The Bruins will visit Nashville tonight, for their one and only visit to the Music City this season.
This game is a crucial one for the Predators, who are right in the thick of the Western Conference's tightly bunched playoff race. 4th place and 10th place are separated by a mere 5 points. At 35-25-10, the Predators sit 10th, with 80 points, and are surely cursing geography for placing them in the West, as their 80 points would have them in 6th in the East, with a small cushion on 7th and 8th.
The Bruins sit atop the Northeast Division, and 3rd in the East, with 39-21-9 for 87 points. They snapped a 4 game losing streak in Columbus Tuesday night.
This game figures to feature arguably the two best goaltenders in the NHL. Tim Thomas and Pekka Rinne are 1-2 in GAA and save percentage, and both should go tonight. The similarities, however, end there.
The Predators will try to slow it down and rely on their defense and goaltending to carry them; opponents are putting 30.0 shots per night on Predators' goaltending, 19th in the league. Their offense averages 28.8 shots per game, 24th in the league, and their 2.47 goals per are 26th. Nashville's two best skaters, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, are both blueliners, and Coach Barry Trotz relies heavily on those two horses; they are 1-2 on the team in ice time, with each averaging a Zdeno Chara-esque 25+ minutes per night (25:19 for Weber and 25:12 for Suter).
There's not a whole lot of talent up front, however. Martin Erat leads the team in assists with 29, and Patric Hornqvist leads in goals, with a 2009-10 Bruins-worthy 18.
The Bruins are a team far more apt to inspire Jack Edwards to shout "and end to end they go!" The B's are allowing 33.3 shots per night (worst in the NHL), and taking 33.0 (4th best). We've talked previously about how the defense must tighten up and minimize shots, but alas, little has changed. Contrary to their reputation, the Bruins are a team far more interested in playing fire wagon hockey.
Don't look for anyone to drop the gloves in this one, either. The Bruins may rank as the NHL's second-most belligerent team, with 66 fighting majors, but the Predators are devout pacifists, with 14 fights, second-fewest. You've probably got a better chance at seeing a good fight at a Bruins intra-squad scrimmage.
The B's will be without Brad Marchand for this game and also Saturday night. Marchand has been suspended for two games for his hit on R.J. Umberger. It looks like Rich Peverley, a hero on Tuesday night, will take his place on the second line. Michael Ryder, a scratch Tuesday, will return to his spot on the third line, with Tyler Seguin and Chris Kelly.
Injury-wise, the Bruins are in pretty good shape; Andrew Ference (lower body) is questionable, and, of course, Marc Savard (concussion) is out. The Predators are pretty banged up; F Joel Ward (lower body) is questionable. F Matthew Lombardi (concussion), F Steve Sullivan (groin), F Marcel Goc (shoulder), D Francis Bouillon (concussion) and F Cal O'Reilly (leg) are out.
The puck drops at 8 pm, and the game will be televised on NESN. DirecTV viewers can catch the Bruins broadcast on 778, and the Predators broadcast on 779. 98.5 will have the radio feed, as usual. Head over to On The Forecheck for more Predators coverage.
Finally, Happy St. Patrick's Day from those of us here at Stanley Cup of Chowder! Please enjoy tonight's game with a Guinness or six.