TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. EDMONTON
The Nashville Predators begin their first of two swings through Western Canada tonight, the first meeting between the Predators and Edmonton Oilers this season. Each of the last two seasons, the Predators have taken three-of-four games from the Oilers. Since falling to Edmonton on Oct. 12, 2009, the Predators have won three straight, most recently a 4-3 decision on March 2, 2010 behind a goal and an assist by Denis Grebeshkov, who made his Nashville debut against the team he played for just 48 hours prior.
At Rexall Place, the Preds are also riding a three-game winning streak and have won seven of the last eight. A season ago, they doubled-up Edmonton 6-3 on Dec. 17, despite giving up the game’s first two goals thanks to Patric Hornqvist’s two goals and three points, then in their second trip through on Jan. 12, jumped out to a 4-0 lead and cruised to a 5-3 win behind current Oiler Ryan Jones’ first career three-point game (1g-2a) and 38 saves by Pekka Rinne. The last five seasons have seen Nashville post a 14-2-0 record against Edmonton, outscoring it 64-43. Nashville has scored five-or-more goals seven times in that stretch, and hit the four-goal mark four times.
Aided by his career-tying three-point performance on Dec. 17, 2009, Hornqvist led all Predators in scoring vs. Edmonton in 2009-10, posting six (3g-3a) in four games. For his career, the Sollentuna, Sweden native has seven points (4g-3a) in five games… J-P Dumont also notched greater than a point-per-game against the Oilers a season ago with four points (1g-3a) in three games. Since joining the Predators in 2006-07, he has 22 points (6g-16a) in 15 games against them… Shea Weber has seen his greatest offensive success against Edmonton, with 13 points (7g-6a) in 15 career games… Martin Erat notched his first career hat trick, a natural hat trick, in this building on March 4, 2008, just the second road hat trick in franchise history… Sergei Kostitsyn notched a goal and an assist in his only previous game against Edmonton… Joel Ward has six points (1g-5a) in eight games against Edmonton since joining the Predators.
THE WINS KEEP COMING
Nashville has posted a 9-2-0 record in its last 11 games, improving the team’s 2010-11 mark to 26-15-6, good for 58 points and fourth in the Western Conference. A season ago when the Predators posted their third-best point total in franchise history (47-29-6, 100pts), the club was 28-16-3 (59pts) through 47 games. The Preds have gone 6-2-0 in their last eight road games, and have amassed 15 road wins – tied for second in the League – while playing the League’s second-most away contests to this point (27). After the All-Star Break, the club will play 21-of-32 games on home ice, where it has amassed 142 victories since 2005-06, just one shy of Anaheim’s total for second in the League (the Ducks have played 25 home games); Detroit sits first with 151 home victories. The Predators have taken to home ice a League-low 20 times in 2010-11.
KEEPING THE GOALS AGAINST LOW AND THE GOALS FOR HIGH
The Predators gave up two goals or fewer for the ninth time in the last 11 games – and the 23rd time in the last 32 games – on Thursday at Colorado, and rank third in the NHL, and first in the Western Conference, in goals against average (2.34). Leading the defensive effort is goaltender Pekka Rinne, who has allowed a single goal in six of his last nine starts, going 8-1-0 in that span with a 1.44 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage. The Kempele, Finland native has the League’s highest win total since the calendar turned to 2011, and is second among all netminders in both goals-against average (2.09) and save percentage (.930). He is just four wins shy of tying Mike Dunham (81) for second on the franchise’s all-time list.
On the opposite side of the ice, Nashville has posted five goals in back-to-back games, and struck four-or-more nine times in the last 11 games, outscoring the opposition 41-21 in that span. The 11-game outburst has seen the team’s goals per game average rise from 2.31 to 2.64. At even strength, it is 36-17, helping the club move into sixth in the League in five-on-five play (1.18 goals for/against ratio). The Predators have scored four-or-more goals seven times in the 11 games, They have registered a goal in all 11 third periods, racking up a 19-7 goal differential in the final frame, and have at least one goal in 25-of-33 periods. This all despite being outshot 347-293.
CONTRIBUTIONS FROM ALL OVER
In Thursday night’s 5-1 victory at Colorado, 12-of-18 Nashville skaters reached the scoresheet, and all 18 played at least 10:30, meaning at the halfway point of the Predators season-long six-game road trip, 16 of the 19 players to have dressed for at least one of the three games has registered a point. Go back one game further to the club’s 3-2 victory at home against Chicago last Saturday, and 18-of-21 Predators have at least one point.
J-P Dumont – who scored two goals one week ago at Chicago (Jan. 16) and recorded his fourth career hat trick on Tuesday at Phoenix, has points (5g-1a) in each of the first three games of the trip, as does Martin Erat (1g-2a), who had missed nine games due to injury prior to that Jan. 15 home game. Patric Hornqvist has registered multi-point performances in each of the last two games, scoring twice at Phoenix and picking up two assists at Colorado, giving him seven goals and 12 points in his last 11 games. Rookie Matt Halischuk has attained milestones in each of the road trip’s first three games – he played his first game as a Predator at Chicago, recorded his first career multi-point/assist performance at Phoenix (2a), then scored his first goal as a Predator (and second career goal) on Thursday at Colorado. His three points (1g-2a) in the past two games equals his output from the first 21 games of his career with New Jersey from 2008-10.
OTHERS GETTING IN ON THE OFFENSE David Legwand recorded a goal and an assist vs. Colorado, and since returning from missing 18-of-19 contests between Nov. 20 and Dec. 28, he has posted nine points (4g-5a) and a +10 rating while seeing the team go 9-2-0 in 11 games… Cody Franson posted a goal and an assist at the Pepsi Center on Thursday, giving him three points (1g-2a) through three games of the current trip… Since Dec. 28, Joel Ward has eight points (2g-6a) in 12 games, equaling his point output from the season’s first 35 contests (3g-5a)… Colin Wilson has points in back-to-back games, and 10 points (5g-5a) in 12 games… Sergei Kostitsyn scored the opening goal of Thursday’s game, giving him 21 points (10g-11a) in 24 games since Dec. 1. He leads the League in shooting percentage (23.1).
THE SUTER-WEBER PAIRING
The defensive pairing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter have turned on the offense as well during Nashville’s 11-game hot streak, combining for 22 points (3g-19a) and a +25 rating during the run. Weber has points in 10 of the 11 games, amassing 14 points (3g-10a) in that span, while Suter has eight assists in the last nine games. Weber leads all defensemen in points (2g-10a) during the month of January, and with 19 points (4g-14a) in the last 20 games, is just five points shy of becoming the second defenseman, and fourth Predators draft pick, to hit the 200-point mark with the club. Weber ranks among the Top 15 among defensemen in both goals and points (8g-21a-29pts), and is one of just three defensemen – along with Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien and Phoenix’s Keith Yandle – to lead his team in points. Suter is tied for 11th in the NHL in plus/minus rating (+18) and has 16 points (1g-15a) in his last 20 contests. The Madison, Wis., native is currently tied with Marek Zidlicky for third on the franchise’s points by a defenseman list (28g-147a), and tied with Weber for the team lead in assists (21). Nashville is 22-9-5 with Suter in the lineup vs. 4-6-1 without him this season.