Canadiens at Predators - Game Preview

Richard Wolowicz

Taking on a similar team in the struggling Predators, can the Habs muster some offence and head into their seven day holiday layoff with a win?

The Montreal Canadiens opponents this evening, the Nashville Predators, may be the dictionary definition of unspectacular.

In terms of even strength play, the Predators sit 17th overall, with a fenwick close percentage of 49.7%.

The Predators ice two respectable special teams, including a powerplay and penalty kill that each sneak into the top ten.

Perhaps most significantly, the Preds can't buy a goal. With a shooting percentage of 6.9%, Nashville has scored fewer goals than any other team in the NHL, save for only the Buffalo Sabres.

At face value, the above information presents no startling revelations. What may be of concern, however, is that Habs are about as close as one can get to mirroring Nashville's middling production.

Average possession play? A sorry lack of even strength goals, coupled with over-reliance on the powerplay to produce goals? Struggling of late to translate this recipe to wins? Check, check, and check.

At this point in the season, the Habs are Nashville North, except with Carey Price in net, P.K. Subban on the powerplay blue-line, and the huge advantage of playing in the Eastern Conference.

The Predators are an interesting case, as the now adolescent franchise has carried forward the same two administrators for the entire duration of their existence. Barry Trotz and David Poile have built a team that includes superstar defenceman Shea Weber, a notable young player in Seth Jones, and an impressive assortment of grit and depth players. A quick glance at Nashville's recent lineup configuration reads like one giant middle six, with no glaring weak spots or roster defining scorers.

The organization, when one considers young talent like Jones, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Ellis, has a foundation of talent that should allow the team to be successful in the future. As of this writing, it looks like the Preds just don't have the horses to contend this season.

This realization seems to have taken root in Tennessee, as well, and perhaps for the first time, there appears to be real momentum behind the notion that new leadership is necessary in Nashville. On the Forecheck takes an interesting look at the Predators focus on grit and character (or as they refer to it, the "Grit Fetish"), and how that operating philosophy has impacted the current standing of the team. In the past two years, the Preds have taken a major talent downgrade, losing impact players like Ryan Suter, Alexander Radulov, and the Kostitsyns. Jones and Forsberg are up-and-comers, but right this second, the talent level doesn't appear playoff-worthy.

Compounding this issue, of course, is the injury to Rinne, but also some lineup decisions that appear to be based mostly on frustration. On a team starving for scoring forwards, the dynamic Colin Wilson was recently benched for the crime of failing to "buy-in." As the Habs learned two seasons ago, the mismanagement inherent to failing to correctly identify where a team's problems lie can turn a competitive but unlucky or injured squad into a draft lottery disaster. In fact, there are likely many Habs fans hoping that the same concept isn't manifesting itself in Montreal as we speak.

So, what do the Habs need to do to get a win tonight? Assuming that Carey Price provides his customary staunch effort, especially against an offensively-challenged team like the Predators, the biggest factor will likely become whether Montreal can manage some even strength scoring on Marek Marzanac or Carter Hutton. Brendan Gallagher finally took the monkey off his back with a goal against St. Louis, and Max Pacioretty has been putting up big shot numbers in big minutes of late. The Canadiens are mired in their greatest scoring slump of the season, and while there are obvious systems and personnel issues playing a role, it's only a matter of time before the Habs turn things around in that department.

For the Preds' perspective (from one of the better blogs on the SBN network), and a look at the prognosis on Pekka, skate over to On the Forecheck.

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