Meet the Nashville Predators

We don't get to see much of the Nashville Predators around here, so when the Flyers waltz in to Nashville Arena Gaylord Entertainment Center Sommet Center Bridgestone Arena (we do have something in common!) tonight, a lot of us might not know what to expect. With the help of Dirk from On the Forecheck and his fine work covering the Preds, we bring you this primer on all that is hockey in Nashville. Dirk's stuff is in block quotes, logically.

While they lack a big-name offensive star (and might not have a single player reach 50 points), the Preds are 12th in Goals Per Game. They perhaps embody the "scoring by committee" tag better than any NHL team in recent memory.

A lot of us think the Flyers are down in the scoring department this year, especially compared to a year ago when the orange and black had about 200 different 20-goal scorers. But this year, the potency is still there for most of the guys. In Nashville, it's spread around like rice in North Korea (okay, bad analogy).

While the Preds could potentially have nobody cross the 50 point mark, the Flyers already have two players there and will likely have three or four come the end of the season. Nashville is still able to put the puck in the net, however, because they have ten players with at least 30 points on the year. Scoring by committee, indeed.

While they enjoy a wealth of talented defensemen, the Predators are not a very good defensive team, 20th in Goals Against Per Game. Despite employing the characteristic work ethic that Barry Trotz is famous for instilling in his players, defensive coverage breakdowns are worryingly common.

Likely the reason Nashville picked up Denis Grebeshkov from Edmonton right before the trade deadline, they just aren't solid defensively. It's a very solid group they have, but the one thing that sticks out is that they're young. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are 24 and 25 years old and logging 20-plus minutes a night. Dan Hamhuis (heh, remember him?) is the anchor at age 28, but on the whole it's a relatively young group of guys.

We'll take defensive coverage breakdowns for the night, though. That's fine.

The goaltending this year has been decent, but certainly not outstanding, as has usually been the case in Nashville, and the penalty killing has been downright dreadful.

That last note there could go a long way toward determining the game. They're 29th on the power play, above only Toronto, in penalty killing. The Flyers power play is really good, even if it frustrates us at times. There's no arguing with third in the league.

The power play, typically the Achilles heel of Predators teams, has sparked to life in recent weeks and has climbed to 17th in the latest team statistics.

I've read several times this morning from people down in Nashville that the Preds power play is their key to the game tonight, given that the Flyers lead the league in penalties. One thing clearly of utmost importance: the Flyers have taken very few penalties lately.

Excluding Avery-fest '10 on Sunday, they took one minor on Thursday, one minor on Tuesday, and just two the Friday before against Buffalo. I also ignored the Blackhawks game and the Leafs game because they didn't prove my point, but you see what I mean here. They can stay disciplined and have shown it several times lately, and if that can happen, it nullifies this advantage for Nashville.

But okay, enough about the team. What's it like to watch a game in Nashville? This excerpt from a series James Mirtle ran over on SBN's From The Rink back in March of last year highlights it quite well, I'd say.

It's a hockey locale unlike any other, and a pretty surreal experience for someone who grew up typically Canadian, playing shinny on the pond and watching junior hockey at the local rink.

Me, I loved it. And I can see why so many NHLers enjoy playing in Nashville.

For one thing, Music City, USA, didn't strike me as all that different from a lot of small Canadian towns — including the one I grew up in. There's great BBQ, friendly people, lots of Nickelback and all the cowboy paraphernalia you could want. The Predators' players and staff also have the advantage of being able to pretty much come and go as they please, showing up in local haunts after games — although they're far from anonymous.  There are plenty of superfans who recognize the players, but they're treated for the most part as minor celebs in a town used to having famous acts come through.

The fans themselves, for the two games I saw, were terrific. Unique, sure, especially given all of their various chants (I've never seen a fan base get so excited when their team goes on the power play, for example, or thank the PA announcer for telling them there was one minute remaining in the period), but a lot of fun. Preds fans have built up their own traditions separate from those you see in arenas in Canada and the Northeastern U.S., and even have a band nestled above the zamboni entrance that plays during intermissions. They're also proud of the fact that the Preds were the first NHL team to employ cheerleaders.

This is football country, after all.

If you're interested in Nashville hockey at all, I'd urge you to go read the entire series James did on the team when he made a trip down there last February. It's lengthy but all very fascinating, an excellent window into what Nashville hockey is like. You know, breaking down stereotypes and stuff.

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