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Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins (36-22-3-75) vs. Nashville Predators (32-23-5-69)
Where: Mellon Arena

Sunday, February 14, 1 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.

Season Series:
This will mark the only meeting in 2009-10 between the Penguins and Nashville Predators. These two teams squared off once last season, with the Predators storming back from a 3-0 second-period deficit to defeat the Penguins, 5-3, in Nashville. David Legwand and Martin Erat each tallied a goal and an assist for the Predators, while Sidney Crosby picked up two assists for Pittsburgh.
Nashville is a perennial playoff contender despite playing in one of the National Hockey League’s smallest markets. Before missing the postseason last year, when they slipped to fifth-place in the Central Division, the Predators had qualified for the playoffs in four straight seasons. They are back on pace to make the postseason field this year, as they currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference despite losing nine of their previous 12 games.

The Predators are led by one of the best head coaches in the game, Barry Trotz, who has served as Nashville’s bench boss for all 12 years of their existence. Under his guidance the Predators have qualified for the postseason on four different occasions, and just missed playoff berths several other times. Only Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff has had a longer tenure with one team among current head coaches. Trotz is slated to coach his 900th career NHL game when Nashville visits Detroit on April 3.
As one of the NHL’s smaller markets, the Predators rely more on promoting internally then venturing deep into free agency. Nashville’s only two veteran signings were center Marcel Goc and blueliner Francis Bouillon.

Goc, a former San Jose Shark, is currently sidelined due to an upper body injury, but has seen time as a third-line pivot for the Predators. He ranks sixth on the team with 10 goals and has posted 19 points in 51 games. Goc was a first-round pick (20th overall) of the Sharks back in 2001.

Bouillon, 34, plays a game that is not commensurate with his stature. Listed at 5-foot-8, 198 pounds, Bouillon is a hard-hitting defensive-minded rearguard who actually ranks second on the Predators with 116 hits in 59 games. He has also picked up eight points (2G-6A). Bouillon spent the previous five-plus seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.
Nashville might rank ninth in the Western Conference with just 166 goals through their first 60 games, but they do have an underrated group of speedy forwards who can put the puck in the net if they get their chances. Leading the way is 23-year-old second-year winger Patric Hornqvist, who just missed qualifying as a rookie this year by three games. Hornqvist has the look of a future star with a team-best 23 goals and 37 points in 59 games. In addition to his offensive exploits, Hornqvist has proven to be both clutch (his seven game-winning goals are second-best in the league) and defensively responsible (his plus-11 rating is tops on the team). Hornqvist, who will play for Team Sweden at the Olympics next week, saw action in 28 games last season, registering seven points (2G-5A).

Dynamic Martin Erat has proven to be good for 50 points a season over the past five seasons, and he is on pace to hit that number again with 35 points (18G-17A) through his first 53 games. The Czech native will also be participating for his homeland in Vancouver. Captain Jason Arnott and speedy Steve Sullivan continue to supply both offense and leadership to a young squad. Sullivan, who returned to action midway through last season after battling a back problem for almost two years, ranks second on the team with 36 points (12G-24A) in 60 games. The 5-foot-8 dynamo notched 32 points (11G-21A) in 41 games in 2008-09. Arnott, 35, is still a huge presence both in the corners and in front of the net thanks to his 6-foot-5 stature. He ranks fifth on the team with 34 points (14G-20A) despite playing in just 49 games. Last year Arnott tied his career high by lighting the lamp 33 times, his best figure since his rookie campaign in 1993-94.

J.P. Dumont, Nashville’s leading scorer last season with 65 points (16G-49A), has seen his numbers drop off for a third-consecutive season. While he has picked up 11 goals, just five less than he scored all of last season, Dumont has only 36 points through 52 games. The Predators are going to need a little more from him down the stretch if they are going to hold on to one of the Western Conference’s final playoff berths.

Joel Ward, signed as a minor-league free agent prior to last season, continues to be a revelation for the Predators. The former University of Prince Edward Island-CIS standout has 12 goals and 28 points in 53 games, including four tallies in his last six contests. Last season he ranked fourth on the team with 17 goals while posting 35 points in his first extended action in the NHL.
When people think of the Nashville Predators, they think of defense. The presence of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis gives the team as good of a top-three as any squad in the league.

Weber, 24, will not just represent Canada at next week’s Olympic Games, but he might use the spotlight to show the world what a terrific all-around player he is. A 23-goal scorer last season, Weber’s offensive totals are down a bit this season as teams have tried to take away his booming shot, but he still ranks sixth on the Predators with 33 points and sixth (tied) among all blueliners with 10 goals. When he is not scoring, the 6-foot-4 Weber is not afraid to use his size to his advantage as a premier defensive defenseman.

Suter, who will also be playing in the Olympics for the United States, might be having the best season of his young career at age 25. Although he isn’t the point producer Weber is, Suter can hold his own in this regard, as evidenced by his 26 points (2G-24A) in 60 games. Suter also leads the Predators in ice time at 24:01 minutes per game, while his plus-8 rating is the best figure of his career, and a far cry from the minus-16 he posted last year.

Hamhuis, the elder statesmen of the group at 27, cannot match the other two’s offensive instincts, but might be the most fundamentally sound of the group. Hamhuis is one of those defensemen who might not wow you in any way, but that is actually a huge compliment to him. He is tough to beat one-on-one, has good size at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, and can chip in offensively (4 goals and 16 points in 56 games).
Another area of strength for the Predators is between the pipes, where the tandem of Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis is one of the strongest duos in the league. There are many nights when these two guys are the reason Nashville escapes with two points.

Rinne, 27, is one of the tallest netminders in the league at 6-foot-5. The Finish native was an eighth-round steal for the Predators back in 2004. After three seasons honing his craft with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, Rinne broke through last season when he went 29-15-4 with a 2.38 goals against average, .917 save percentage and seven shutouts. He has been Nashville’s go-to guy again this year with a 20-12-4 record and .902 save percentage in 40 games.

Ellis, 29, originally stole the No. 1 job away from former Predator Chris Mason during the 2007-08 campaign when he won 23 times in 44 games, but that didn’t last long as Rinne’s strong play last season cut into Ellis’ playing time. His numbers this season are actually the stronger of the two with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage to complement his 12-11-1 record.
David Legwand, the first-ever draft pick in Nashville’s history (2nd overall) back in 1998, might not have lived up to fans’ expectations as a high point producer, but he has developed a solid all-around game for the Predators. A talented penalty killer, Legwand has posted 32 points (10G-22A) in 60 games.

Still just 29 years of age, the Detroit, Mich. native is the Predators’ all-time scoring leader with 401 points (151G-250A) in 682 games. Legwand had a career season for Nashville in 2006-07 when he set personal highs across the board with 27 goals, 36 assists and 63 points.
"We need to tighten up and win the last game before the break. You see how tight the Western Conference is and we have 21 games after the (Olympic) break. It's a sprint, 17 games in March. It's going to be crazy and we need to get on a roll."

- Predators defenseman Shea Weber talking to Yahoo! Sports about what a win against the Penguins on Sunday would mean to Nashville.

76.0: Nashville has the league’s third-worst penalty killing unit with a success rate of just 76 percent.
New Penguins iPhone/iTouch application available for FREE download!
Look for "YinzCam Penguins" in iTunes.

Author: Jason Seidling

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