TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. ATLANTA
The Nashville Predators and their closest geographical rivals, the Atlanta Thrashers, play for the first of two times this season tonight at Philips Arena, the third straight season the teams have been inter-conference “wild card” foes, playing each other both at home and on the road (Florida and Carolina are Nashville’s other wild cards in 2010-11). A season ago, the Preds swept the two-game series, improving to 7-4-(1)-1 all-time against Atlanta, including a 3-2-(1)-1 mark in A-town. Nashville has gained a point in three straight trips to the Thrashers’ barn, winning by one-goal margins in each of its last two visits – Nov. 28, 2008 (4-3 OT) and March 9, 2010. In last spring’s 2-1 victory, Ryan Suter and Colin Wilson provided all the offense the team needed in the opening 20 minutes, with Dan Ellis stopping 30-of-31 shots on the back end. The first meeting of 2009-10 on Jan. 30 was another one-goal game, with Jason Arnott scoring the game winner just seven seconds into the third period in a 4-3 win at Bridgestone Arena.
All-time series highlight: On the night before the calendar turned on the new millennium (Dec. 30, 1999), Tomas Vokoun turned aside all 25 shots he faced and Rob Valicevic and Cliff Ronning scored twice in a 6-0 victory over the Thrashers at Bridgestone Arena, the Thrashers first visit to the Music City, and the Predators only shutout of the 1999-2000 campaign. The third whitewash in franchise history was also the most lopsided shutout victory for seven years. It was tied (four times) but not surpassed until a 7-0 rout of the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 23, 2006.
Martin Erat paced all Predators in scoring vs. Atlanta last season with three (1g-2a) points. Suter (1g-1a) and Joel Ward (1g-1a) also put up multiple points against Atlanta a season ago… Since scoring his first career goal against Atlanta’s Pasi Nurminen on Oct. 23, 2003, Jordin Tootoo has produced at a better clip against the Thrashers than any other team. He has six points (3g-3a) in six career games against them… As a Predator, Steve Sullivan has three assists in four games against Atlanta… Pekka Rinne, who has won both career starts against Atlanta, posted his only career assist on the game-winning goal in a 4-3 sudden death victory over the club on Nov. 28, 2008. It was also his first overtime win.
PENALTY KILL CONTINUES TO ROLL
The Predators penalty kill was a flawless four-for-four in Saturday’s win vs. Carolina, extending its franchise-record streak without allowing a man-advantage goal to nine games dating back to Nov. 18 at Montreal. In that span, the PK has extinguished 32 straight opposition power plays, the second most consecutive kills in franchise history behind a stretch of 34 straight from April 1-13, 2006. Having gone perfect in 11 of the last 12 outings since a 3-2 shootout win at St. Louis on Nov. 11, the man-down unit has gone from 78.7 percent (23rd NHL) to 85.3 percent (seventh NHL). On home ice, the PK ranks fourth (88.4 percent), while on the road, they’ve been perfect in five straight going back to that 3-0 Montreal victory – that is tied for the second-longest such streak behind only a seven road game stretch from Dec. 7, 2000-Jan. 4, 2001. The Preds have killed 19 straight man disadvantages on the road over the five games, tied for the third longest in club history.
During their three-game winning streak, which ties a season high also attained in the club’s first three games of 2010-11, the Nashville Predators have scored in eight-of-nine regulation periods, racking up 12 goals – nine even-strength tallies, a pair of power-play goals and one shootout marker. Saturday night’s 5-2 victory marked the first time this season the team has hit the five-goal mark, and the first time on home ice since a 5-3 win over Colorado on Feb. 4, 2010. In their previous five games, they scored just six goals (three at even-strength, two with the man advantage and one shootout marker), but still managed to pick up four points (1-2-2 record).
The offensive uptick is due in-large part to jumping on the opposition early – Nashville has gotten on the scoreboard in four straight first periods, outscoring its foes 6-1 in that span.
DEFENSE IS STINGY TOO
While the goals have been coming of late, shutdown defense has been the key to Nashville’s success throughout 2010-11. During a nine-game stretch going back to Nov. 18 at Montreal, the Predators have allowed just 17 goals (two of which were shootout tallies), giving them a goals-against average of 1.61 during that span, and lowering their season GAA to 2.52 – seventh lowest in the League. Nashville has surrendered the fifth-fewest second-period goals (19) and sixth-fewest final-frame markers (tie, 20).
GOALS STARTING TO COME FOR WEBER
Nashville Captain Shea Weber potted the goal that put Nashville up for good at 10:08 of the first period on Saturday, giving him two goals in the last three games. The goal moved him past Marek Zidlicky, and into sole possession of second on the franchise’s points by a d-man list (68g-108a-176pts).Three of Weber’s four markers in 2010-11 have come in the opening period, and the Predators are 4-0-0 when he scores. Weber’s 66 goals since the start of the 2006-07 season rank second only to Washington’s Mike Green (75) in tallies by an NHL blueliner in that span. The Sicamous, B.C., native also ranks second among League defensemen in shots (80) and seventh in both average ice time (25:06) and hits (72).
Nashville is 4-1-3 against the Eastern Conference and 3-0-1 against the Southeast Division… Monday will be the club’s 15th road game of the season, tied for the most in the Western Conference… Nashville’s win over Carolina on marked the beginning of a stretch that sees it play four-of-five, and six-of-ten against the Eastern Conference… The Predators have gone to overtime/a shootout nine times through 25 games, tied with St. Louis for the highest total in 2010-11. Their six shootout appearances is the most in the NHL… Nashville is averaging 10.5 penalty minutes per game, tied with Detroit for the third-fewest in the League, and fewest in the Western Conference… Nashville is 4-4-1 when trailing after 20 minutes, the NHL’s fourth-best record in that situation… Nashville’s power play is 4-for-21 (19 percent) in the last five games after going 3-for-69 (4.3 percent) over the previous 17 games. The Preds are 5-2-1 when scoring a power-play goal, and 10-3-4 when not giving up a power-play goal…Kevin Klein is tied for eighth among all NHL defensemen with a +7 rating on the road… The Predators have three of the Top 11 defensemen in hits – Francis Bouillon leads all NHL blueliners (82), with Shea Weber (seventh, 72) and Shane O’Brien (11th, 65) also ranked high… Jerred Smithson – who has won 65 percent of the draws he’s taken in the last nine games (84-of-129) – is ranked sixth in the League in face-off success rate at 58.8 percent.