TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. TORONTO
The Predators visit the Air Canada Centre for the first time since Jan. 13, 2009, and for just the third time in the last six seasons, tonight in the only matchup of Toronto and Nashville in 2010-11. The Predators hold a 6-4-(1)-0 record against the Leafs in their 12-season history, including a 4-3-(1)-0 mark in Southern Ontario. In their most recent meeting – the lone meeting of the Preds and Leafs in 2009-10 – Toronto jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first nine minutes of play, before Nashville battled back on goals by Marcel Goc, Cody Franson and Ryan Jones late in the second frame and early in the third. Phil Kessel scored the game-winning goal at 14:12 of the third to give the Maple Leafs their first-ever win on Bridgestone Arena ice, 4-3. Nashville’s last trip to T.O., 22 months ago was a successful one, as the team picked up its first win in the city since Feb. 23, 2003. The Jan. 13, 2009 game saw Pekka Rinne record his fourth career shutout, with Radek Bonk and David Legwand providing the offense, in a 2-0 Predators victory.
The Predators last surrendered a power-play goal to the Maple Leafs on Jan. 4, 2004. They’ve gone more than four games and killed off 21 consecutive man disadvantages since then. Other notables in the series include Jason Arnott putting a franchise-record 12 shots on goal in Nashville’s trip to Toronto on Dec. 4, 2007, and the franchise recording its first tie in its first of only two games at Maple Leaf Gardens on Oct. 19, 1998. That game – the fourth in club history – saw Mike Dunham stop 30-of-32 shots to garner First Star honors. Andrew Brunette and Sergei Krivokrasov (1g-1a) scored Nashville’s goals, while current Predator and then-Leaf Steve Sullivan earned Third Star honors after setting up the game-tying goal.
Sullivan was acquired by the Maple Leafs on Feb. 25, 1997 along with Jason Smith and Alyn McCauley in the trade that sent Doug Gilmour (along with Dave Ellett and a third-round choice in the 1999 Entry Draft) to New Jersey. He played 154 games for the club over four seasons (1996-2000), posting 85 points (35g-50a). In 1998-99, he posted his first 20-goal, 40-point campaign, and suited up for 13 postseason games that spring, notching six points (3g-3a). Sullivan has posted 14 points (6g-8a) in 15 career games against his former team, including at least one in all three games he’s played against Toronto as a Predator (1g-3a)… Wade Belak was also a Maple Leaf from Feb. 16, 2001 to Feb. 26, 2008, suiting up for 318 games while posting 24 points (7g-17a) and registering 763 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 22 playoff games for them, scoring a goal and recording 36 PIMs… Sergei Kostitsyn has eight points (3g-5a) in 11 career games vs. Toronto.
Four current Predators have experienced notable “firsts” against Toronto. As a member of the Colorado Avalanche, Belak played his first NHL game against the Maple Leafs on Dec. 21, 1996. Francis Bouillon and J-P Dumont did likewise – Bouillon on Oct. 2, 1999 with Montreal, and Dumont on Nov. 12, 1998 with Chicago. David Legwand scored his first career goal on Toronto’s Glen Healy on Oct. 11, 1999 in Nashville’s second and final trip to Maple Leaf Gardens.
BLUE LINE CONTRIBUTIONS
In Saturday’s shootout win over Chicago, the Predators received all three of their regulation-time goals from defenseman – Shane O’Brien and Shea Weber each scored their second goals of the season in the second period, and Cody Franson forced overtime with his fourth of the campaign at 10:23 of the third. This marked the first time since Oct. 22, 2009 at Ottawa that Nashville defensemen have scored more than two goals in a contest. In that 6-5 overtime win at Scotiabank Place, the Predators became the first team since the Edmonton Oilers on March 21, 2004 to receive five goals from blueliners (Ryan Suter 2, Weber 2, Franson 1).
With his second goal in three games, Franson moved into a tie for fourth in goals among NHL d-men, just one off the pace currently set by Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien, Washington’s Mike Green and Minnesota’s Brent Burns. His goal total has come on just 29 shots, putting him fifth among blueliners in shooting percentage (13.8 percent), and while averaging 15:54 a game, the lowest of any defensemen with at least two goals in 2010-11. Additionally, the Sicamous, B.C., native paces the team in plus/minus rating (+6) and is first among Nashville defensemen in points (4g-4a) after notching three (2g-1a) in his last three outings.
For Weber, the goal was his first power-play marker of the season, and the 31st of his career, moving him past Scott Hartnell and into sole possession of fourth on the team’s all-time power-play goals list; only Kimmo Timonen (46), Jason Arnott (40) and Steve Sullivan (36) are above him. He is also just two points away from tying Marek Zidlicky for second on the franchise’s points by a defenseman list. A Sicamous, B.C., native as well, Weber put eight shots on goal against Chicago, tying a 2010-11 team high he set on opening night vs. Anaheim. He ranks second among NHL blueliners in shots (50), eighth in hits (44) and 11th in average ice time (25:01).
O’Brien’s goal total through 15 games in a Predators sweater equals that of his previous 203 games dating back to Nov. 10, 2007. His career high is four set in 2007-08 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Also seeing a spike in offensive production is Francis Bouillon, who has assists in back-to-back games. While averaging three minutes more per game than a season ago (22:05 vs. 19:18), Bouillon has put up five points (1g-4a) in 15 games – he didn’t reach the five-point/four-assist mark in 2009-10 until game No. 30 on Dec. 8. Bouillon is also third among NHL d-men in hits (54), behind only Brent Seabrook and Luke Schenn (55 each).
SULLIVAN HITS 250
By assisting on the overtime-forcing goal on Saturday vs. Chicago, Steve Sullivan became just the fifth player in franchise history to reach the 250-point mark (95g-155a). The Timmins, Ont., native is also just one goal away from tying Scott Walker for fourth on the franchise’s all-time goals list (96) and sits in sole possession of fifth on the club assist list. He is tied for the team lead in goals (5), with all but one of them coming in the opening period. Over the past two seasons, the Predators are 14-2-2 when Sullivan finds the back of the net.
RINNE & O’REILLY GIVE NASHVILLE BACK-TO-BACK SHOOTOUT WINS
The Predators made it two shootout wins in as many games on Saturday against Chicago, thanks to Pekka Rinne turning back all three attempts he faced and Cal O’Reilly’s second goal in as many tries. It was also his second career shootout-deciding goal, and improved him to four-for-six in the breakaway competition, tied for the highest efficiency in franchise history among those taking at least five shots (66.7 percent, with Paul Kariya). Rinne meanwhile improved to 13-5 all-time in shootouts, the third-best career winning percentage (.722) in the breakaway competition behind Kari Lehtonen (23-8, .742) and Johan Hedberg (16-6, .727). Additionally, his six saves on seven attempts this season has boosted his career save percentage to .776 in shootouts (59-of-76 saves), which is also third-best among active netminders behind Antti Niemi (26-of-32, .813) and Hedberg (68-of-86, .791). The Predators have taken part in 53 shootouts since the implementation of the tiebreaker, posting a 31-22 record. Of that total, 26 have come against Central Division foes (49 percent), including both this season (St. Louis and Chicago). Nashville has a 17-9 mark in Central Division shootout contests.
Nashville is 1-0-2 against the Eastern Conference – it beat the Lightning in Tampa Bay and fell on home ice in overtime to Washington and Pittsburgh… In the past two games, Nashville has outscored the competition 7-3 in the final two periods of play… Both the Predators and Maple Leafs have been shorthanded just 55 times this season, tied for the third-fewest in the League. The Predators are also fourth in the NHL in fewest penalty minutes per game (11.0)… The Predators are in the midst of a one-month span between Oct. 23 and Nov. 23 that see them play 11 road games and two home games. After a five-game road trip from Oct. 30-Nov. 11, they returned to Bridgestone Arena for one game (Nov. 13 vs. Chicago) and are now out on a four-game trip… Marcel Goc, who missed six games between Oct. 19-30, has points (2g-4a) in six of the nine games he’s played this season… Cal O’Reilly has eight points (3g-5a) in his last nine games… Patric Hornqvist has four points (2g-2a) in five games since the calendar turned to November.