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Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (20-17-4-44) at Nashville Predators (17-19-3-37)

Where: Sommet Center
When: Thursday, January 8 at 8 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: It will be the first meeting between the two teams. The two clubs didn't meet last year and the Penguins haven't played in Nashville since Jan. 15, 2006 (a 5-4 loss).



Pens vs. Predators 2/16/07
Build Momentum: Pittsburgh can build on its 3-1 victory over Atlanta on Tuesday. The Penguins need a similar effort to carry over to their matchup with Nashville. Despite the team’s recent setbacks, the Penguins talent should be enough to overtake the Predators.

Fast Start: The Predators are currently riding a five-game losing streak. The Penguins can break Nashville’s spirits if they jump out to an early lead. Plus, Nashville ranks second to last in goals scored this season - making any lead the Penguins gain even more difficult for Nashville to overcome. 
Nashville became an NHL franchise 11 years ago. From Day 1, the Predators organization chose to build its team through the draft and remain patient while their younger players matured into a playoff-caliber team. That formula has proven successful as Nashville has made the postseason the past four years. Last year, Nashville wrestled away the much-sought after eighth seed but, like the previous three seasons, the Predators were eliminated in the first round.

Nashville opened the season with a major distraction regarding the status of Alexander Radulov. The promising, young forward signed a contract with the Kontinental Hockey League in the offseason despite having one-year left on his NHL contract. Both leagues argued its case to the courts. The drama increased when Radulov tried to rejoin the Predators after the KHL suspended his contract with the issue being unresolved. Nashville gave Radulov a Sept. 1 deadline to notify the team of his intensions to play for the Predators this season. On Sept. 2, Nashville suspended the 22 year old for the entire season without pay.

The Predators are led by Barry Trotz, the only head coach the organization has ever had. He's a no-nonsense coach that preaches defense and accountability. Nashville has been incredibly average this season. The team has hovered around the .500 mark all season. Entering 2009, the Predators were 17-16-1 after finishing around sea level in each month: 5-4-1 in October; 6-6-1 in November; 6-6-1 in December. However, the Predators have been sinking fast lately. Nashville is in the midst of a five-game losing streak and slipped to 14th in the Western Conference - though they are only six points shy of the eighth spot. The Predators are also in the middle of a five-game home stand. Nashville dropped the first three games and will try to salvage something in its remaining contests against Pittsburgh and Chicago.
The biggest offseason loss has been Radulov. He is a highly skilled - sometimes flashy - forward that put up 26 goals and 58 points at only 21 years old. The Predators selected the Russian with the 15th-overall pick in 2004 and his upside is enormous. However, the team is taking the approach that Radulov will not ever be a Predator again.

As usual, Nashville didn’t make any big signings in the offseason - opting to fix holes in-house. The Predators signed Joel Ward, who recorded one assist in 11 career NHL games. With a plethora of defensemen, the team shipped Marek Zidlicky to Minnesota in exchange for forward Ryan Jones and a second-round pick.
Jason Arnott bounced back last season with 28 goals and 44 assists for 72 points, tied for the most on the team. The year before he recorded only 54 points - though he did score 27 goals. Arnott is a better goal scorer than setup man and currently leads the team with 15 tallies. Martin Erat has been a winger on the top line all season. The Czech native has rounded into a consistent 50-point player. Ward had been playing on the top line. But after only producing 10 points (5G-5A) he spent the previous game watching from the press box as a healthy scratch with Vernon Fiddler getting a shot on the top unit.

J.P. Dumont tied Arnott to lead the Predators in points last year with 72. He currently leads Nashville with 32 points and 25 assists. Dumont has been a streaky scorer this season. He recorded a seven-game scoring streak (nine points) and also notched one assist during a seven-game stretch. Dumont is skating on a line with David Legwand and Jones. Legwand was the franchise’s first-ever draft pick, but he never lived up to his billing as the second-overall selection in 1998. Two years ago, Legwand had a semi-breakout season with 27 goals and 36 assists for 63 points and a plus-23 rating. But he’s never scored more than 18 goals, recorded more than 48 points or had a plus-minus of better than plus-9 in his other eight NHL seasons. Jones has spent the season shuffling back-and-forth between Nashville and Milwaukee. He has good size and will try to stake out some territory in front of the Penguins net.

Steve Sullivan is anticipating a return to the lineup against Chicago on Saturday. Sullivan missed all of last season with a plaguing back injury. He hoped to make a full recovery but re-aggravated the injury in training camp and has been sidelined all year. If he does play Saturday, it will be Sullivan’s first game since Feb. 22, 2006. His return could help boost the offense. The Predators are struggling to generate goals this year. The team has the second fewest goals per game in the NHL with 2.36.
Nashville compiled considerable talent on the blue line over the years. The defensive corps is fast, young and skilled, led by 2009 All-Star Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis. Weber ranks among the defensive league leaders in goals (12) and points (28), while ranking second on the Predators in both categories. Suter, the seventh-overall pick in 2003, has hit the 20-point plateau on three goals and 17 assists.

Hamhuis provides some muscle on the backend but is still extremely mobile. Veteran Greg DeVries is a classic stay-at-home defenseman with 10-plus NHL seasons worth of experience. Ville Koistinen is another offensively gifted defenseman but appears to be in Trotz’s doghouse. He’s been a healthy scratch for 13 of the last 14 games. Greg Zanon and Kevin Klein round out the defensive crew.
Dan Ellis had been a career backup until landing in Nashville last season. Then he stole the starting job from Chris Mason with a 23-10-3 record, 2.34 goals against average and .924 save percentage. Ellis was clutch in the team’s stretch run and was the biggest reason the team qualified for the postseason. Nashville was so happy with Ellis’ performance that it traded away Mason. However, Ellis has not been able to recapture the magic from last year. He’s 10-14-3 this year with a 2.83 GAA and .903 save percentage. Even though he is still the No. 1 goalie, rookie prospect Pekka Rinne has seen his game action increased.

Rinne is 7-5-0 with a 2.46 goals against average and .912 save percentage. He is establishing himself as a No. 1 goaltender and has played considerably well despite his record. In his last 10 games Rinne has allowed two or fewer goals eight times while posting a 2.02 goals against average and .928 save percentage. Rinne may steal the top goalie title before the season is over.
Shea Weber has established himself as a scoring threat from the blue line in his fourth full season with the Predators. Weber leads the defensive unit and is second on the team with 12 goals and 28 points. That production ranks high among all NHL defensemen. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound blueliner leads the club in ice time (23:46) and plus-minus rating with a plus-8. Weber was honored for his success, being named to the 2009 NHL Western Conference All-Star Team. The 23-year old participated in the 2007 YoungStars Game in Dallas after posting 17 goals and 40 points at only 21. Weber was the team’s third choice, 49th overall, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft held at the Sommet Center.
“Yes, it’s tough but we have to stay positive to get out of this. It’s been five in a row, you know, and it’s really testing us and our team spirit right now. But we have to keep it together and work even harder to find a solution.”
- Goaltender Pekka Rinne on the team’s five-game losing skid, Yahoo! Sports
For the first time since Nov. 23-Dec. 14, 2006, the Predators have gone five or more straight home games without allowing a power-play goal.

Author: Sam Kasan

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