensive zone, and get rewarded for their efforts by drawing a Hook from Henrik Sedin. Nashville sends out Legwand-Arnott-Dumont-Koistinen-Hamhuis for the power play. After their shift is done, Zidlicky lets a puck get by him at the right point, and Trevor Linden takes it the other way, but fortunately Ryan Suter chases him down and forces a long-range wrister that Ellis stops. Brad Isbister shows some hustle chasing down a dump-in and starts a bit of a scrum after the whistle, but not much comes of it (coincidental roughing calls to Suter and Isbister).

Legwand takes another Nashville penalty with about 11 minutes left in the period, and the Predators PK puts in its best effort so far. Canucks are forced into bad passes by aggressive forechecking, and even Dan Ellis gets into the act of clearing pucks down the ice. As well as the PK is working, you have to think the team is tempting fate a bit too much, with four shorthanded efforts during the first half of the game.

One thing to note is that even though the shot totals are heavily in favor of Vancouver, the Preds have fired some shots wide of the net, so it's not like the Canucks are carrying the play entirely. In the defensive end, Nashville skaters are working hard in front of Ellis, blocking or preventing whatever shots they can.

Kevin Bieksa goes down in the corner with an ugly injury; he went in to battle for the puck with Vern Fiddler, and as they both came to a stop, Fiddler's skate looks like it sliced into the back of Bieksa's right leg. Blood littered the ice and Bieksa couldn't put any weight on his right leg as he went to the dressing room.

Vancouver's best chance comes on a rush from Henrik Sedin with about 90 seconds left in the period. He came right down the middle and it looked like everyone was waiting for him to dish off the puck, so instead he took a wrister from the top of the circle and had a good shot at a loose rebound before it was cleared away.

The Canucks get a couple more shots off the rush and force traffic in on top of Ellis in net, clearly stepping up their tempo. Isbister and Hamhuis then get tagged with coincidentals for another shoving match after the whistle. It looks like Isbister is trying to jump-start his guys with a fight, but nobody on Nashville's going to take up that challenge.

Period The Third
Due to the penalties we'll start the 3rd with 1:55 of 4-on-4, which should benefit the smaller, speedier Predators. Forget that thought, however, as it's mostly Vancouver doing the buzzing early on, with only occasional forays the other way for Nashville. Radulov gets a decent shot in that Luongo blocks up high, but most of the Predators' offensive work involves cycling around the boards and killing time.

Greg de Vries gets called for Interference putting the Predators shorthanded for the fifth time in the game, with just over 12 minutes left. They do the job once again, however, and when the play returns to 5-on-5 Nashville gets a couple chances, but one goes awry on a whiff by Martin Erat. The power play then gets a chance to put this game away as Vancouver takes a penalty with nine minutes left...

That power play pretty much consists of throwing the puck around without any solid opportunities resulting. But hey, at least two minutes burned off the clock.

As the Canucks try to mount a comeback, Nashville does a good job of keeping them to the perimeter of the offensive zone, and breaking up passes into the slot. As Vancouver recovers a puck in their own end and tries to send it back up ice, however, Sami Salo catches it right in the face, and ends up heading the dressing room leaving a trail of blood behind on the ice. A tough night for Vancouver defensemen, for sure.

The penalty killers get one more job to do as Martin Erat sends a puck over the glass for a Delay of Game call, with 3:22 left in the game. Again, by and large the Nashville defenders keep Vancouver working the puck around the boards, and when David Legwand takes a puck into the offensive end, he's able to draw a holding call which ends the shorthanded situation.

On the ensuing power play, Jason Arnott popped home a wrister to make the final score 3-0, and hopefully build some confidence for that power play unit which went 2-for-4 tonight. The boos from the home crowd come down like a thunderstorm, but the Canucks didn't play especially poorly tonight, although it was surprising to see those first two goals go in.

Summary
In many ways, this was a classic road win; Nashville got the early lead and held on for all their worth.

My Three Stars
1. Dan Ellis, it looks like he'll get the start in Edmonton on Saturday, given the shutout.
2. The Nashville Penalty Killers, a joint award for killing six shorthanded situations.
3. Jason Arnott, who drove to the net consistently all night long, and got rewarded with a late goal.

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