Friday, March 23, 2012

Preds try to lay aside distractions as Jets come to Nashville

Over the past week, the Nashville Predators have been the focus of the hockey world. Alexander Radulov made his return to Music City, and the epicenter of hockey talk throughout the NHL has been centered around the Predators. During this circus-like atmosphere, the Predators have been out-scored by an 11-4 margin in their last two games.

The Predators will try to get back on the winning track on Saturday night as they host the Winnipeg Jets for the first time this year in the regular season. Radulov will be playing in front of the home crowd for the first time this season, and the expectations for this Nashville team is higher than it ever has been before. However, high expectations don't automatically mean that a team is going to win.

Since the All-Star break, the Predators have posted a 12-8-4 record. They have been keeping pace with most of the Western Conference, but haven't been playing their best hockey. As the end of the regular season quickly approaches, now is the time for the Predators to start gearing up for their best hockey.

Winnipeg is coming off of a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on Friday night. The Jets were down 3-0 at one point during the game, but battled back to get a critical victory. With the win, the Jets are only four points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. However, they will be on the back half of a back-to-back set when they visit Nashville on Saturday night.

Saturday night is the biggest game of the season so far for the Predators. They have only one win in their past five games, and need to collect as many points as they can. Next week, the Predators will undergo a week full of Central Division contests that will be hotly contested. Collecting two points against Winnipeg is crucial for Nashville's confidence heading into next week.

With Pekka Rinne struggling in his last three starts, combined with the fact that Nashville will travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks on Sunday, don't be surprised if Anders Lindback gets the start on Saturday night against Winnipeg. Lindback has played well in his starts as of late, and was finally rewarded with a win last Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks.

My player to watch for the Jets is Evander Kane. At only 20 years of age, Kane is arguably the most dynamic offensive option for Winnipeg. He leads the Jets in goals scored this year with 28, and is emerging as one of the bright young stars in the NHL.

For Nashville, my player to watch is Nick Spaling. Spaling hasn't scored a goal for the Predators in his last 12 games. His longest streak without a goal so far this season has been 12 games on two seperate occasions. He's due.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)