Coming off of an epic comeback in Montreal on Saturday, and a last-minute thriller against Ottawa two nights before that, the Nashville Predators will look to finish a three-game Eastern Canada road trip with a flawless mark when they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre tonight (6:30 p.m. CT).
“We are a team that plays the game that is right in front of us for 60 or 65 minutes and then we let it go,” Trotz said. “I don’t think we’ll look back on that Montreal game, but we will use it at the appropriate time. There is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that if we are down in the third period by one goal, or two or whatever, we can come back because we have done it before.”
Nashville enters the game having won six of its past eight road contests (6-1-1) and is 11-3-2 since Oct. 25. In that 16-game span, the Preds have outscored opponents 28-12 in the final frame of regulation, including a 4-1 goal differential against the Canadiens. Four goals in a period were the most since a four-goal third at Los Angeles on March 3, 2007 – a span of 40 games. Despite their recent successes, the Central Division remains air tight, with just three points separating second place from fifth place.
Unlike their divisional opponents, the Maple Leafs are an unfamiliar foe for the Preds; they have only faced the Leafs eight other times in franchise history. In their lone meeting last season at the Sommet Center, the Preds doubled up Toronto, 4-2, to improve to 5-2-1 in the all-time series. Tonight will be the Predators' first visit to Leafland since a 2-1 loss on Jan. 6, 2004.
“With any team we try to get off to a good start, but we are a 60-minute team that is a hard team to play against,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “In the third period, through conditioning and the way we do a lot of different things, we have been successful there. We have a lot of confidence in that, but we also feel that if we do have a lead we have a good grasp on how to defend that. We don’t sit back, but rather want to skate and move forward the whole time.”
Toronto enters the game off back-to-back wins against Pittsburgh and Atlanta last week, but struggled prior to that, going 1-4-3 from Nov. 10-27. Opposite of Nashville, the Leafs inability to hold a lead has doomed them – they have been outscored by 11 goals after the second intermission this season. Nonetheless, captain Mats Sundin continues to produce for his team of 13 seasons, leading them in goals (13) and points (33). On the back end, Leaf netminders Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft have given up the most goals per game in the NHL (3.32). That said, Toskala stopped 30 shots against Pittsburgh, and is 3-2-1 with a 2.17 GAA and a shutout since Nov. 17.
For the visiting Predators, timely special-teams efforts have been crucial in recent games, with both the power-play and the penalty-killing units doing their part. The Nashville power play has converted on four of its past 11 chances, while the killers have extinguished all nine chances against over the last three outings.
The Predators have seen contributions from all parts of the lineup during this trip, but Martin Erat continues to be the primary source of offense, notching 18 points (8g-10a) in the past 13 games. Erat’s goals have been timely too – his four game-winners ranks among the NHL’s leaders, and coupled with shoot-out performances, Erat has been in on five of the Preds past six game-deciding goals. The blue line has been on the offensive this road trip, producing four of 11 goals to double its season output. Greg de Vries has two of the four, finding the red-light district in back-to-back games.
Following tonight’s contest, the Predators return home to play four straight at the Sommet Center, starting Thursday, Dec. 6 against the Vancouver Canucks. Tickets to this game, as well as upcoming clashes with defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim (Dec. 6), Central Division rival Detroit (Dec. 10) and Western Conference foe Colorado (Dec. 13) are still available by calling (615) 770-PUCK, logging on to ticketmaster.com or nashvillepredators.com, and by visiting the Sommet Center Box Office located in the arena tower.
TONIGHT’S STORYLINES: Each of the last seven Predator games have been decided by one goal (4-2-1)… Nashville is 6-4 in one-goal games and 10-0-1 when scoring first. The Preds are 4-0-0 against the Eastern Conference this season… Jed Ortmeyer scored his first goal as a Predator – and the team’s first shorthanded goal of the season – in Saturday’s win in Montreal… Radek Bonk leads the team in goals (10), while Martin Erat paces the squad in points (24) and assists (16)… Dan Hamhuis has points (1g-2a) in back-to-back games, while fellow d-man Ryan Suter has four points (1g-3a) in his last four games… After tonight, Nashville does not play another Eastern Conference team until Jan. 29 when it travels to Boston to take on the Bruins.