It is always a tough out when the Minnesota Wild come to town, as evidenced by three one-goal games a season ago, but the Nashville Predators have momentum on their side, boasting a 9-2-2 record since Oct. 25 and a perfect 5-0-1 mark in their last six games at the Sommet Center.
Two nights ago, Nashville finished off a stretch of eight consecutive intra-divisional games with a solid 5-1-2 record thanks to a dramatic 3-2 victory over the rival Detroit Red Wings. The penalty kill performed sensationally against the high-powered Red Wing power play, keeping the game close early, and allowing Radek Bonk to score the game winner with a man-advantage goal of his own at 2:22 of the third. It was the summer free-agent signee’s team-leading ninth goal of the season and fourth marker in the past six contests.
Bonk’s goal continued a trend of third-period success for the Preds as well – they have outscored opponents 20-7 in the final 20 minutes over the past 13 games, and hold a 26-20 advantage in the final frame for the season.
Goaltending is always the key to solid penalty killing and Thursday was no exception. Chris Mason stopped 13 shots while a man down, and a total of 28 shots in the victory to improve to 5-1-2 in his last eight starts. In that span he has posted a .928 save percentage and a 2.23 goals-against average.
Martin Erat has quickly ascended into the team lead in points (20), thanks in large part to three multi-point outings in the last five games (4g-5a), including a three-point night (1g-2a) against Detroit. Last week’s third star of the entire NHL is also the team leader in game-winning goals with three, all which have come in the last five victories.
For the visitors, head coach Jacques Lemaire has the Wild back to their old tricks – playing a defensive-oriented style that suffocates potential rushes in the neutral zone. But after a quick, 7-0-1 start out of the gate, Minnesota is 4-9-1 since Oct. 24, including a 4-0 shut-out loss at the hands of Pascal Leclaire and the Columbus Blue Jackets yesterday afternoon.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard paces Minnesota with 19 points (5g-14a), while second-year starter Niklas Backstrom backstops the stingy defense with a 2.36 goals-against average. The injury-plagued Marian Gaborik, possibly one of the most talented players in the league, is also a player to watch for Minnesota – he has six goals and nine points in his last seven outings.
Tonight will be the Preds final home game for nearly two weeks, as they will head on a three-game Eastern Canada road trip that includes games in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. They return to the Music City Dec. 4, with the second of four 2007-08 meetings with the Vancouver Canucks.
Tickets to tonight’s game are still available, and can be purchased by visiting the Sommet Center Box Office located in the arena tower, calling (615) 770-PUCK, and by logging on to nashvillepredators.com or ticketmaster.com.
TONIGHT’S STORYLINES: With nine goals on 34 shots, Radek Bonk is now in the league’s Top 10 in shooting percentage (26.5%)… Nashville is 7-2-1 at the Sommet Center this season and 7-1-2 in the month of November… Shea Weber has recorded an assist in all three games since returning from a knee injury Nov. 17… Jason Arnott and rookie Ville Koistinen are tied for the team lead in plus/minus (+8)… Arnott, Bonk and Alexander Radulov are tied for the team lead in power play goals with three apiece… Greg Zanon is one of only two players in the league (along with Montreal’s Mike Komisarek), that has more than 50 hits (51) and 50 blocked shots (66). His blocked shots total is third in the NHL… Scott Nichol ranks in the league’s Top 10 in face-off percentage among players taking a minimum of 100 draws (58.9%)… Besides the injured Steve Sullivan, J.P. Dumont was the top point producer against the Wild a season ago with seven (1g-6a) in four games… The Predators hold the all-time series lead at 10-8-6… The next meeting between these two teams comes Dec. 18 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.