After playing nine of their past 12 games on the road, the Nashville Predators return to the Sommet Center tonight for the second of eight meetings in 2007-08 with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Preds now play four of their next five and eight of the next 12 in the Music City.
These same two teams met at the United Center just 11 days ago with Nashville claiming a 5-2 victory thanks in large part to the play of Alexander Radulov. The sophomore winger ended the evening with a goal and an assist for the first of back-to-back multi-point games. The win was the fifth in six outings for Nashville, and part of its recent 6-1-1 hot streak.
The top line of J.P. Dumont, Jason Arnott, and Martin Erat have provided the most consistent offense as of late, combining for nine points and all four goals in a 4-1 rout of Columbus at Nationwide Arena on Monday. Arnott paces the team in points with 16 (6g-10a), while Erat holds the team lead in assists with 11 – this includes a career-best two-goal, two-assist effort last game.
“Skating is paramount for that entire line,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “When they are skating and using their speed they are a pretty dynamic line – you have some speed, some smarts and some size, in addition to veteran savvy and leadership.”
Despite having a career-best five-game points (3g-4a) streak snapped last game, expect David Legwand to bring it against the Hawks. In addition to pacing the team a season ago with 13 points (6g-7a) in eight games against Chicago, Legwand holds the record for most points by a Predator against a single opponent with 34 (14g-20a) in 37 games.
Chris Mason has also pieced together several solid outings during the current stretch, holding a 3-0-1 record and .945 save percentage in his last four games. It hasn’t just been Mason – though he hasn’t started since Oct. 2, Dan Ellis is the league leader in goals-against average (1.35) and save percentage (.952).
“I look at goaltenders like starting pitchers, if you get good production you are going to have a good chance to win,” Trotz said. “Good goaltending can control the confidence for a club a lot of times and it is primary for success in this league”
The Predators (9-7-1) are not only looking to jump three games over .500 for the first time all season, but also to overtake Chicago (10-8-0) in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dropped a 4-2 decision in Columbus last night, and have not fared well of late in their series with Nashville, as the Preds have gone 5-0-1 in the last six games.
The young and exciting Blackhawks are led by the top two rookie scorers in Patrick Kane (7g-14a-21pts.) and Jonathan Toews (7g-7a-14pts.). The pair has helped create a potent power play, ranking fifth in the NHL (22.2%), and third in the league on the road (30.8%).
“They are dynamic,” Trotz said. “Toews plays a very mature game – he looks like a veteran, always playing real smart. He reminds me of a young Steve Yzerman-type of player. Patrick Kane is sort of like Steve Sullivan the way he can make plays at high speeds. You try to hit him and he gets free. The Chicago Blackhawks have a real good future with those two as building blocks.”
The game is the fifth of eight straight the Preds will play against Central Division foes, having gone 3-0-1 thus far.
Following tonight the Predators will suit up again Saturday, when Paul Kariya returns to Nashville for the first time since signing with the St. Louis Blues this summer. Nashville will be seeking revenge for a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Blues in its first road game of the season Oct. 10. Tickets to the game are still available by calling (615) 770-PUCK, logging on to nashvillepredators.com or ticketmaster.com, and by visiting the Sommet Center Box Office located in the arena two. Opening puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT.
TONIGHT’S STORYLINES: Nashville is averaging 2.10 goals per game in 10 road contests and 3.86 goals per home game… Radek Bonk, Scott Nichol and Jason Arnott all boast better than a 50-percent face-off percentage… Nashville holds the all-time series advantage through 50 games at 24-20-6… Radek Bonk ranks among the league leaders in shooting percentage at 24 percent. He has six goals on 25 shots… Ville Koistinen is second among rookies in plus/minus rating at plus-6… Four Pred defensemen are averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, with Dan Hamhuis leading the way (24:19)… Greg Zanon is currently among the league leaders in blocked shots (53) and hits (41)... The Predators outshot the Blue Jackets 31-30, on Monday, marking the first time they have outshot an opponent in seven games… The Preds are 5-0-1 in November and 8-0-0 when scoring first…. The Preds are 4-0-0 when David Legwand scores and 3-0-0 when Martin Erat nets a goal.