Who: Nashville Predators (7-5-2)
When: Tonight, 9:30PM EST/7:30PM MDT
Your Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (8-1-0), NSH – Carter Hutton (3-1-1)
The Dangermen: Though no one is hotter than the Avalanche right now, the Predators are pretty hot in their last ten games (6-2-2). Veteran David Legwand has really come on of late, with five points in his last two games and seven in his last four. He leads the team with a dozen points on the season, though his history doesn’t indicate that he’ll keep this up. He’s mid-level scorer at best, but he’s someone to watch right now.
Also on the toasty side is Patric Horqnvist. He had three helpers in a win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday and sits just behind Legwand with 10 points through 14 games. He and Legwand will be heavily depended on for offense, especially if Mike Fisher misses tonight’s game (he’s questionable as of this morning).
After that? It’s slim pickings. The Preds are dead last in the Western Conference in goals scored with 31 which should surprise no one who’s watched hockey in the last decade. The Predators have never been a team that’s scored frequently and that doesn’t look to change any time soon.
This team does get offense from its blueliners (more on them shortly), so that’s something to watch for the Avs.
The Defenders: Meet the group that’s keeping the Predators above .500. The team has given up the fifth-fewest goals in the West, which shouldn’t be a big surprise given the hype this group had coming into the season.
They’ve also done this with just four games out of Roman Josi so far, who’s back in on the second pairing. He’s quietly become a very good defenseman and, while he won’t dent the back of the net much, he’s lock down in his own zone.
Kevin Klein, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis fill out the group and chip in a little offense here and there, remaining generally solid as Predators defensemen generally are. Not a ton to say here; the Avs are gonna work for their goals.
But this group lives and dies with the top pairing. Shea Weber and Seth Jones both have seven points so far (four goals for Weber; two for Jones). Jones is second among rookie defensemen to Boston’s Torey Krug in the scoring department. They’re both big, strong, physical, good skaters with the smarts to match the skill. They are going to make life VERY difficult on whoever they face and they’ll give the Preds a fighting chance.
Puck Stoppers Inc.: This is normally Pekka Rinne, but he’s been placed on injured reserve after an infection to his surgically repaired hip. The guy can’t buy a break and has struggled to stay healthy the last few years. The Preds needed him to make an impact this year and got unlucky once more.
In his stead, Carter Hutton will get the nod for his sixth start of the season. He’s 3-1-1 so far with a decent 2.76 GAA and .914 save percentage. He’s done well so far, but if Rinne is going to miss a lot of time, you can’t help but wonder if he’ll be able to carry the load.
Behind him, Magnus Hellberg is also there, but he’s only seen one game letting in one goal on four shots. I really don’t know a lot about Hutton, but I’d imagine it’s the same with most unproven guys: pepper him early and often, get guys in front of him, test him as much as possible.
How the Avs match up: Despite the loss of Alex Tanguay, this is still the kind of group that can give the defensively-deep Predators a tough time. Especially with no Rinne to turn them aside, the opportunity is there to light the lamp.
On the other side of the puck, this is the matchup the Avs wish they had every night – a team that doesn’t score much and isn’t flush with offensively gifted players. This defensive group does a good job getting into shooting lanes, putting a stick and a body on forwards, and making it a chore to get shots on net. Keep with the game plan and all should be okay.
That’s not to mention the Varly factor. Varlamov has been lights out all year; he must salivate for games like this.
Key Matchup: Avs aggressive forwards vs stingy Preds defense
Cower in fear if: David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist are still scorching hot.
Weber, Jones and co. are on lock down.
Another injury besets the forwards.
Laugh maniacally if: Varly is boredly kicking aside shots every once in awhile.
STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX.
The Matt Duchene Video Game Tour continues.
Silly predictions: Gabe Landeskog doesn’t score in this one, but Matt Duchene does; Max Talbot gets his first point for the Avs; Nathan MacKinnon picks up a point, giving the Avs their fourth player with double-digit points; Varly gets his first shutout.
Final: 3-0 Avs