After a two day break for Christmas, the Preds returned to action this morning to prepare for their weekend home-and-home showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago and Nashville sit No. 1 and No. 2 in the Central Division standings, with this weekend marking the final two meetings of the regular season series between the clubs.
With several guys battling injuries, the mini-break was a good chance for the Preds to mend up heading into a stretch of four straight games against division opponents. The team also received reinforcements from Milwaukee in the form of forward Andreas Thuresson. Coach Trotz mentioned a familiarity with Thuresson from his first stint with the big club earlier this season. Trotz also likes that Thuresson plays a style similar to Jerred Smithson (who was injured at Vancouver in the team's last game before the break).
Smithson's injury may force the coaches to juggle line combinations. Prior to his injury, Smithson had routinely been logging 15-16 minutes of ice time while skating with David Legwand
and Joel Ward. If the coaches keep the lines mostly in tact, look for Ryan Jones or Thuresson to get the first crack with Legwand and Ward -- outside shot of Nick Spaling
(who has displayed some pretty good speed and versatility in his first NHL stint). The coaches could also re-juggle all lines, perhaps paving the way for Martin Erat
to be re-united with Legwand and Ward and J.P. Dumont or Patric Hornqvist
to re-inserted with Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan.
Nothing concrete -- guys didn't skate as line combinations during morning skate drills and Coach wasn't tipping his hand one way or another -- but call it a hunch that Coach Trotz doesn't shuffle lines too much to start the game. If the team needs an in-game kick, look for him to mix-and-match then. My guess for lines is: Arnott centering Sullivan and Erat; Legwand centering Ward and most likely Jones; Goc centering Dumont and Hornqvist; Thuresson (wouldn't be called up if they weren't going to play him?) and Spaling (can fill some of the PK responsibility while Smithson is out) are likely in with either Scatchard or Belak to round out the line-up.
Based on morning skate, it looks like Pekka Rinne
will get the nod in net tonight, but the coaches usually split goaltending duties during back-to-back games, so whichever netminder doesn't start tonight appears a safe bet to get the call tomorrow night.Injury FrontJordin Tootoo
did not skate this morning and remains out with a foot injury suffered Dec. 12 vs. Detroit ... Coach Trotz mentioned this morning that Jerred Smithson will be out for at least a month -- and perhaps longer depending on the strength of his hand.