TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. MINNESOTA
The Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild close out their 2010-11 series tonight at Bridgestone Arena, with the Predators having claimed the past two contests after dropping the first meeting of the Preds and Wild this season back on Nov. 26 (4-1). The last time these teams met – in one of Nashville’s franchise-low three home games during the month of January (Jan. 11) – the Predators scored four unanswered goals in the second and third periods to cruise to a 5-1 victory. Nick Spaling stole the show with his first career two-goal performance, goals number three and four of his career, to earn First Star honors, while Joel Ward netted the game winner just 62 seconds into the middle frame. Spaling (2g), Ward (1g-1a) and Marcel Goc (1g-1a) all posted multi-point outings with Pekka Rinne turning aside 25-of-26 shots on the back end. Nashville’s other win came by a 4-1 decision on New Year’s Eve. Cody Franson and Patric Hornqvist put Nashville ahead 2-0 after 40 minutes in the affair, with Joel Ward and Sergei Kostitsyn adding empty netters – the first time in franchise history the club has score multiple empty-net goals in a game. Both Shea Weber and David Legwand – in his first full game in six weeks (he missed 18 due to injury) – notched two assists in the victory. Much of Nashville’s success through three games is due to its play in the third period – it has outshot the Wild 38-16 and outscored it 7-2 through three games. The penalty kill is also a perfect nine-for-nine.
Nashville will be looking to sweep the home portion of the series for the first time since 2005-06 tonight, after splitting it in each of the past three seasons. It is 11-5-(1)-2 in Minnesota’s 19 all-time trips to the Music City.
Rinne has stopped 47 of the last 49 shots he’s seen from the Wild, and is 5-2-1 all-time vs. Minnesota with a pair of shutouts… Hornqvist assisted on both of Nashville’s goals in the first meeting of the season, giving him five points (2g-3a) in seven career games against Minnesota… As a Predator, J-P Dumont has 20 points (6g-14a) in 18 games against the Wild, and is also averaging nearly a point-per-game against the club for his career with 22 points (7g-15a) in 24 games… 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. He has three points (1g-2a) in three games against his former team this season after posting one point (1g) in his first seven career games against the Wild.
ERAT AND LEGWAND KEEP THE OFFENSE FLOWING
The two longest tenured Predators, and top-two players in nearly every one of the franchise’s all-time statistical categories – David Legwand (753gp, 163g-274a-437pts) and Martin Erat (603gp, 135g-255a-390pts) – continue to be a steady offensive presence, while primarily playing on the same line. Erat collected a pair of assists on Tuesday at San Jose, giving him points (1g-4a) on each of Nashville’s last five goals during a three-game point streak, 17 points (5g-12a) in 17 games since Feb. 1, and 21 points (6g-15a) in 23 games since Jan. 16 at Chicago in what was his second game back in the lineup after missing nine straight from Dec. 26-Jan. 13 due to injury. The Trebic, Czech Republic native also played 21:26 on Tuesday, his second highest total of the season, and is third among club forwards in average ice time (17:49). Legwand also extended his point streak to three games (1g-3a) on Tuesday and has seven points (2g-5a) in his last six outings and 12 points (4g-8a) in 13 games in the last month (since Feb. 9). He’s been in on four of Nashville’s last five goals. Legwand logged a season-high 23:39 vs. San Jose and is second among forwards in average ice time (18:08). Both players have +11 ratings for the season, tied for second behind Ryan Suter (+21).
DEFENSIVE DUO ON THE BACK END ALSO PLAYING WELL
The defensive pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are also playing solid hockey of late, though are contributing in different ways. Suter led the team in ice time for the sixth consecutive game – and for the 31st time this season – by playing 30:37, the second time this season and fourth time in his career he’s logged more than 30 minutes in a contest. Additionally, of the 53 complete games he’s played (not leaving early due to injury/illness) he has played more than 25 minutes on 33 occasions and is on pace to average more than a minute more per game than his previous career high (24:15 in 2008-09). The Madison, Wis., native is tied for eighth among NHL blueliners in plus/minus rating and with four points (2g-2a) in his last six games, is now tied for the team lead in assists (27). Nashville has gone 29-16-8 in the 53 complete games Suter has played vs. 4-8-2 in the games he missed or left early.
Weber, meanwhile, continues to provide offense from the back end, scoring his 14th goal of the season and adding an assist to move into third among blueliners in goals and 10th in points (41), the fourth consecutive season he’s posted at least 40 points when playing more than 55 games and just two points shy of last season’s 78-game total (16g-27a-43pts), which was the second-highest of his career. Weber has 10 of his goals in 29 home games vs. four in 38 road contests. Since the start of the 2006-07 campaign, the Sicamous, B.C., native ranks second among NHL defensemen in goals (76), just two shy of leader Mike Green of the Washington Capitals (78). Since Dec. 31, Weber leads NHL blueliners in goals (9) and is second only to defensive points leader Keith Yandle in points, putting up 26 (8g-17a) in 31 games to go with a +14 rating. Nashville’s captain also ranks third at the position in shots (212), is tied for third among d-men in hits (183), and ninth in the NHL in average ice time (25:18).
PREDATORS COME HOME
Having already played a League-high 38 of its 41 road games this season, Nashville now prepares for some time at home, with an NHL-high 12 of its final 15 games on home ice. The Predators leave the Central time zone just twice from here on out, playing once in the Mountain Time Zone (March 31 at Colorado) and once in the Eastern Time Zone (March 20 at Buffalo). Nashville’s opponents have posted a combined .557 points percentage (993gp, 494-381-117) and seven of the 15 games are against teams currently in a playoff position. Despite playing 2-6 fewer home games than the teams above them, the Nashville Predators are sixth in home wins since 2005-06 (146), just three victories out of second place.
The Preds have given up 60 goals in 29 home games, 15 fewer than second-place Boston, while their 2.07 goals-against average is also best in the NHL. They are also ranked second on home ice on the penalty kill (88.3 percent).
The Predators are 30-4-1 when scoring at least three goals… The Predators have the third-best goals-against average (2.31) and have given up the fewest five-on-five goals in the Western Conference (107)… Nashville is ranked fifth in the NHL penalty kill rankings (85 percent)… Nick Spaling has all five of his goals this season on home ice, while Joel Ward has a +6 rating in home games vs. a -9 ratings in road contests in 2010-11… Goaltender Pekka Rinne is ranked second in the NHL in both goals-against average (2.12) and save percentage (.929) and is tied for sixth in shutouts. He’s played in all but three of Nashville’s last 35 games. Since New Year’s Eve, he’s tied for third in the League in wins (15) in addition to posting a 1.93 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.