The NHL's unstoppable force comes rolling into Nashville this evening as the Detroit Red Wings bring their gaudy 41-12-5 record into the Sommet Center against the Predators (29-22-6). But before abandoning any hope of a competitive chance for the local boys, it should be noted that when looking at Detroit's 7-2-1 record over the last ten games, the "2-1" part has come in their last three, with losses to Los Angeles, Toronto (in OT) and Anaheim in recent days. In their three previous games this season, Nashville has a 1-1-1 record against the Central Division leaders.
Mike Babcock's charges have been storming through the NHL so far
The Wings are somewhat bruised and battered coming in, with 20-goal scorer Dan Cleary out due to a broken jaw, and defenseman Niklas Kronwall on the IR (again). Dominik Hasek is having hip trouble, so you can expect to see Chris Osgood in goal tonight. For the Predators, Chris Mason is expected to get the start; he has been excellent since recovering from a nasty bug that wiped out his December (.930 save percentage and three shutouts since January 8). It will be interesting to see who gets to play on defense, as illness caused Dan Hamhuis to miss the Phoenix game on Sunday, giving Ville Koistinen his first action in quite some time. Up front, it is hoped that Martin Erat will return from the back spasms that have kept him out, and Jordin Tootoo is still recovering from his hip flexor injury.
My fervent hope is that Koistinen gets back into the mix, as he provided a much-needed boost to the Predators attack, particularly on the power play, in his earlier games. I'd let Greg Zanon, who's in a bit of a funk right now defensively, watch a couple games from the press box. But hey, I'm not the one paid to make those decisions.
The key for Nashville tonight will be line matching; if Barry Trotz can keep the Arnott/Dumont/Radulov line away from the top Detroit defensive pairing of Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, they may be able to generate enough offense to give the Preds a fighting chance. But what about the other end? By looking at the three previous matches using the wonderful tools available at Time On Ice.com, it looks like in home games (when he has the advantage of making the last line change prior to faceoffs), Trotz likes to use the Bonk/Smithson/Ortmeyer combo against Pavel Datsyuk's line the most, and they've been able to keep Datsyuk's line off the scoresheet at even strength during that time.
With Cleary hurt, Wings fans are dreading a too-heavy scoring concentration on that top line of Datsyuk between Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom, but when you're humming along with the #2 offense in the NHL, behind only Ottawa, I think perhaps those concerns are overblown.
And if you follow that "#2 offense" link, take a gander and see who's got the #2 offense in the Western Conference. The answer might surprise you.
It should be a doozy of a game, as the Predators need every point they can get to keep pace with the playoff contenders, while the Red Wings are anxious to stop their losing streak. For the Detroiter's view of tonight's game, head over to On the Wings. And while watching those out-of-town scores this evening, pull for Los Angeles over St. Louis, Edmonton over Minnesota, San Jose over Calgary, and just cross your fingers that Anaheim/Colorado doesn't go to overtime...