BLACKHAWKS (9-0-2) at PREDATORS (5-2-4)
TV: Fox Sports Tennessee (Dish: 449/HD: 9519; Direct TV: 644/HD: 644-1 ; Comcast Nashville 1675; Comcast Chattanooga/Cleveland/Knoxville 401; Comcast Memphis 830; Charter Nashville 33/810; AT&T Nashville 724/1724)
Radio: Preds Radio Network Flagship - 102.5-FM The Game Radio Network; Network Affiliates
TONIGHT’S STORYLINES vs. CHICAGO
Sunday’s game marks the 82nd all-time meeting between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks and is the first of five contests between the clubs in 2012-13. After tonight, they don’t meet again until April, when they see each other four times in a three-week span (April 1, 6, 7 and 19). A season ago, the Predators claimed their first outright season series victory over the Blackhawks since 2006-07, posting a 4-1-1 record and outscoring Chicago 25-16. The Preds have claimed four of the last six meetings between the clubs on Bridgestone Arena ice, and has posted a 21-13-6 record all-time against the Hawks at Bridgestone Arena.
Prior to dropping the last meeting of the 2011-12 season by a 5-4 score on March 31, 2012, the Preds posted a 4-0-1 record against the Hawks, including their largest margin of victory on the season in a 6-1 win on March 25, 2012. Nashville also won by scores of 5-2 (Jan. 21), 3-2 (Jan. 24) and 3-1 (Feb. 14), while scoring a combined eight goals in its two losses, meaning the Predators averaged 4.2 goals per game against the Blackhawks in 2011-12 with the power play being particularly successful, converting on 6-of-17 attempts (35.3 percent).
David Legwand led all Predators in scoring against Chicago a season ago with nine points (1g-8a) in six games. He has 55 career points (19g-36a) against Chicago – more points and assists than any other player against any team in franchise history… Patric Hornqvist (4g-3a-7pts, 5gp) and Mike Fisher (2g-4a-6pts, 5gp) also produced at greater than a point per game pace a season ago… Martin Erat has 15 points (6g-9a) in his last 18 games against Chicago.
NASHVILLE’S DEFENSE STAYS STRONG
Chris Mason put forth a solid effort for the Predators in Saturday night’s 2-1 overtime loss at Minnesota, stopping 30 of 32 shots in 64:21 of play to put his record at 1-0-1 (both games came at Minnesota) to go with a 1.44 goals-against average and a .963 save percentage.
Pekka Rinne – who recorded his first shutout of the season in his last start on Thursday vs. Los Angeles – is ranked fourth among starting netminders with a 1.81 goals-against average and is tied for fifth with a .933 save percentage. Rinne has won four straight starts, stopping 112 of the 115 shots he's faced for a .973 save percentage and a 0.74 goals-against average in that span. Additionally, Rinne has not given up an even-strength goal in 290:26 going back to the Phoenix game on Jan. 28, stopping 94 consecutive even-strength shots in that span. Since the start of the 2008-09 season, the Kempele, Finland native is tied with the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist for first in shutouts (26), and is seventh in wins (141).
Overall, Nashville’s team defensive numbers are just as solid. The Predators have the lowest goals-against average in the League (1.81) and is second to Vancouver for the fewest even-strength goals against (11).
HOME ICE ADVANTAGE
Nashville has been one of the League’s best teams on home ice since the beginning of the 2005-06 season, compiling 182 home victories, tied for fourth and just one win shy of third place. The Predators are the only team in the NHL to post at least 23 home victories in seven consecutive seasons.
Tonight is expected to be the team’s franchise-record 17th consecutive sellout dating back to March 6, 2012 vs. L.A. Last season, the Predators sold out a record 25 games and averaged 16,690 fans, the highest average attendance in a single season. The team sold out all five 2012 playoff games, and the first three games of 2012-13 to bring the streak to 16.
GOOSE IS LOOSE
On Saturday night, Paul Gaustad tallied his first regular-season goal in a Predators sweater when he beat Niklas Backstrom midway through the first period – he tallied his first goal for the Preds in Game One of the 2012 Western Conference Quarterfinals against Detroit (April 11, 2012). With the goal, Gaustad now has posted three points (1g-2a) in his last three games. He tallied his first multi-point effort (2a) of the season on Tuesday against the Blues – it was his first multi-point game since Jan. 31, 2012 (1g-2a). The Portland, Ore., native has been the Preds top face-off man this season and ranks among the League’s top players in face-off efficiency after winning 60.5 percent (103 of 170) of his face-offs this season, including 48 of 74 draws in Nashville’s last three games (64.8 percent).
EXTRA TIME REQUIRED AGAIN
The Predators went to extra time for the sixth time through 11 2012-13 games on Saturday at Minnesota, but for the first time in those six, the game was ended before the shootout. Minnesota’s Devin Setoguchi scored a power-play goal with 39 seconds remaining in sudden death to drop Nashville to 2-4 in post-third period play. In the two extra-time games prior to Saturday, the Preds claimed shootout decisions, winning Jan. 31 at Los Angeles and Feb. 2 at San Jose by identical 2-1 scores. A season ago, Nashville only needed the shootout 10 times (5-5) – tied for eighth fewest times in the League – and didn’t reach its fifth shootout of the campaign until Feb. 7, 2012, game No. 53. In 2011-12, the team didn’t need extra time for a sixth time until game No. 28 on Dec. 8, 2011 against Columbus.
LAST TIME OUT: Nashville 1, Minnesota 2 (OT) at XCEL Energy Center
The Predators have collected at least a point in five straight games (4-0-1)… The Predators lost their first game in overtime this season. All of their previous extra-time games have gone to the shootout (2-3)… Craig Smith collected his first assist of the season on Paul Gaustad’s first period goal… Shea Weber compiled more than 30 minutes of ice time for the second time this season (30:01), leading the team in the category for the 10th straight game. He now ranks sixth in the League in average ice time per game (27:13). Despite his high ice time, he has only been on the ice for two even-strength goals against… Colin Wilson recorded his highest ice time (22:01) since March 27, 2010 vs. Detroit (22:26)… With 26 shots on goal, including 12 shots in the third period, Nashville compiled its largest shot total since the last time these two teams met on Jan. 22… Mike Fisher led all Preds skaters with four shots on goal… The Predators were on the man-advantage six times in the game, tying their most power play opportunities of the season (six against St. Louis on Jan. 21)… Nashville blocked 16 shots on the night and is now tied for the seventh-most blocks on the season (177)… Nashville was outshot for the 10th straight game, but rank among the League’s Top 10 teams in winning percentage when being outshot (5-2-3; .500)… Nashville scored first for the eighth time in their 11 games this season, earning a point in each of those contests (4-0-4).
SUCCESS AGAINST THE CENTRAL
Though Nashville has started the 2012-13 season with an 1-1-2 record against divisional opponents, there will be plenty of opportunities to improve on that mark as this season’s 48-game schedule configuration calls for the Predators to play two Central Division opponents five times (Columbus and Chicago), two Central Division opponents four times (Detroit and St. Louis), and all other Western Conference teams three times each. A season ago, the Preds had the second-best intra-conference record, going 40-19-5 against the West versus 8-7-3 against the Eastern Conference. More importantly, Nashville posted a 16-5-3 (.729) against the Central Division, which along with the Atlantic, became the first two divisions to have four teams reach the 100-point plateau since the NHL went to its current format for the 1993-94 season. That was good for the third-best intra-divisional winning percentage behind Boston (19-4-1, .813) and Vancouver (18-5-1, .771), each of whom were the lone 100-point teams in the Northeast and Northwest Divisions, respectively.
The line of Gabriel Bourque, David Legwand and Colin Wilson has been in on eight of Nashville’s last 12 goals. Wilson has six points (2g-4a) in his last four games, while Bourque has posted points (2g-1a) in three of his last five games… Kevin Klein has registered a +7 rating over the last seven games, while Colin Wilson is a +5 in his last four outings. Rich Clune is the only player on the team to record a plus or even rating in every game he’s played in 2012-13… Scott Hannan is among NHL leaders in blocked shots (28), while Mike Fisher leads all NHL forwards in blocked shots (16).
Tonight, the Predators will start their second of nine sets of back-to-backs in 2012-13. Six times the Preds will play one game at home and one on the road, twice they’ll hit Bridgestone Arena ice on back-to-back days, and on one occasion will play two road games in two nights. A season ago, Nashville was 8-3-0 on the front-end of back-to-backs, and 5-6-0 on the back end. In the Preds’ first set of back-to-backs this season on Jan. 21-22, they dropped a 4-3 shootout decision on home ice to the St. Louis Blues before downing the Wild in St. Paul, 3-1, the following evening.
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