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Sharks on the menu tonight...

Tonight's game against San Jose (Free Food Night!) certainly isn't a "must win", but it will be important for the Nashville Predators to keep pace with the Northwest division teams that just keeping plugging away; last night Vancouver should have lost in L.A., but (shockingly!) the Kings blew a late 1-0 lead and let the Canucks escape town with an overtime victory.

Dan Ellis gets yet another start in goal for the Predators, and Rich Peverley has been called up from Milwaukee to fill in for David Legwand, who's out for a week with a foot injury. While there hasn't been a formal coronation, it's apparent that Ellis has assumed #1 status, as tonight will mark his 5th start in the last 6 games. Coaches generally prefer to have a clear #1 goaltender heading into the playoffs, and it looks like Ellis is getting his chance to earn that role.

Yesterday I took the opportunity to catch about half of San Jose's practice at the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville; it's always interesting to see an NHL team at work. The speed and skill are so much more impressive when you've actually got an entire squad on the ice, using limited space to run through intricate drills at top speed. Over at the Predators message boards there's an excellent recap of that practice, by someone with a much more attentive eye to detail than I have. The only thing I'd add was that I was really impressed with Jeremy Roenick in particular. Here he is, in his 47th year of NHL play, and yet he was zipping around practice, giving his all in each drill and leading by example. Overall, the Sharks seemed a loose and generally jovial bunch (a nine-game winning streak will do that), and they probably enjoy the fact that most around the league are focusing on the Red Wings and Ducks as the favored teams to come out of the West.

With any luck, the urgency surrounding the Predators will motivate them towards a strong effort early on, rather than see them give up a lead and have to fight from behind the rest of the night. It's important to remember, though, that we haven't quite hit the white-knuckle, gotta-win-or-its-all-over phase of the playoff drive yet. Sure, it's probably right around the corner, but they only have to beat out one of the Northwest division contenders to make the playoffs, and with all those intradivisional games remaining, someone is likely to stumble pretty hard over the next few weeks.

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