TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. ATLANTA
The Nashville Predators and their closest geographical rivals, the Atlanta Thrashers, close out their two-game 2010-11 set tonight at Bridgestone Arena. This is the third consecutive season that these two teams have been intra-conference “wild card” foes, playing each other both at home and on the road (Florida and Carolina are Nashville’s other wild cards in 2010-11). In their first meeting of the season at Philips Arena on Dec. 6, Nashville went into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead on goals by Colin Wilson and Steve Sullivan, but would allow three straight – including the game winner by Zach Bogosian at 2:11 of overtime – to earn a point, but drop the decision, 3-2. Nashville held a 12-7 shots edge after 20 minutes, but was outshot 30-17 the rest of the way.
Despite the loss, the Preds have earned at least a point in three straight vs. the Thrashers after sweeping the 2009-10 series set, and are 4-1-1 over the last five seasons against Atlanta. The last time Nashville’s neighbors from the south came to town was on Jan. 30, 2010 in a game Nashville won 4-3 on a goal by Jason Arnott just seven seconds into the third period. Overall, Nashville is 4-2-(0)-0 all-time at home against the Thrashers, with half its win total coming with shutouts (6-0 on Dec. 30, 1999 and 3-0 on Oct. 25, 2007).
All-time series highlight: On the night before the calendar turned on the new millennium (Dec. 30, 1999), Tomas Vokoun turned aside all 25 shots he faced and Rob Valicevic and Cliff Ronning scored twice in a 6-0 victory over the Thrashers at Bridgestone Arena, the team’s first visit to the Music City, and the Predators only shutout of the 1999-2000 campaign. The third whitewash in franchise history was also the most lopsided shutout victory for seven years. It was tied (four times) but not surpassed until a 7-0 rout of the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 23, 2006.
With a goal and an assist in the contest back in December, Wilson now has three points (2g-1a) in two career games vs. Atlanta… With his goal last game, Sullivan has four points (1g-3a) in five games as a Predator against the Thrashers… Since scoring his first career goal against Atlanta’s Pasi Nurminen on Oct. 23, 2003, Jordin Tootoo has produced at a better clip against the Thrashers than any other team. He has six points (3g-3a) in seven career games against them… Martin Erat posted a goal and an assist the last time Nashville and Atlanta played at Bridgestone Arena, and has three points (1g-2a) in his last three games against the Thrash… Pekka Rinne, who has won both career starts against Atlanta, posted his only career assist on the game-winning goal in a 4-3 sudden death victory over the club on Nov. 28, 2008. It was also his first overtime win.
KOSTITSYN’S STREAK HITS NINE GAMES Sergei Kostitsyn – who had never recorded a point streak longer than four games (2g-2a, Dec. 20-27, 2007) in his first 174 NHL contests – extended his current run of consecutive games with a point to nine with his team-leading 20th goal of the season on Saturday against Detroit. Kostitsyn has 11 points (4g-7a) during the streak (March 17-April 2), which is not only tied with Shea Weber’s run from Dec. 31-Jan. 16 (3g-10a) for the longest of the season, but is also tied for the fourth-longest point streak in team history. Kostitsyn now has three point streaks spanning six games or more since Dec. 1, amassing a team-best 43 points (18g-25a) in 55 games since then. Prior to the current stretch, he had 46 points (17g-29a) in his previous 130 games from March 20, 2008 to Nov. 30, 2010. The record for consecutive games with a point is held by J-P Dumont (16 games, 8g-14a-22pts from Dec. 29, 2007-Jan. 31, 2008), while Steve Sullivan has put together a pair of 10-gamers during his time as a Predator (6g-8a-14pts from Jan. 13-Feb. 3, 2007 and 5g-12a-17pts from March 7-25, 2006).
The Novopolotsk, Belarus native’s goal on Saturday made him the team’s first 20-goal scorer and brought his point total up to 46 for the season (20g-26a) – good for third on the club. He entered Monday’s games as one of 94 20-goal scorers this season, but is the only one of that group with less than 110 shots. His goal total has come on 88 shots on goal, putting him first in the League in shooting percentage (22.7).
SUTER ON A ROLL
Defenseman Ryan Suter recorded his seventh multi-point performance of the season on Saturday vs. Detroit, giving him nine points (1g-8a) in his last nine games. Since Feb. 5, the Madison, Wis., native has amassed 17 points (3g-14a) in 26 games, tied for the third-best point-per-game mark among NHL defensemen since that date (.654). Suter is just one point shy of his second career 40-point campaign (4g-35a), while his assist total is just three shy of his personal best. Both career highs were set in 2008-09 (7g-38a-45pts). He paces the team and ranks among the Top 20 blueliners in the helper category, in addition to having the 10th-best plus-minus rating at the position (+22).
NUMBERS 10, 11 AND 12 STAY HOT Martin Erat – who became the second player in franchise history to record 400 points with his game-winning goal last Thursday at Colorado – moved his career point total to 401 with his career-high seventh power-play goal of the season against Detroit. The goal moved the Trebic, Czech Republic native’s team-leading point total to 49 (17g-32a), meaning he’s posted at least that many points in seven consecutive seasons. He has 16 points (7g-9a) in 15 games since March 3, and 28 points (11g-17a) in 29 games since the All-Star break. David Legwand has nine points (6g-3a) in his last nine games, and 23 points (10g-13a) in 25 outings since Feb. 9. The Detroit native has played more than 20 minutes in 13 of the last 16 games, including 22 or more minutes in six of the last nine. Mike Fisher, meanwhile, recorded his second multi-point outing in the last four games with a pair of assists on Saturday vs. Detroit, giving him six points (3g-3a) in that span. Fisher – acquired from Ottawa on Feb. 10 – had four points (1g-3a) in his first 20 games with Nashville. The Peterborough, Ont., native has finished with a plus or even rating in 15 of the last 17 games, helping the club to a 11-3-3 mark in that span. He is expected to play in his 700th career game tonight.
The Predators are 8-2-1 in their last 11 home games, and 22-9-8 on home ice for the season, making them one of just three teams (with Washington and Vancouver) to have fewer than 10 regulation losses on home ice. Tonight, the Predators will be looking to be the only team to post at least 23 wins on home ice for the sixth time since 2005-06. Nashville has the third-most home wins (153) behind Detroit (158) and San Jose (154) in that span.
Much of the Predators’ home success is due to their defense and penalty killing. The Predators have the League’s best goals-against average on home ice (2.15), allowing more than three goals only seven times through 39 games on Bridgestone Arena ice. The home penalty kill has been perfect the last two games – going eight-for-eight in that span against the second (Vancouver) and 16th (Detroit) ranked power plays in the League, putting it third in the League at 87.2 percent.
QUICK HITS Patric Hornqvist assisted on Ryan Suter’s goal at 19:00 of the first period on Saturday, his 100th career NHL point. Joel Ward’s next point will be his 100th… Nick Spaling is expected to play in his 100th NHL contest tonight… Goaltender Pekka Rinne – named the NHL’s Third Star for the month of March – is ranked second in the League in both goals-against average (2.13), and save percentage (.929). Since Dec. 31, the Kempele, Finland native has seen action in 39 of Nashville’s 43 games, allowing two goals or fewer 26 times in that span while posting 23 wins, second-highest in the League. He has a goals-against average of 1.99 and a save percentage of .935 in that 39-game span… Shea Weber has scored an NHL defenseman-high 12 of his 16 goals this season on home ice.
The Predators rank third in the League in team goals-against average (2.33) and are tied with San Jose for the sixth-best five-on-five goals ratio in the NHL (1.14)… Nashville has lost 333 man games, second-most in franchise history behind only 391 lost in the franchise’s inaugural season (1998-99)… The Predators have given up the fewest second-period goals in the League (56)… Nashville is 39-4-2 when scoring three or more goals.