TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. PITTSBURGH
The Predators make their final trip to Mellon Arena – and first since Feb. 6, 2007 – tonight, the lone matchup between Nashville and Pittsburgh this season and 15th all-time. Since meeting twice per campaign in five of Nashville’s first six seasons of existence, the Preds and Pens have clashed just three times since the NHL reconvened for the 2005-06 season. In that span, Nashville has claimed its two home games – by a 5-4 score on Jan. 15, 2006 and a 5-3 decision on Jan. 8, 2009 – while falling in its last trip to the Steel City by a 4-1 score. In last season’s lone matchup, the Predators trailed 3-0 four minutes into the second period, but reeled off five unanswered goals, including a shorthanded marker by David Legwand and a power-play goal by Ryan Suter, to claim a 5-3 victory. Pekka Rinne earned the win in a relief appearance, turning aside 17-of-18 shots, while Legwand, Martin Erat and Greg Zanon all notched a goal and an assist. Overall, the Predators hold an 8-4-2 edge in the all-time series and have gone an even 2-2-(2)-0 at the Igloo.
All-time series highlight: On March 4, 2004, as a soft-spoken rookie on a team shooting for its first-ever playoff berth, defenseman Dan Hamhuis let his play speak for itself, scoring the game-winning goal and adding four assists to set a record for points by a first-year player and tie a team mark for points in a game – both records still stand today. The performance was part of nine-goal eruption for the Predators, including a franchise-best six power play goals, in a 9-4 victory over the Penguins at Mellon Arena. Marek Zidlicky kicked off the flurry of man-advantage goals, scoring just 55 seconds into the contest. The power play finished six-for-nine on the night, receiving a pair of man-advantage goals from Adam Hall, while Steve Sullivan collected a goal and two assists. It gave Sullivan seven goals and nine assists in just nine games after being acquired from Chicago a couple weeks earlier.
Erat has five goals and an assist in six career games against Pittsburgh, while Legwand is also producing at a point-per-game rate against the Penguins for his career, with nine points (6g-3a) in nine games… Shea Weber has an assist in each of his first two career contests against Pittsburgh, while Suter also has points (1g-1a) in each of his first two games against the club… As a Predator, Sullivan has four points (1g-3a) in three games against the Pens. TEAM QUICK HITS
Today is the second of five matinee games Nashville will play in 2009-10. Since the start of 2006-07 season, the club has gone 11-3-2 in afternoon contests… The Predators are 8-4-2 against the Eastern Conference this season, including a 2-1-1 mark against the Atlantic Division… Nashville headed into Saturday night’s games tied for second in even-strength road goals (70), and tied for fifth in both road goals (87) and road goals per game (2.81). It is also a plus-11 in non-power-play goals scored away from home, third-best in the League… This season’s team has a nearly identical record through 60 games to Nashville’s last playoff team in 2007-08. The Predators are 32-23-5 for 69 points in 2009-10, and were 31-23-6 for 68 points through 60 games two seasons ago. Nashville is four wins/nine points ahead of last season’s 60-game pace (60 points, 28-28-4) when the club fell three points shy of the postseason… Nashville has scored 24 of its last 30 goals in the final 35 minutes of regulation time going back to Jan. 15, a span of 13 games. The average time of its first goal of the game in this stretch is 28:50 of regulation time. For the season, Nashville has 56 goals in both the second and third periods… Since the start of February (six games), the Predators have scored seven of their 15 goals on the power play (46.7 percent). In the previous eight games from Jan. 12-30, the club scored 19 of its 20 goals at even strength (5 percent of production on the power play)… The Predators have 10 second-period goals in the last five games, equaling their output from the previous 17 games… The Predators are 28-16-3 in games decided by two goals or less – that’s tied with New Jersey and Phoenix for the most wins in that situation … The Predators are 18-1-0 when leading after one period – tied with Phoenix for the best record in the League in that situation, and 21-4-1 when scoring first – second to only Phoenix… The Predators have posted a 19-6-2 record when recording a power-play goal… Nashville is averaging the fewest penalty minutes per game (9.3) in the NHL.
HORNQVIST HEADS TO OLYMPICS ON AN UPSWING
The Predators have nine players with 10-or-more goals – only Washington (10) has more… Patric Hornqvist’s 17 goals in Nashville’s 28 games since Dec. 14 rank fourth in the NHL since that date behind the League’s top three in goals – Alexander Ovechkin (21), Sidney Crosby (21) and Patrick Marleau (18) (prior to Saturday’s games). Hornqvist has the fewest games of NHL experience (87), and the lowest ice time (15:29) among the League’s Top 25 goal scorers. The Swedish Olympian’s 21-goal increase from his rookie season of 2008-09 is tops in the NHL among players who skated in at least 20 games last season. Additionally, all eight of Hornqvist’s power-play goals this season have come since Dec. 8, which entered Saturday tied with Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Kesler and Eric Staal for the NHL’s highest man-advantage goal total since that date.
Hornqvist’s point (26) and goal totals over the last 27 games are both nine better than his next best teammate. He paces the team in points (37), goals (23), plus/minus rating (+11), power-play goals (8) and game-winning goals (7, tied for second in the League). In 59 games, he has 195 shots, putting him on pace for 268 shots this season, which would best a franchise record set by Shea Weber a season ago (251).
NASHVILLE’S OTHER OLYMPIANS HEADING TO VANCOUVER AFTER THE GAME
Team Canada defenseman Shea Weber leads the league in road goals, with eight of his 10 tallies coming away from home. He ranks second among NHL defensemen in shots (168), and is one of only two NHL blueliners (along with Dallas’ Stephane Robidas) with at least 30 points and 115 hits… Weber’s defensive partner, Team USA alternate captain Ryan Suter, ranks among the Top 20 defensemen in assists (24), in addition to being tied for second on the team. He has played a team-high 181 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 13, 2008, and has logged the 14th-most minute in the League this season (1,442:08)… Czech Olympian Martin Erat – who scored the game-winning goal in the Bronze Medal Game at the 2006 Olympics – has 14 goals and 26 points in 30 games played since Dec. 1. He is just two goals shy of his third career 20-goal season and is on pace for his sixth consecutive season with 49-or-more points… German Olympian Marcel Goc – who has missed seven of the last nine games due to injury – has already set a career high in goals (10) and is just three points shy of a personal best in that category (10g-9a-19pts). He has 16 points (8g-8a) in his last 27 outings after posting three points (2g-1a) in his first 24 contests of 2009-10… Finally, fellow German Olympic selection Alexander Sulzer, in his rookie NHL campaign, has played five consecutive games for the first time in his career.