Tonight is the 6th of eight games between these two Central Division teams. The Wings lead the season series 3-2, with wins January 6th (3-1
), February 8th (6-0) and February 9th (3-2). The Predators won two in a row in Detroit on January 23rd (3-2
) and 24th (2-1 OT
The Wings have won their last six and are leading the 'Canes by one point for the top spot in the league. They're coming off a successful two-game, two-win trip to Western Canada on Saturday and Sunday and return home with wins against possible playoff opponents Vancouver
under their belts. After playing the Preds tonight, they will face another possible first round opponent, the San Jose Sharks, before playing four games against Central Division teams, including another against Nashville. After that, it's April and the final stretch of the season.
I get the impression that Babcock may start rotating goalies until one falters. That puts Manny Legace in net tonight, since Chris Osgood played Sunday night. That is, if Manny's over his "flu-like symptoms."
The Predators have won six of their last seven, five of which were against Northwest Division teams. (Suddenly, the Wings beating Vancouver and Edmonton is a really good thing) Tomas Vokoun has had two shutouts in the past four games, though he allowed four in the Preds' 9-4 trouncing of Calgary on Saturday. They beat St. Louis 4-2 at home last night.
Nashville is solidly in the fourth seed of the Conference, nine points back of the Wings and eight points ahead of the next non-division leader, Colorado. There is about as much uncertainty as to what their first round opponent will be as there is for the Wings. There are six teams in the 76-82 point range, any four of which could make the playoffs.
Barry Trotz went with Chris Mason last night so that Tomas Vokoun would be fresh and ready to start in net tonight. He'll be looking to redeem himself after his last performances against the Wings.
Mikael Samuelsson is slated to return tonight, based on the FSN broadcast Sunday. It's a bit of a shame, really, since it means Mowers will be out of the lineup again. He's been great in Samuelsson's absence and I think it's too bad he doesn't have a regular spot, though maybe that's what keeps him motivated for the stretches in which he does play.
Not really related but there is an interesting quote from Vancouver's Eric Weinrich in today's Detroit News (from the Vancouver Sun):
"Steve Yzerman was there at a faceoff telling me how embarrassing he thinks it is every night with so many calls. Does anyone want to see 30 minutes of penalties a night? I guess Gary Bettman does." I guess neither side was too thrilled with the officiating on Sunday night. What's interesting about that quote is that Yzerman is still yapping about the New NHL, which despite an annoyingly high number of penalties, has been pretty successful and good to watch. If the refs are still calling 30 minutes of penalties every night at this stage of the season after calling it mostly the same way all year, who's fault is it, Steve?
Tonight's game should be a good one. I think the Preds have the advantage, not having recently returning from a Western Canada trip, but hopefully that won't be as much of a factor for the Wings as it has been. They said during the broadcast on Sunday that the Wings have previously been given a day off after the last game of Western road trips before heading home. We all know what generally happens their first game back after that rest. This time, they apparently left right after the game, in an effort to shake things up. We'll see if it worked tonight.