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Game Day Blog: Predators vs. Thrashers

by Tom Callahan / Nashville Predators
Atlanta Thrashers at Nashville Predators Game Preview

7 pm CST
No local TV (Center Ice), The Zone, Predators Radio Network

The Atlanta Thrashers mark its only appearance of the year in Tennessee while fighting for its playoff life. The boys in blue started the year briskly but hit a slump and looked like a team poised to fall out of playoff contention, a victim of past history and not enough depth.

But then they rallied, finding ways to win and enjoying very good seasons out of Ilya Kovalchuk, former Predator Rich Peverly, and surprise contributors like Maxim Afinogenov. Nik Antropov has played well with Kovalchuk, and even when the latter went down with an injury, Peverly’s game was elevated enough to keep the Thrashers winning.

And then there’s the goaltending. Johan Hedberg, who has always been regarded as very solid, is having a tremendous year. Although he and Ondrej Pavelec are tied with 12 wins each, “Moose” has a GAA almost one full goal lower (3.47 vs. 2.48) and a save percentage 15 points higher at .918. Head coach John Anderson said this morning when I spoke to him that he really is surprised that the tandem has held together so well, and is excited to see Hedberg playing at the top of his game. It’s possible the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen will re-enter the picture soon for the Thrashers too. As of this writing, he is in Chicago of the AHL on a conditioning stint, and may be back up before the Olympic break – barring any setbacks, of course. That would make for a pretty full net!

On the surprise end of things, Coach Anderson indicated that he was surprised by the season Evander Kane is having. The fourth overall pick from this summer’s 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Kane started well and then his production dipped, just as rookie D-man Zach Bogosian’s did the year before. But Kane didn’t endure a very long slump, turning his game around and is currently one of the steadier players for the Thrashers up front, belying his youth and inexperience. He’ll be a player to watch down the stretch as he continues to develop.

- Nashville coach Barry Trotz indicated his disappointment at playing what he called “possibly our strongest game ever in Detroit” and still coming out with a loss. Indeed, the Predators dominated every single aspect of the game except for the power play (Detroit scored two man-up markers) and the final score. Credit where credit is due, Jimmy Howard played fantastic and got some sweet music from the pipes.
- Nashville’s 48 shots at Detroit were the most in a road game in franchise history.
- Only Martin Erat and Jerred Smithson did not get credit for a shot on goal last night.
- Pekka Rinne will get the nod in net tonight after Dan Ellis played last night on the road.
- Ilya Kovalchuk is fourth in goals (31) and power play goals (10). He has five 40-goal seasons since 2001-02, the most of any NHL player.
- Tobias Enstrom is fourth among league D with 35 assists this year.
- Evander Kane is fifth among rookies in goals (11) and eighth in points (21).

Callahan’s Keys:
- Stating the obvious: don’t let Kovalchuk shoot! Keep him limited and make sure you drape a guy on him at all times. Make them beat you with someone else.
- Get around Moose. Hedberg is very fast and has a compact stance. He’s always ready to spring one way or the other. Consequently, with a smaller stance there’s more room up top. He compensates by coming out a bit further, but if you can get him either off his angle or catch him moving, that’s the time to strike. Traffic is also tough for the (listed) six-footer.
- Special teams. We saw how Detroit’s PP was effective last night and snuffed any threat to tie the Predators had. The penalty kill must work well tonight, and it begins with the goaltenders. Pekka Rinne said himself “my game has to be better” and he’s looking forward to the chance to prove himself.

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