PREDATORS (5-2-3) at WILD (4-5-1)
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PEKKA RINNE POSTS 26TH CAREER SHUTOUT, LEADS NASHVILLE’S STINGY DEFENSE
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped all 32 shots he faced on Thursday vs. Los Angeles to record his 26th career shutout, and first of the 2012-13 season, in addition to his fourth consecutive win. 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 tied with Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov for sixth in wins (141).
In the last four games, Rinne has stopped 112 of the 115 shots he's faced for a .973 save percentage and a 0.74 goals-against average. 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. The 258th overall selection (eighth round) in the 2004 Entry Draft has lowered his 2012-13 goals-against average to 1.81, the fifth-best mark among netminders who have started more than two games, and .933 save percentage, sixth best in the NHL.
Overall, Nashville’s team defensive numbers are just as solid. The Predators have the lowest goals-against average in the League (1.80) and enter Saturday’s games tied with Vancouver for the fewest even-strength goals against (10)
The line of Gabriel Bourque, David Legwand and Colin Wilson has come up big for the Predators during their current four-game win streak. Since the 4-0 loss to Phoenix on Jan. 28, the line has been in on eight of Nashville’s 11 goals and has posted an even or better rating in the four victories.
Wilson recorded his second-career multi-goal game (Dec. 28, 2010 vs. Dallas) on Thursday night, giving him points in three straight games (2g-4a) for the second time in his career (Dec. 8-13, 2012). The Greenwich, Conn., native is now tied with Martin Erat for the team lead in point this season (3g-4a).
With his first period goal on Thursday night, Bourque has now posted points (2g-1a) in three of his last four games, including goals in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. The goal was also Bourque’s first game-winner of the season. Since returning the Predators on Jan. 22, the Rimouski, Que., native has recorded four points (2g-2a) in eight games.
Legwand has tallied two assists in his last four games; giving him four points (2g-2a) on the year for the Preds. He went 7-for-12 (58.3 percent) in the face-off circle on Thursday night and ranks among Nashville’s top face-off men after winning 50.3 percent of his draws this season (74-for-149).
LAST TIME OUT: Los Angeles 0, Nashville 3 at Bridgestone Arena
The Predators shut out an opponent for the first time since April 5, 2012, when they downed the Stars (2-0)… Nashville has allowed the fewest goals in the league (18) and the third fewest even-strength goals (10)… With Gabriel Bourque’s first period goal, the Preds have now scored first in seven of their 10 games this season, earning a point in each of those contests (4-0-3)… Kevin Klein posted two helpers on the night – his first multi-point outing since April 7, 2012 (2a) – to give him points in back-to-back games (1g-2a)… Playing in the 500th career game, Paul Gaustad won 11 straight face-offs from the start of the second period until 6:28 of the third to finish 15-for-22 in the face-off circle (68 percent). In his last three games, Gaustad has won 61-of-93 face-offs (65.5 percent) and now ranks among the League’s Top 10 in face-off efficiency (60.8 percent)… Shea Weber recorded his first point of the season with an assist on Colin Wilson’s power-play goal… With his assist on Wilson’s first goal, Brandon Yip has assists in back-to-back games for the second time in his career… Nashville was shorthanded just three times – their lowest total since Jan. 22 at Minnesota… Nashville allowed only three power-play opportunities – the eighth time in 10 games that they’ve allowed three or fewer power plays in a game… Nashville has been outshot in nine of its first 10 games (5-2-2)… The third period was second-fewest combined shots in franchise history (6).
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.
The Predators rank no lower than eighth in the NHL in the following categories: first-period goals (tied for sixth, 11), fewest times shorthanded (seventh, 38), average penalty minutes (seventh, 12.4), five-on-five goals for/against ratio (eighth at 1.40) and face-off percentage (eighth, 51.4 percent)… Nashville has gone to a shootout in five of its first 10 games – tied for the most in the League. The Predators dropped their first three shootout decisions, before taking back-to-back 2-1 wins on Jan. 31 at Los Angeles and Feb. 2 at San Jose, with shooters going a combined 5 for 10 (50 percent) and Pekka Rinne stopping 8 of 11 shots (.727). 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… Shea Weber has led the team in ice time all but twice through 10 games and is ranked seventh in the NHL in average ice time (26:56). Despite his high ice time, he has only been on the ice for two even-strength goals against… Kevin Klein has registered a +7 rating over the last six games, while Colin Wilson is a +5 in his last three 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 tied for ninth among NHLers in blocked shots (26), while Mike Fisher leads all NHL forwards in blocked shots (15)… Among NHL forwards, Paul Gaustad is tied for eighth in average shorthanded ice time (3:21).
TONIGHT’S STORYLINES vs. MINNESOTA
The Predators visit St. Paul for the second and final time on Saturday night, with the final game of the season series coming at Bridgestone Arena on March 9. Nashville played its first road game of 2012-13 at the Excel Energy Center on Jan. 22, posting its first win of the season, 3-1. After falling behind 1-0, Nick Spaling tied the game late in the first, and after a scoreless second, Martin Erat potted the game-winning goal at 11:45 of the third. David Legwand added a power-play insurance marker in the final minute of regulation. Chris Mason made his season debut in the victory, stopping 29 shots.
Last month’s win extended Nashville’s active winning streak to four over the Wild dating back to Dec. 28, 2011, and helped improve it to 7-1-0 going back to Dec. 31, 2010. The Preds have also claimed victory in three of their last four trips to the Twin Cities, including Jan 31, 2012, when Nashville scored four goals in the final 10:38 of regulation to down Minnesota 5-4 in the first game after the All-Star Break. It was one of two regulation wins by Nashville after trailing by three goals at some point in the game in 2011-12 – the Predators were was the only team to do it.
Erat leads all active Predators in points vs. Minnesota with 27 (12g-15a) in 34 games. He scored his first career goal on Oct. 30, 2001 vs. Minnesota (goalie Dwayne Roloson)… Spaling also had an assist in the first meeting of 2012-13. He has eight points (5g-3a) in nine career games against the Wild, including his most recent of two career two-goal games on March 10, 2011 vs. Minnesota… Pekka Rinne is 8-3-1 with a 2.20 goals-against average and three shutouts against Minnesota.