THE STORY: One of the hottest teams in the NHL runs into one of the coldest. The Nashville Predators have won eight of their last 11 games on the strength of a stifling defensive game, while the Senators’ loose play in their own end has all but cost them a playoff spot. Ottawa can enter the two-day Christmas break on a high note, but it still has plenty of work to do to become relevant in the standings again.
THE SUBPLOTS: The Senators just can’t stop blowing leads. The latest collapse was Sunday night, when they gave up a 2-0 lead against the struggling Washington Capitals en route to a 3-2 loss. The game before that, they blew four leads against the Colorado Avalanche. Their performance has led to criticism that they lack the killer instinct that good teams possess.
THE WILDCARD: Sergei Gonchar, Senators. After another blue line giveaway kicked off the Caps’ comeback, the focus shifted to Gonchar’s struggles this season. The splashy off-season signing has a team-worst minus-19 rating and hasn’t been able to crack the NHL Top-25 in defenceman scoring. Any Ottawa turnaround will likely coincide with his improvement.
THE OPPONENT: The Predators have been playing well of late, but the Senators are catching them at the right time. Nashville played the night before in Chicago and lost 4-1 to the defending Cup champs. They’ve also been decimated by injury, and you have to think that’ll catch up with them at some point. Will it be tonight?
THE QUOTE: “We need to continue to go to the net, shoot the puck. Our attacks, we have to have a middle lane drive, we have to have layers on our attack, which at times we have, at times we don’t. When we do, we’re much more effective. What I mean by that, I mean that defencemen join the rush and become the second wave. Just be strong at the net.” — Senators coach Cory Clouston on what his team has to do to win.
THE SICK BAY: Senators — G Pascal Leclaire (lower body). Predators — D Matthew Lombardi (concussion, indefinite), G Pekka Rinne (knee surgery, 2-4 weeks), C Steve Sullivan (lower body, questionable), C David Legwand (lower body, questionable), W Patric Hornqvist (probable, upper body).
THE PREDICTION: This season is shaping up a lot like the one that resulted in Cory Clouston’s hiring. At this point in 2009, the Senators were a disappointing 12-15-5 and headed into the Christmas break with a 6-4 loss. I don’t see them coming away with a Dec. 23 win this time out either. The Preds have allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL and are particularly tough at home. Hard to pick against them here. Preds 4, Sens 1.