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Predators try to hold off Red Wings in West chase

by Matthew Mankiewich
PREDATORS (35-23-5) at RED WINGS (29-22-12)

Last 10 -- Nashville 5-3-2; Detroit 4-3-3

Season series -- Three done, three more to go between the Central Division denizens, who are separated by three points in the standings going into Thursday's action. The Wings have taken the last two, one each at Joe Louis Arena and Bridgestone Arena.

Big story --
Time is running out on the Red Wings, and so are the excuses. The Olympics are over, just about the entire lineup is healthy, many of the injured stars returned to form in Vancouver, so why exactly did they turn in such a clunker against the Canucks Wednesday night?

They get another opportunity to face a team on the end of a back-to-back in the Predators, who have the unenviable task of handling the team they're chasing and the one chasing them in successive nights. So far, however, they've been able to do it.

Team scope:

Predators --
Two theories prevail when it comes to returning Olympians. One is that they're exhausted from the intense competition and tend to fade in the aftermath. The other is that the higher level of play sharpens their games and they can take advantage of other players' rust from the two-week layoff.

They've certainly come through big for the Predators their first two games back. Newcomer Denis Grebeshkov (Russia) made an immediate impact, recording a goal and an assist in a 4-3 win against his old team in Edmonton. Blueliners Shea Weber (Canada) and Ryan Suter (USA) picked up a goal and an assist respectively while Marcel Goc (Germany) scored what proved to be the game-winner in a 4-2 triumph over the Kings on Thursday.

And more help is on the way. Forward Dustin Boyd, brought in for a fourth-round draft pick, gets to show his stuff against the Red Wings. He can play all three positions up front and can help kill penalties as well. GM David Poile went so far as to call him a "Swiss Army knife."

Red Wings --
Things looked as they should the first game out of the gate, a solid 3-2 win against traditional rival Colorado. Two days later, the Vancouver Canucks came to town and dominated the Wings, 6-3. Ryan Kesler, a native of nearby Livonia, scored twice to go with three assists each from the Sedin brothers. Jimmy Howard was pulled from nets after allowing four goals on 21 shots.

"We were poor," coach Mike Babcock told the Detroit Free Press. "We were poor in goal, we were poor on the back end, we were poor up front, we were poor in the work ethic department. The bottom line is we didn't look like a team that's dying to be in the playoffs."

Babcock took decisive action at practice Thursday, moving Todd Bertuzzi to the third line with Valtteri Filppula and Drew Miller. Jason Williams was with Dan Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk with Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen. Brett Lebda joined Andres Lilja on the blue line. Babcock also confirmed that Howard would get the start in goal against Nashville.

Who's hot -- Still another Olympian, the Czech Republic's Martin Erat, figured prominently for the Predators in the Kings game with two assists.

Injury report --
Monday's post-Olympic opener was significant for the Red Wings in that it was the first time this season they had been able to field their entire lineup intact. Nashville is injury-free as well.

Stat pack --
Zetterberg's 200th goal, scored in Wednesday's loss to the Canucks, makes him the 13th player in franchise history to score 200 goals or more with the team. Miller has three of his seven goals and five of his 15 total points in the three games against the Predators, leading both teams.

Puck drop -- "(Wednesday) was pretty much unacceptable, especially against a team coming in after playing the night before. The performance we gave was just not right. We addressed it, and we’ve got the same scenario coming in tomorrow -- Nashville is playing (Thursday), and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready." -- Bertuzzi at Thursday's practice.

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