Nashville Predators (18-12-4, 40 pts) @ Dallas Stars (19-13-1, 39 pts)
7:30 PM CT, December 23, 2011
American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
Dallas gets a chance to end their short three-game home stand on a positive note as the Nashville Predators come into town tonight. The Stars are coming off a game where they were dominated 4-1 by the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The Stars are currently tied for first in the Pacific Division with the Phoenix Coyotes and the San Jose Sharks and if things go right tonight, they could go into the Christmas break with sole possession of first place.
The problem with the game with the Flyers was the penalty-kill for the Stars. That could show up again tonight as the Predators are the second-best power-play team in the NHL, converting on 21.7% of their chances. Their road PP (19.7%) isn't as good as their home precentages (24.1%) but that's certainly more than dangerous enough for the Stars. They have to stay out of the penalty box tonight if they want to win this game.
The Preds are ranked 24th in the NHL in PK percentage (79.8%) , but don't let that fool you. The majority of that percentage is due to how bad they are on their home PK (72%, second worst in the NHL). On the road, they are actually one of the best teams in the league with a 85.1 PK percentage (8th best in the NHL).
The Predators are coming off a 6-5 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets and have actually been one of the hottest teams in the NHL in the past two weeks. Since Dec. 8, the Predators have gone 6-1-0 riding the goaltending of Pekka Rinne. Their one loss came when Rinne had a day off and backup goalie Anders Lindback was in net. That one loss was also their only road game in that stretch. Each of the Predators wins in that stretch have come by a one-goal margin though so if Dallas can keep this close, they certainly have a chance as Dallas has been great in one-goal games this season (12-2-1, the best in the league).
Nashville doesn't have a single player with double digit goals this year but Dallas needs to keep an eye on two defensemen today, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Weber leads the team in points (28), assists (20), and +/- (17) while Suter is second one the team in assists and +/- and third on the team in points. The Stars have to close down on them quickly or those shots from the point are going to give Bachman trouble. Both are especially dangerous on the man-advantage.
Weber has 7 points in his last 4 games (2 goals, 5 assists) so he's definitely the player to try to shut down tonight.
Pekka Rinne should be the starting goaltender tonight for the Preds. They look like they will be missing one player, defenseman Kevin Klein who is suffering from the flu.
Dallas will start Richard Bachman for the seventh straight game. They will be without Tomas Vincour (knee), Kari Lehtonen (groin) and Stephane Robidas (foot) tonight. Philip Larsen will return from his charley horse injury tonight and it sounds like Gulutzan is willing to play seven defensemen tonight. Gulutzan said that if that happens, he will double shift Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson tonight.
- Eriksson is riding a four game point streak right now (1 goal and 5 assists). Those are the only points that he has this month in 9 games played.
- Michael Ryder has scored a goal in three staight games and has now taken over the team lead in that category with 12 goals on the season.
- Shea Weber is a great player, but the Stars have been able to shut him down in their own matchups. In 10 career games against the Stars, Weber has only 2 assists and is -5.
- In the last three games, the Predators penalty kill has been 6 of 14 (42.8%).