For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators will travel to the three Eastern Canadian cities in succession starting tonight at 6:30 p.m. CT with the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place. The Predators, playing their third of 10 contests against Eastern Conference foes in 2007-08, enter the game with a 4-1-1 record in their last six road contests and a 9-3-2 mark since Oct. 25.
The last meeting between Ottawa and Nashville came Dec. 14, 2006, when Steve Sullivan scored the three fastest goals by an individual in franchise history (5:56 of the second period) and Chris Mason stopped all 22 shots he faced in a 6-0 Predators victory. In the team’s last visit to Kanata, Ontario, March 6, 2004, Ottawa came out on top by a 4-2 margin.
Nashville is coming off its longest layoff of the 2007-08 schedule, having been idle since dropping a 4-3 decision to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. Tonight’s game is the last of November for the Preds, who are 7-2-2 in the month thus far. The stretch includes a solid 5-1-2 record in eight straight outings against Central Division rivals, a shutout at Vancouver and a pair of five-goal nights against Chicago.
Martin Erat, who leads the team with 21 points (7g-12a), has held the hot hand of late as well with seven goals and 15 points in the last 11 games. Radek Bonk, a Senator from 1994-2004, paces the squad with nine goals and ranks among the league leaders in shooting percentage at 25 percent.
All four Nashville lines have been pitching in as well, highlighted by the trio of Martin Gelinas, Scott Nichol and Jordin Tootoo. They have generated great energy, drawn penalties and provided a physical presence since being put together eight games ago, and have begun to get rewarded on the scoresheet as well. Gelinas notched a goal last game, while Tootoo has already tied a career-high with five markers.
“It is nice that your teammates acknowledge your work, but at the same time you want to chip in,” Gelinas said. “Toots has chipped in and Scotty Nichol has worked hard but hasn’t been rewarded, so we feel more confident now, and we will move forward from here.”
The Sens hold the top record in the Eastern Conference (15-7-1, 33 points), thanks in large part to a 13-1-0 mark to start the season. Their home record (10-3-1) is tops in the league while Martin Gerber has reemerged as a top netminder with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. His 13 victories lead the NHL. Ottawa enters the game battling the injury bug of late, having dropped four straight and five of six, the latest loss coming to the New York Islanders, 3-2 in a shootout, a night ago.
The Senators have no issues with offense either, boasting one of the most prolific lines in hockey – the Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley unit. Heatley has points in nine of 10 games (4g-10a), while Spezza has a five-game points streak (2g-7a). Alfredsson, meanwhile, is returned to the ice against the Isles after missing a couple games with a groin injury.
“Against a top team like Ottawa you must contain their top players,” Trotz said. “You have to play a close-to-the-vest, tight-checking game and execute when you do it. Heatley can score from anywhere, and with Alfredsson and Spezza, you hope to contain that big line and the other three lines as well.”
After tonight’s meeting, the Predators will bus to Montreal for a clash with the Canadiens on Saturday night at 6 p.m. The first two games of the Ontario/Quebec road trip will be televised on FSN South, with the Ottawa game being broadcasted on Lightining 100.1-WRLT, and the other two available on the radio dial at WGFX-104.5 The Zone.
TONIGHT’S STORYLINES: Nashville is 2-0-0 against the Eastern Conference this year, 9-0-1 when scoring the first goal of the game and 4-4 in one-goal contests… The Predators road penalty kill ranks in the top-half of the league at 82.7% (43-of-52)… Jason Arnott and Greg de Vries pace the team with a plus-eight rating, while Dan Hamhuis is tops in time on ice at 23:58… Chris Mason is 5-2-2 with a .920 save percentage and 2.39 goals-against average in his past nine starts… Defenseman Greg Zanon is one of just two players in the NHL with more than 50 hits and 50 blocked shots. Zanon also ranks among the league leaders in shorthanded time on ice (4:26)… Scott Nichol ranks seventh in the league in face-off percentage (minimum of 100 draws) at 59%... David Legwand is currently tied with Kimmo Timonen as the Predators all-time leading scorer (301 points).