TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. MINNESOTA
The Nashville Predators will be out to improve on their 14-4-2 record in matinee contests today at the Xcel Energy Center, the first of five afternoon games the team plays this season, and the first of four 2010-11 meetings with the Minnesota Wild. Nashville will also be looking to move above .500 in games taking place on Black Friday, as it is currently 4-4-0 with an overtime win at Atlanta (4-3, 2008) and a loss against St. Louis (1-4, 2009) in the past five seasons.
A season ago, the Predators posted an above-.500 points percentage (2-1-1) against the Wild for the first time 2003-04 (2-0-(2)-0), splitting a pair of games at Bridgestone Arena and claiming three-of-four points in the Twin Cities. The last of the four came March 18, 2010, which was also the last time the Predators won a game by five-or-more goals. In that 5-0 win, the Preds scored three first-period goals and Pekka Rinne stopped 17 shots – his 12th career shutout but one of just three times out of his 16 career shutouts that he’s received more than two goals in offensive support. Nashville’s road win in the series, a 4-3 decision on Oct. 28, sparked a hot streak that saw the team go 11-2-0 in a 13-game stretch until Nov. 25. Jerred Smithson played hero on that night, scoring the game winner while shorthanded with 9:16 left in regulation. The Predators fell in overtime by a 5-4 score in their last trip to the “State of Hockey” on Dec. 2, 2009.
Steve Sullivan posted his third four-point game (1g-3a) as a Predator in the Dec. 2 affair, and led all Predators in scoring vs. the Wild a season ago with seven (1g-6a) in four games. The Timmins, Ont., native has 20 points (6g-14a) in 13 games against Minnesota in a Predators sweater, and an even 26 points (9g-17a) in 26 career games against the Wild… As a Predator, J-P Dumont has 19 points (6g-13a) in 15 games against the Wild, and is also averaging a point-per-game against the club for his career with 21 points (7g-14a) in 21 games… Marcel Goc led all Nashville skaters in goals against Minnesota last season, posting three in his first four games against the Wild with the Predators. He had one goal in 12 games against the Wild before joining the Predators… Rinne has posted a 3-1-1 career record against Minnesota with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage… Joel Ward started his professional career in the Wild organization, playing three seasons in Houston (2005-08) and dressing for his first 11 NHL games with Minnesota in 2006-07… Martin Erat (Oct. 30, 2001 against Dwayne Roloson), Matthew Lombardi (currently injured; on Oct. 21, 2003 against Roloson) and Smithson (on Dec. 1, 2005 against Roloson) all scored their first career goals against the Wild.
All-time series highlight: On Nov. 16, 2006 at the Bridgestone Arena, Nashville pelted Niklas Backstrom and Manny Fernandez with a combined 45 shots and Minnesota put the same number on Chris Mason in what proved to be a franchise record for most combined shots in a game (90).
The Predators have allowed just four goals in their last four games, and only five even-strength goals in their last five contests. Pekka Rinne has stopped 98-of-102 shots he faced at even strength over those five games, and has a 0.96 goals-against average and a .959 save percentage in his last four games. Nashville’s 34 even-strength goals allowed is just one behind tonight’s opponent; Minnesota is tied for sixth in the NHL in the category.
TO THE SHOOTOUT ONCE AGAIN
The Predators went to the shootout for the fourth time in the last seven games on Wednesday vs. St. Louis, but were dealt their first loss of the season in the breakaway competition, and just their second shootout loss since before the 2010 Olympic Break. Since defeating Pittsburgh on 2010 Valentine’s Day, Nashville has posted a 7-2 record in shootouts, thanks in-large part to goaltender Pekka Rinne. Since that date, Rinne has stymied 31-of-37 attempts to boost his career save percentage in the shootout to .774, fifth-best all-time. His career record of 14-6 (.700) in the competition is seventh the seventh-best winning percentage since the implementation of the tiebreaker in 2005-06. At the other end of the rink, Nashville shooters have converted 37.4 percent of their attempts, third-best all-time by a team behind New Jersey and Los Angeles. Wednesday’s game was the ninth time the Predators and Blues have needed a shootout, tied for the most between any two teams with Anaheim/Los Angeles and New Jersey/N.Y. Rangers. The Preds are 6-3 in those games.
The Predators are 2-1-0 this season in both the first and second games of back-to-backs. They play the New York Rangers at Bridgestone Arena Saturday night… Nashville has not allowed a third-period goal in the last six games, outscoring its foes 3-0 and outshooting them 65-41 in the process... The Preds have allowed just one second-period goal in their last four outings and are tied for fourth in the League in fewest middle-frame markers allowed (16)… The Predators are 4-3-1 when trailing after 20 minutes, the League’s fourth-best record in that situation… Nashville is 5-6-2 when giving up the game’s first goal, tied for fifth in the NHL… Nashville has been shorthanded 78 times this season, eighth-fewest in the League and just one more than Atlanta, Carolina and Phoenix who are tied for fifth. The Predators are also averaging the fourth-fewest penalty minutes per game (10.6)… Nashville is 4-1-1 when scoring a power-play goal… Cal O’Reilly, who leads the team with 13 points (4g-9a), has tallied 10 of those (4g-6a) in 12 road games… Nashville defensemen account for three of the top 11 spots on the hits by defenseman list – Francis Bouillon sits atop the category with 69, Shea Weber is tied for third with 63 and Shane O’Brien is 11th with 53 hits.
BACK ON THE ROAD
The Predators will play their 13th road game this afternoon in Minnesota, the most in the Western Conference and behind only Tampa Bay (who plays its 14th roadie this evening) among the League’s 30 teams. The Preds have posted a 6-6-0 record in those games despite the absence of at least two – and as many as five – regulars throughout the stretch (Matthew Lombardi, Martin Erat, Ryan Suter, David Legwand, Marcel Goc, Jordin Tootoo and Francis Bouillon have all missed road games). Conversely, the Predators have taken to Bridgestone Arena ice just eight times, the fewest in the National Hockey League.