February 22 2013 01:39PM
Ain't no thing chicken wing! (They love Kesler down in Nashville, I hear).
Photo Credit: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
The Canucks ended their three game losing skid on Thursday night, and did so in fine fashion with a dynamite third period on the road against the team that beat them a week earlier and initially set off the string of Canucks defeats. Vancouver's new defensive pairings looked pretty good with a couple of qualifications - Tanev and Edler were a bit too low-event for my liking (neutring at least some of Edler's effectiveness) and Bieksa's two-way game is still iffy - and Jordan Schroeder and Mason Raymond continued to impress on a speedy third-line alongside David Booth. Those are good signs for the Canucks, who should only get better as Ryan Kesler finds his form and the Sedin twins work their way further into an offensive groove.
Tonight the Canucks, who have faced a platter of second-tier - or at least untested - netminders over the past eight games including Leland Irving, Chris Nilstrop, Ray Emery, Jake Allen, Darcy Kuemper and Richard Bachman, will face Pekka Rinne (probably) and his bottomless glove hand. I'd say that represents a step up in quality, that is unless Barry Trotz decides to roll out Chris Mason instead...
Read on past the jump.
Puckdrop: 5 PM PST
Television: Sportsnet Pacific
Radio: The Team
In terms of possession numbers, the Nashville Predators are a mediocre hockey club at even-strength and their roster is largely bereft of offensive pop. But they're still a top team in the Western Conference because they're a super-elite defensive group and they play in front of all-universe netminder Pekka Rinne - who is off to a monster start this season.
Pekka Rinne's been so good that his numbers are unsustainable, but he won't slip as much over the balance of this season as a lesser goaltender would. Rinne's athleticism makes him probably the single most entertaining goaltender to watch in the league, he boasts probably the quickest glove-hand in the entire world and his puck-handling allows him to control the game unlike most any other goaltender in the NHL. He'll pose a difficult test for Vancouver's shooters, who have found their offensive stride over the past eight games (albeit mostly against second rate goaltending).
In front of Rinne, the Predators rely on Shea Weber to do the bulk of their heavy-lifting and one presumes that he'll be well acquianted with the Sedins and Alex Burrows by the end of Friday night's game. Weber is playing some of the toughest minutes in the entire league and he's performed pretty damn well considering (though his possession numbers are well under-water). On his left-side, filling (unfair nickname warning) Ryan "Anson Carter" Suter's old cushy spot as Weber's sidekick is the smooth Swiss puck mover Roman Josi - who is a very impressive two-way talent.
Nashville's defense is solid beyond that, and former Vancouver Giant defenseman Jonathon Blum has been particularly steady in a top-four role, but the Predators are still extremely reliant on Shea Weber which gives a deep team like the Vancouver Canucks a decided advantage. Look for the performance of Kesler's and Schroeder's lines to be decisive - if they can produce anything offensively, Nashville will be in tough.
Up front the Preds are deploying Paul Gaustad in a Manny Malhotra-type defensive specialist role, while Mike Fisher is their two-way ace and David Legwand - who is having a rough go of it so far this season - is cast as Nashville's more offensively oriented top-six centreman. Patric Hornqvist has been generating shots at a ridiculous rate since his return from injury earlier in the week and he's always a handful to contain in the slot. In particular, I could see his size and strength causing issues for Chris Tanev in a slot battle, so that might be a matchup to look out for.
Presumably Jannik Hansen - fresh off of his first career suspension for an incidental headshot on Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa - will draw back into the lineup, and I'd anticipate that he'll join Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins on the second line, with Zack Kassian dropping down the lineup to play with Maxim Lapierre and one of Dale Weise or Aaron Volpatti. But who knows at this point (I'll update this post when I hear more). Also I'd expect the defensive pairings, which tightened up significantly after a fire drill performance at the Mad House on Tuesday night to remain untouched, but we'll wait and see. Meanwhile Roberto Luongo will get the start on the second game of a back to back, and he'll look to rebound from an uneven outing against the St. Louis Blues last Sunday.
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