Coming off two wins on a three-game Eastern Canada road swing, the Nashville Predators now play four consecutive games at the Sommet Center, starting with tonight’s matchup against the Vancouver Canucks. The Predators took the first of four 2007-08 meetings between these two teams on Nov. 1 when Dan Ellis made 29 saves to lead Nashville to a 3-0 victory. Since that defeat, Vancouver has been on a tear, going 10-2-2.
The Predators put together cardiac comebacks last Thursday in Ottawa – scoring in the final minute to defeat the then-top team in the East, 6-5 – and Saturday in Montreal – overcoming a three-goal, third-period deficit to top the Canadiens in a shootout, 5-4. The only setback on the trip came Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre, where Nashville outshot the Toronto Maple Leafs 35-15, but simply couldn’t solve red-hot neminder Vesa Toskala, falling 3-1. In Tuesday’s game, Jason Arnott nearly single-handedly outshot the Leafs, putting a franchise-record 12 shots on net.
Vancouver, meanwhile, comes to the Music City having defeated the Blackhawks, 3-2 less than 24 hours ago in Chicago. Roberto Luongo, who may get a rare night off after playing last night, has been the backbone of the Canucks, posting a 2.18 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in addition to recently putting together a shutout streak which lasted 210:34. Up front, the usual suspect lead Canada’s westernmost franchise, as Henrik (26 points) and Daniel (25 points) Sedin are the top two scorers. Captain Marcus Naslund sits third in points (24) and leads the team in goals (11).
Timely special-teams goals have been a primary factor in the Canucks’ recent surge, especially on the road, where their power play is clicking at 23.6 percent, good for fourth-best in the league.
Nashville has fared will on specials teams of late as well. The penalty kill has not allowed a goal in four straight games, going 12-for-12 in that span, and got its first shorthanded goal Saturday against Montreal. The man-advantage unit has scored on four of its last 16 opportunities dating back to the third period of a 3-2 win over Detroit on Nov. 22.
The Preds defensive corps has also been a source of offense in recent outings, producing five of the team’s 12 goals in the last three games, after scoring just four in the first 22 contests of 2007-08. Shea Weber got the lone goal of Tuesday’s game, his first of season. Greg de Vries posted back-to-back goals vs. Ottawa and Montreal for the third time in his 12-season career, Dan Hamhuis has three points (1g-2a) in three games, and Ryan Suter notched his first multi-point game of the season against the Senators, giving him four points (1g-3a) in the last five contests.
Nashville has had success against Vancouver in recent meetings, winning three of four and six of eight dating back to March 2, 2006. Two of the last three contests between the teams have ended with a Nashville shutout, thanks to Tomas Vokoun’s 21-save blanking on Nov. 23, 2006, in addition to Ellis’ 14 games ago. The line of J.P. Dumont (2a), Martin Erat (1g-1a) and Arnott (1g-1a), in addition to David Legwand (1g-1a) provided the offense in that Nov. 1 game, scoring on two of four power-play attempts.
Tickets to tonight’s game, in addition the Preds’ next home game Saturday night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, 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.
GAME NOTES: The Predators are 11-4-2 since Oct. 25 and 7-3-1 this season at the Sommet Center… Nashville is 3-3-0 against the Northwest Division this season, 10-0-1 when scoring the game’s first goal and 3-1-1 when tied after 40 minutes… Martin Erat paces the team in both points (24) and assists (16). His four game-winning goals rank him among the league leaders in that category, and coupled with shootout tallies, he has factored into six of the past seven game-deciding goals in Predator victories… J.P. Dumont has six points (1g-5a) in his last five outings… Jason Arnott set a franchise record for shots on goal last time out vs. Toronto with 12… Radek Bonk leads the squad in goals (10) and power-play goals (4), while Marek Zidlicky leads the team in power-play points (1g-6a-7pts)… The Preds have outscored their opponent 29-13 in the final frame of regulation over the last 17 games, and have scored eight third-period goals in the last three games… After tonight, the next meeting between these two teams comes Feb. 21 at the Sommet Center.
Television Alternates: Dish Network 445, Direct TV 664
HIGH DEFINITION: Dish Network 9515, Direct TV 664, Comcast 247