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Predators-Oilers Game Day

Tonight the Predators kick off a critical three-game swing through Western Canada, with playoff competitors Vancouver and Calgary coming up Thursday and Friday after this evening's game in Edmonton. The last time Nashville made this trip (Oct. 30 - Nov 2), they went 2-1, getting stomped by the Flames 5-1 before shutting out the Canucks 3-0 and topping the Oilers 4-1. If they can snag four points out of these three contests they should continue to hang right in the thick of the playoff hunt, with the obvious caveat that they certainly don't want to let Calgary or Vancouver earn a charity point for making it to overtime.

While the Oilers have certainly slipped out of playoff contention, they're generally playing excellent hockey of late, having won the first four games of their current home stand against Colorado, Detroit, L.A., and Columbus. Two of those wins were via the shootout, which Edmonton has dominated this year; their 14 SO victories are an NHL-best since it was added for the 2005-6 season. Clearly, the team has bought into a mission outlined over at Covered In Oil (just one of the many fine blogs that covers the Oilers); they simply must finish as high as they can in the standings, to prevent Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke from possibly snagging the top overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft (widely presumed to be Steve Stamkos). The Ducks, of course, own Edmonton's #1 pick for the next four seasons due to the Oilers signing of restricted free agent Dustin Penner last summer, a move that Burke whined about constantly.

As far as the Predators' lineup is concerned, it looks like Jan Hlavac has found work on the second line alongside David Legwand and Martin Erat, and will kill some penalties to boot. Barry Trotz has yet to figure out exactly how Brandon Bochenski will fit into the mix, which is perhaps a bit concerning; Trotz insists that Bochenski needs to play with an offensive group to best maximize his talents, but it looks like Hlavac has nailed down the last spot available there for now. Could this be a similar case as last spring, when GM David Poile obtained defenseman Vitali Vishnevski, only to see Trotz refuse to play him? At one point Poile apologized to Vishnevski in front of the team for the lack of ice time, a rare display of a disconnect between this coach and GM who have worked together for such a long time.

John Glennon of the Tennessean reports that Dan Ellis gets the start in goal, and that the lineup from Saturday's big win in Dallas will remain intact. That means Ville Koistinen continues to play at the expense of Greg Zanon, so watch those Predators power plays to see if Koistinen picks up where he left off in December with his work on the point.

This game (and the rest of the road trip that ends in Detroit on Sunday) won't be carried on Fox Sports South (boo... hiss...), but they should be on DirecTV's Center Ice, so I'll try to provide live blogs or detailed recaps for each. Tonight likely won't be a live blog, however, as 2 of the 3 Little Forecheckers turn 6 years old today, so we'll be partying big time (do they have a VIP room at Chuck E. Cheese?).

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