TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. COLUMBUS
The Nashville Predators host the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first of three times tonight at Bridgestone Arena, the Preds lone Sunday home game of the 2010-11 campaign. The Predators have only one regulation home loss to the Blue Jackets since the start of the 2001-02 season, going 23-1-(1)-1 in that span. Additionally, they are a perfect 14-0-0 against Columbus in the Music City since the start of the 2006-07 campaign, the longest active home winning streak in the NHL. Overall, Nashville is 24-4-2 in the series since 2006-07, and 41-13-(4)-1 against the Jackets all time. Fifteen of the last 19 games in the series have been won by the home team.
Last season, Nashville claimed 4-3 shootout decisions its first two times hosting Columbus: On the day his son Ryder was born, Nov. 21, David Legwand posted a goal, an assist and the shootout winner to claim First Star honors. And on Dec. 10, Ryan Suter led the charge with a pair of assists and Steve Sullivan sealed the deal in the fifth round of the breakaway competition in a Predators victory. Nashville’s final home victory on March 20 was a 1-0 overtime win that saw Pekka Rinne stop all 33 shots he faced for his second straight shutout (he had blanked Minnesota two nights prior) and Cody Franson score the game’s lone goal at 1:54 of sudden death.
The Predators and Blue Jackets have split a pair of matchups in Ohio’s capital season so far in 2010-11, with Nashville claiming the most recent tilt, 4-3 in a shootout, on the first day of December. In his last game before missing three weeks due to injury, Rinne stopped 28 shots and all three shooters he faced to pick up the ‘W.’ Colin Wilson and Sergei Kostitsyn scored Nashville’s first two goals, then Kevin Klein scored the overtime-forcing tally. Sullivan again netted the shootout decider. Since April 4, 2009, six-of-nine Preds-Jackets contests have needed overtime/a shootout to determine a winner.
Martin Erat has a pair of assists in two games against Columbus this season, and nine points (3g-6a) in six games against the Blue Jackets since the start of last season. The Trebic, Czech Republic native has more career goals and points against the Blue Jackets than any other team in the League (13g-28a-41pts, 46gp), including 40 points (9g-31a) in 40 games since the start of the 2003-04 campaign… Steve Sullivan has 43 points (16g-27a) in 44 career games vs. Columbus, including a hat trick in Nashville’s visit to Nationwide on Dec. 14, 2009… Shea Weber has 15 points (5g-10a) in 26 career games against Columbus, tied for his highest goal total and point total against a single team… Kostitsyn’s goal on Dec. 1 gave him three points (2g-1a) in five career games against the Jackets.
DEFENSE MOVES TO TOPS IN THE WEST
With their 4-1 victory on Friday at Minnesota, the Nashville Predators lowered their team goals-against average to 2.43, which ranked fourth in the League and tops in the Western Conference heading into Saturday’s games. Solid penalty killing and outstanding play from goaltenders Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback in the last 21 games have been at the forefront of the team’s defensive success. Since that date – a 3-0 win at Montreal – the PK has extinguished 64-of-70 chances against (91.4 percent) and is now tied for fifth in the NHL, and first in the Western Conference (85 percent). Rinne has made 12 appearances in that span, and has the League’s top goals-against average (1.64) and fifth-best save percentage (.936) since that date. Lindback anchored the defense for much of December while Rinne was injured, posting a 2.15 goals-against average and .925 save percentage during the stretch. For the season, Rinne ranks eighth in the League in goals-against average (2.31), while Lindback is ninth in save percentage (.922). The tallest goaltending tandem in NHL history has combined for five shutouts, second only to Boston’s six.
EVEN BETTER ON HOME ICE
The Predators defensive play and penalty kill has been even better on Bridgestone Arena ice, where the team has played just 17 times, second-lowest in the West and tied for third-lowest in the League. In its last 14 home games dating back to Oct. 19, Nashville has killed off 46-of-50 man disadvantages (92 percent) and now ranks second in the League in home efficiency (87.3 percent). Nashville has allowed more than two goals on home ice just twice in the last 10 games, and ranks fourth in the NHL in home goals-against average (2.12).
The Predators have gone 7-for-33 (21.2 percent) on the power play over the last 10 games. The power play was clicking at 11.1 percent prior to the current stretch (11-for-99)… The Predators have given up a League-low 28 second period goals… The Preds are averaging 9.6 penalty minutes per game, second-lowest in the NHL… Nashville plays just three home games during the month of January. After tonight, it is on the road for three games in California before playing two-of-three at home between Jan. 10-15. Then, it is off on a franchise-record tying six-game road trip that takes the team to the All-Star Break… Newest Predator Marek Svatos has seen more offensive success in the month of January than any other month during the course of his career. He has 23 goals and 33 points in 51 career January games… Shea Weber has posted 10 points (4g-6a) in 17 home games vs. seven points (1g-6a) in 20 road contests. Weber, Dallas’ Stephane Robidas and Chicago’s Brent Seabrook are the only defensemen to have more than 15 points and more than 90 hits this season. The Sicamous, B.C., native also ranks second among NHL blueliners in shots (124), and 10th among all skaters in average ice time (24:46)… Six of Patric Hornqvist’s nine goals this season have come on home ice... Francis Bouillon paces all NHL defensemen in hits (117)… Cal O’Reilly has eight points (1g-7a) in 10 Central Division games vs. 10 points (5g-5a) in 25 out-of-division contests… In the past week, the Predators have seen three players either make their Predators debut, or play in their second career game. Starting last Sunday, Linus Klasen was recalled and played his second career contest, and first since Oct. 30 at Detroit. On Tuesday vs. Dallas, one day after signing his first NHL contract, Chris Mueller made his League debut. Then Friday, it was Svatos’ turn to don the Predators sweater for the first time – he played for the team at Minnesota after being claimed on waivers two days earlier.
THIS DATE IN HISTORY: January 2, 2010
The Nashville Predators had some memorable games on January 1 during the franchise’s first 10 seasons, playing nine times on that date between the 1998-99 and 2008-09 seasons. On the first day of the new millennium, the team posted a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks at Bridgestone Arena. Then two years apart in 2002 and 2004, the club overcame third-period deficits to first salvage a tie against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche behind two Cliff Ronning goals (4-4), then notch a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh on a pair of goals by Kimmo Timonen.
The Predators kept with the third-period rally theme in their first-ever game on January 2 last season in a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. After giving up the first goal of the game, and trailing after the midway point, the offense kicked it into gear – Shea Weber tied the game at 15:27 of the second period, then set up Jason Arnott for the game winner at the 10:11 mark of the third period, helping him earn First Star of the Game honors. David Legwand would add an empty-net goal with less than a second left on the clock to send the Preds into the win column for the third straight outing.