TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. CHICAGO
The Nashville Predators host the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks for the second time tonight at Bridgestone Arena, and have already equaled last season’s six-game win total against the Hawks, having claimed two of the first three meetings in the season series. Though the Predators fell by a 4-1 margin the last time these teams met on Dec. 22 at the United Center, they picked up a pair of wins during campaigns first two months, the first coming in game number two of the season in the Windy City on Oct. 13 by a 3-2 score, and second by way of a 4-3 shootout victory on Nov. 13. The Preds’ success has come thanks to strong third periods – they’ve outscored the Hawks 4-2 in the final frame and outshot them 25-17. In the opening 40 minutes, Chicago has a decided edge in both goals (7-3) and shots (73-55).
In the Oct. 13 game, the Preds rallied from a 2-1 second intermission deficit behind third-period markers from Colin Wilson and Joel Ward, the latter of which, the game-winner, came with just 26.7 seconds left in regulation. After coming into the season opener in relief of Pekka Rinne, rookie netminder Anders Lindback collected his first career victory in his first NHL start by stopping 23-of-25 shots that night. Then in Nashville’s only home game between Oct. 30 and Nov. 22 (9-of-10 on the road), the defensive corps stole the show, as Shane O’Brien, Shea Weber and Cody Franson accounted for Nashville’s goals. This marked the first time since Oct. 22, 2009 at Ottawa that Nashville defensemen had scored more than two goals in a contest. This all after the Predators again relinquished the first goal of the game. In the breakaway competition, Rinne stymied all three Hawk shooters, and Cal O’Reilly notched the lone marker for the home team. Nashville is 18-11-(3)-3 in 35 home games against Chicago, including an 11-5-3 mark in the past five-plus seasons since 2005.
With a pair of assists against Chicago this season, Ryan Suter has more points against the club (2g-15a-17pts) than any other. He scored his first career goal vs. Chicago on Dec. 21, 2005… Kevin Klein also has two assists against Chicago this season, and also scored his first career marker on Nikolai Khabibulin 13 months after Suter on Jan. 26, 2007… Martin Erat sat out the Oct. 13 game, but has an assist in each of the two games he’s played against Chicago this season, giving him 12 points (5g-7a) in his last 12 games against the Hawks… Steve Sullivan, acquired by the Predators from the Hawks on Feb. 16, 2004, has amassed 25 points (8g-17a) in 29 games against Chicago as a Predator. His most recent of seven career penalty shots also came against the Hawks on Jan. 8, 2006 when he scored on goaltender Craig Anderson… J-P Dumont is another former Blackhawk that has a pair of assists in three games against his former club this season, giving him 25 points (6g-19a) in 36 career games against Chicago. He posted 33 points (19g-14a) in 72 games with Chicago from 1998-2000… All-time, David Legwand has more goals, assists and points (18g-28a-46pts) against Chicago than any other player against any other team in franchise history. He registered a career-high three points as part of his first career against Chicago on Jan. 20, 2007.
LEGWAND GETS OFFENSE GOING
Since returning from a lower-body injury that saw him miss 18-of-19 games between Nov. 20 and Dec. 28, David Legwand has seven points (3g-4a) in seven games (6-1-0 record). On Thursday at Florida, he extended his active goal streak to three games with his third multi-point performance of the season (1g-1a). The Gross Pointe, Mich., native has spent the last seven games playing predominately with second-year forward Colin Wilson and newest Predator Marek Svatos on a line that’s produced four of Nashville’s nine even-strength goals since last Saturday’s win at San Jose. Wilson, who scored on Thursday, has eight points (4g-4a) in his last eight outings and 16 points (9g-7a) in 23 games since American Thanksgiving (Nov. 25). The second-year forward had six points (2g-4a) in his first 20 games of 2010-11. Svatos has three points (1g-2a) in seven games as a Predator, including assists in back-to-back contests.
NASHVILLE’S ALL-STAR EXTENDS POINT STREAK TO SIX
Predators captain Shea Weber started his week by being named to his second consecutive All-Star Game, and has since notched assists in games both that night vs. Minnesota, and Thursday against Florida, to extend his active point streak to a career-high seven games, and assist streak to a personal-best four contests.
Not only did the Sicamous, B.C., native’s 11 points (2g-9a) during the streak pace the team, but also tied him for first with Boston’s Patrice Bergeron (6g-5a) and Carolina’s Tuomu Ruutu (4g-7a), for the most points in the NHL since it started on New Year’s Eve (prior to Friday’s games). Weber now has 15 points (3g-12a) in the last 15 games, and is one of just three defensemen – along with Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien and Phoenix’s Keith Yandle – to lead his team in points. In addition to being among the Top 15 blueliners in goals (7) and points (26), the 6-4, 232-pounds is ranked third at the position in shots (139), tied for fifth in hits (116) and is 10th in average ice time (24:46). Since the start of the 2006-07 campaign, only Washington’s Mike Green (77) has more goals than Weber (69) among NHL defensemen, and the Predators are 7-0-0 this season when their captain scores.
SUTER ROLLING AS WELL Ryan Suter has had a hot hand of late as well, posting six assists in seven games since Dec. 31 and 14 (1g-13a) in his last 16 games. The Madison, Wis., native is tied with Weber for tops in the League in plus/minus rating since Dec. 31 (+13) and his +19 rating this season is tied for fifth among NHL blueliners. Suter and Weber both have 19 assists, tied for the team lead and among the Top 20 d-men, and Nashville is 18-8-5 with the U.S. Olympian in the lineup vs. 4-6-1 without him.
DEFENSE AND PK STRONG AT HOME
The Predators now have the second-lowest goals-against average in the League (2.30), but are even stronger on home ice. Having allowed just a single goal in their last two home games, the Preds are now tied with Boston for first in the League in home goals-against average (2.00). The penalty kill has also been strong overall, but even stronger at Bridgestone Arena. In Nashville’s nine games since Christmas, the PK has successfully extinguished 25-of-26 (96.2 percent) chances against since the Christmas Break, and 80-of-87 man-down situations (92 percent) in the last 27 games, to move into a tie for second in the League (86 percent). Nashville is 18-6-4 when not allowing a power-play marker. The home penalty kill is even better – its ranked first in the NHL (88.4 percent), and has only allowed just four power-play goals on 56 opportunities since Oct. 19 (92.9 percent)
NASHVILLE’S STAR NETMINDER
Goaltender Pekka Rinne gave up more than one goal for the first time in six starts on Thursday at Florida, but still ranks among the League’s elite in nearly every statistical category. The Kempele, Finland native has allowed two goals or fewer in 12 of his last 15 starts, lowering his goals-against average to 2.15 and upping his save percentage to .927. He ranks among the Top Five netminders is both categories, making him one of just three players (with Boston’s Tim Thomas and Washington’s Semyon Varlamov) to do so.
The Predators have won six of their last seven games, outscoring the opposition 26-10 in that span… They have scored four-or-more goals, and allowed just one goal on five separate occasions during the run – which dates back to Dec. 31 at Minnesota – scoring goals in 17-of-21 periods. This all despite being outshot 213-195… With a 23-14-6 record and 52 points, the Predators just one point shy of last season’s 43-game pace (25-15-3, 53 points) which saw the team finish with 100 points for the third time in club history. The Predators’ first-half success has come despite playing just 19 home games, tied for second-fewest in the League… Nashville has the League’s third-best record when outshooting the opposition (13-5-3)… Nashville’s power play has gone 10-for-46 (21.7 percent) over the last 15 games after clicking at 11.1 percent in the prior 27 games (11-for-99)… Nashville has scored 23 of its 26 goals at even and full strength during its six-game winning streak, and now has the ninth-best five-on-five goal differential in the League (1.13)… Sergei Kostitsyn has 20 points (9g-11a) since Dec. 1, including point streaks of eight and six games during that span. The Novopolotsk, Belarus native has already set a career high in goals (11), and leads the National Hockey League in shooting percentage (23.9)… Patric Hornqvist has eight points in his last seven games, including three multi-point outings and three game-winning goals. He is tied with Kostitsyn for second on the team in points (13g-10a), and paces the Preds in goals. Paired with his franchise-record tying eight game winning goals from 2009-10, he is tied with Daniel Sedin and Alex Ovechkin for the most game winners since the start of the 2009-10 season (12)… Jerred Smithson ranks 10th in the League in face-off percentage (57.7) and 10th among NHL forwards in average shorthanded time on ice (3:02)… Francis Bouillon is second among NHL defensemen in hits (131).