TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. BOSTON
On 2011 St. Patrick’s Day, the Boston Bruins make their first visit to the Music City since 2009 Valentine’s Day, a game the Predators took 3-2 in a shootout thanks to both regulation goals and the shootout decider by David Legwand. Pekka Rinne made 23 saves in regulation and turned aside three-of-four shooters in the breakaway competition, just the third shootout appearance of his career, to outduel Manny Fernandez. The last time these teams met was Oct. 21, 2009 at TD Garden, a game the home team claimed by a 3-2 score. Jerred Smithson scored the game’s opening goal and Colin Wilson made it 2-1 at 6:17 of the second period on his first career goal in his return to the city where he had won an NCAA National Championship with Boston University just six months earlier, but the Bruins would tie it up later in the period, then win it on a Steve Begin goal (now under contract with the Predators and playing with AHL Milwaukee) in the final frame.
This is the 16th all-time matchup, and ninth at Bridgestone Arena, between the Preds and Bruins. The teams have split the eight games, with the most notable of Nashville’s four wins coming on Jan. 19, 2001. After a scoreless 60 minutes, defenseman Cale Hulse scored at 2:24 of overtime to give the Predators their first-ever sudden-death win on home ice. Mike Dunham stopped all 35 shots he faced at the other end of the ice to record his first career shutout, the fifth in franchise history.
FAST FACT: The Boston Bruins are the only team Nashville has not completed a transaction with since the 1998 Expansion Draft. The Predators selected Mike Sullivan from Boston, then traded him to Phoenix four days later.
Only two current Predators have more than seven career points against the Boston Bruins: J-P Dumont and Steve Sullivan. Dumont has 26 points (12g-14a) in 34 career games against the Bruins, including his second career hat trick, while with Buffalo, on Dec. 12, 2000 at Boston against goaltender Peter Skudra. Sullivan has 22 points (7g-13a) in 22 career games against Boston, and notched one of his two career-high five-point games (3g-2a) against Boston, that coming on March 9, 2003 with Chicago. It was also his third career hat trick, with all three goals coming on Steve Shields… Sergei Kostitsyn has three career two-goal games, with the most recent coming March 13, 2010 against Boston while with Montreal… Jordin Tootoo has three career two-assist performances, with one of them coming Dec. 30, 2006 in a 5-0 victory over Boston.
FOUNDATION BUILT ON DEFENSE
Tuesday’s game marked just the fifth time this season – and first since Feb. 7 – that the Predators had allowed more than three goals in a home contest. The club ranks first in home goals-against average at 2.06, and second overall at 2.30. A large factor in Nashville’s defensive success has been its discipline and penalty killing. The Predators tied a season low by being shorthanded just once (attained seven times) and being assessed two penalty minutes (done three times), and finished a perfect one-for-one on the PK. Nashville has been shorthanded an average of 3.41 times per game, third-lowest in the Western Conference, and is averaging 8.8 penalty minutes per contest, tied for a League low. Tuesday was the 44th time this season the killers have not allowed a goal, including the 23rd time in 32 home games. Nashville is ranked fourth in the NHL in penalty killing (85.4 percent), but is even better on home ice, allowing just 12 goals on 110 opportunities (89.1 percent), second-best in the NHL.
NASHVILLE’S VEZINA/HART CANDIDATE
Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne – ranked second in the NHL in both goals-against average (2.09) and save percentage (.929) – has started 18 consecutive games dating back to a Feb. 5 shutout of Detroit and 31 of Nashville’s 34 games since New Year’s Eve, holding the opposition to two goals or fewer in 21 of those games while amassing 17 victories. His victory total since that date ranks fourth in the League, and his 88 wins is eighth among netminders since the start of the 2008-09 campaign. The Kempele, Finland native also is tied for fourth in shutout, and has all 20 of his career whitewashes since Dec. 1, 2008. Not only does that put him just one shy of the franchise record currently held by Tomas Vokoun, but it is the most in the League since then.
DUELING ELITE DEFENSEMEN
Predators captain Shea Weber and Ryan Suter form one of the League’s top defensive pairings, with Weber providing the points and physical play, and Suter doing everything else. Weber moved into a tie with Kimmo Timonen for first on the franchise’s goals by a defenseman list (79) on Saturday vs. Colorado with his 15th tally of the season, putting him just one behind Minnesota’s Brent Burns for second among NHL defensemen, and four behind leader Dustin Byfuglien. The Sicamous, B.C., native is just one behind Mike Green of the Washington Capitals (78) in tallies since the start of the 2006-07 campaign, and he is the only defenseman to hit double-digits in goals (10) since the calendar flipped to 2011. Eleven of his goals have come in 32 home games vs. four in 38 road contests. With 43 points, Weber is tied for eighth among blueliners in that category, and one of just four at the position to lead their teams in scoring (Phoenix’s Keith Yandle, Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson and Atlanta’s Tobias Enstrom are the others). He’s also third among defensemen in shots (223, behind Byfuglien and Boston’s Zdeno Chara), tied fourth in hits (191) and eighth in the League in average ice time (25:19).
Suter breached the 25-minute mark in ice time for the 35th time in 56 complete games he’s played on Tuesday vs. Los Angeles, and has led the team in the category in 8-of-10 games since returning from a one-game absence on Feb. 22. The Madison Wis., native is 10th in the League in average ice time (25:11). He’s also posted a posted a plus/minus rating of +18 since Dec. 31 – second only to Boston’s Adam McQuaid (+21) – and +24 on the season, tied for fifth among blueliners and tied for eighth among all NHLers. The Predators have gone 31-17-8 in the 56 complete games Suter has played vs. 4-8-2 in the games he missed or left early.
NASHVILLE’S TOP LINE
Though they were not together on Tuesday – Joel Ward missed the game – the trio of Martin Erat, David Legwand and Ward has been in on 10 of Nashville’s last 15 goals (66.7 percent), and on 24 of the team’s 38 goals (63.2 percent) since the third period of a 3-0 victory over Detroit on Feb. 5. Erat leads the line in points with nine (3g-6a) in his last six games and 21 points (7g-14a) in 20 outings since Feb. 1. Ward has scored goals in the last three games he’s dressed for, and has the Predators’ last two game-winning goals. The Scarborough, Ont., native has seven points (3g-4a) in his last seven outings, and since Dec. 31 at Minnesota, he’s posted 18 points (7g-11a) in 33 games after amassing just nine points (3g-6a) in the first 36 games of 2010-11. He has a +9 rating in home games vs. a -9 ratings in road contests in 2010-11. Legwand has nine points (2g-7a) in his last nine outings and 14 points (4g-10a) in 16 games since Feb. 9.
PREDS ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY
The Nashville Predators have played five times on St. Patrick’s Day, posting a 3-2-(0)-0 record. They topped Dallas in 2007, 4-3, the last time they played on this date, and posted wins in back-to-back years over Phoenix in 2000 (4-3 OT) and 2001 (4-1).
MAN-GAMES LOST PILES UP
With five Predators currently on the injured reserve list, the team’s man-games lost reached 286 last game, third-highest in franchise history behind 1998-99 (391) and 1999-2000 (319). Joel Ward became the 20th player to miss time this season on Tuesday, meaning Shea Weber, Jerred Smithson and Colin Wilson are the only players to appear in all 70 of the team’s games to this point.