When the Predators began the season, people were writing articles about which goaltender they would use, and subsequently how starting Dan Ellis on opening night looked like a good move. (He stopped 38 of 40 Stars shots to start the season.) 11 days later Nashville came to Dallas again and we talked about what a mess they were after the Stars spanked them 6-0. So much has changed since, because Pekka Rinne (not Ellis) was named the NHL's first star of the week last week, and his Predators are the hottest thing going right now outside of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Nashville enters tonight's contest on a six game win streak, having outscored their opponents 9-2 in the last three. They're getting it done on both ends of the ice and sit at 89 points, challenging the Kings for the 5 seed in the West. Moving to the #5 seed could prove a risky move for the Preds, because you could see the Sharks there, which looks fun lately, or just easily the Coyotes, which doesn't look quite so inviting. Imagine, however, a #4 vs #5 matchup of the two hottest teams in the conference: Nashville Vs. Phoenix. (Sounds weird to say, doesn't it?)
Reminder: Some of us will be watching the game at Frankie's in Lewisville for our first ever official watching party. Remember, the game starts early at 7:00pm tonight, but don't sweat being late because at Frankie's the drafts are $2.50 all night long.
Follow the jump for more on the game, starting netminders and injuries...
Dallas went 2-2-2 on their season high six game home stand, effectively killing any chance they had at a playoff spot. No one on the team is saying it, but their post Olympic play combined with Detroit's hot streak has rendered the rest of the season nearly meaningless.
It's around that time that fans start looking toward the draft. With the Stars in 13th place, you'd think a top 5 pick would be a real possibility, but think again. SEVEN Eastern conference teams are even worse than our Stars, giving Dallas a chance at the #10 pick at best. Check out Andrew's Stars Page for the current draft standings.
A spirited outing and some downright spectacular saves from Marty Turco on Sunday will give way to Kari Lehtonen tonight as he makes his fifth start in a Stars uniform. He's 2-2 with a 3.59 GAA and a SV% of .888.
Lines continue to start off the same way most nights (and degenerate into chaos soon after)
Morrow-Ribeiro-Segal (went to Lehtinen on Sunday)
Barch-Sutherby-Petersen (double shifted Ribeiro lots with this line on the weekend)
Matt Niskanen and Jeff Woywitka likely continue their musical-chairs-scratch-game depending on what Marc Crawford had for breakfast this morning.
TSN has a nice piece on just how the Predators stay so darned competitive every year:
Every year, they cobble together their club, lose another player to a bigger payday elsewhere (Alexander Radulov), draft well (it's often a defenceman), get excellent goaltending and are a total pain in the tail to play against. It seems as though no one can quite take them seriously enough, yet year after year Barry Trotz and his excellent staff guide their team with a realistic, "this is who we are" approach.
Their leading scorer is Martin Erat and he has 48 points. Patric Hornqvist has been a revelation with 28 goals, but they know they can't run and gun, but can score enough, and they lead the NHL with nine players that have 30-plus points. Not enough to overwhelm you, but enough to get the job done. I asked a coach this week if he thought Nashville would fold at all down the stretch, and he said, "not a chance, they play too solidly all over the ice." I have always loved the underdog, as I felt I was one when I played, and I love the spunk the Preds play with.
What Nashville does year after year - from GM David Poile, to assistant general manager Paul Fenton, to Barry Trotz - is remarkable. They also have one other thing going for them. The players they select and trade for are generally hard workers and quality people. If they can just give a former No. 1 draft pick David Legwand directions to the opponents net, that might help. He hasn't scored a goal in 31 games.
And check out SB Nation partner On the Forecheck for a look at the Preds:
Its been a wild two weeks to be a Predator fan. The team responded to the loss in San Jose better than I ever thought possible. Six wins later, the Predators have moved up two spots in the playoff chase to fifth, and are eight points out of the Conference lead. To put it in perspective, they have as many wins as defending Cup champions the Pittsburgh Penguins, and would be firmly in a home-ice position were they to play in the Eastern Conference. They've already surpassed last year's point total, and its going to be very difficult to miss the playoffs at this point.
Jason Arnott likely returns to the lineup tonight after missing one game, while it looks like Joel Ward will be out at least a week, per John Glennon of The Tennessean.
My spies in Nashville tell me that the true main attraction at Bridgestone Arena is free Wendy's Frosty's should the Preds score 5 goals. Ah, it's the little things in life...