TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. COLUMBUS
The Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets close out their tightly contested six-game season series tonight at Bridgestone Arena with the Predators holding a three games to two edge thus far. The last time these teams met, in a Sunday matinee on Feb. 27, the Predators extended their home winning streak over the Jackets to 16 games dating back to Nov. 18, 2006. It is the longest active home winning streak in the National Hockey League. That afternoon, the Preds gave up the first goal of the game and trailed at the second intermission, but would outscore Columbus 3-1 in the final frame on a power-play goal by Shea Weber, Jonathon Blum’s first career goal, and the game-winner by David Legwand with just 1:35 left in regulation. Nashville has outscored Columbus 58-29 during the 16-game home winning streak, but five of the last six contests have been decided by one goal, with four of those going to overtime/a shootout. The one exception during the stretch was in the Blue Jackets first visit to the Music City in 2010-11 on Jan. 2, when the Predators again relinquished the tilt’s first goal just 37 seconds in, and trailed after 20 minutes, but reeled off three second-period goals and one more in the third to win 4-1. Weber’s sixth career three-point effort (1g-2a) earned him First Star Honors in the rout, while Patric Hornqvist (1g-1a) and Colin Wilson (2a) also recorded multi-point performances in what proved to be the second of six straight wins for the Preds. Nashville’s other win came 4-3 in a shootout on Dec. 1, sandwiched in between a pair of Steve Mason shutouts on Nov. 22 (2-0) and Feb. 22 (4-0). Going beyond the 16-game winning streak, the Predators have only one regulation home loss to the Blue Jackets since the start of the 2001-02 season, going 25-1-(1)-1 in that span. Overall, Nashville is 26-5-2 in the series since 2006-07, and 43-14-(4)-1 against the Jackets all time. Seven of the last 11 meetings between the clubs have needing overtime/a shootout to determine a winner and since Dec. 27, 2007, the home team has won 18-of-22 games.
Weber leads the team with five points (2g-3a) and 10 penalty minutes in five games against Columbus this season. For his career, he’s amassed 20 points (7g-13a) in 29 career games against the Blue Jackets, his highest total of any team. In addition to his three-point effort on Jan. 2, Nashville’s captain posted a career-high four points (1g-3a) on Oct. 18, 2008… Martin Erat has three assists in four games against Columbus this season, and 10 points (3g-7a) in eight games against the Blue Jackets since the start of last season. The Trebic, Czech Republic native has more career goals and points against the Blue Jackets than any other team in the League (13g-29a-42pts, 47gp), including 41 points (9g-32a) in 42 games since the start of the 2003-04 campaign… 2007 first-round pick Jonathon Blum made his NHL debut against the Blue Jackets on Feb. 22, 2010 in the arena where he took the stage as the 23rd overall pick (first round) in the 2007 Entry Draft… Jordin Tootoo has 95 penalty minutes in 36 games against Columbus, the highest total of any player against a single team in franchise history.
Tonight is the beginning of Nashville’s 13th set of back-to-backs this season. It is 8-4-0 on the front end and 6-5-1 on the back end of these situations thus far in 2010-11. Tonight is also Nashville’s fourth Friday game of the season, and only Friday home game. It is 2-1-0 on Fridays.
TWENTY-THREE HOME WINS, SIX STRAIGHT SEASONS
The Nashville Predators’ victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night was their 23rd home win this season, making them the only franchise to record 23-or-more home wins in each season since 2005-06. Nashville is 9-2-1 in its last 12 home games, and 23-9-8 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. In the six-season span, the Preds have the third-most home wins in the League (154) behind Detroit (158) and San Jose (155).
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 (2.18), allowing more than three goals only seven times through 40 games on Bridgestone Arena ice. The home penalty kill has been perfect the last three games – going 11-for-11 in that span against the second (Vancouver), 12th (Atlanta) and 16th (Detroit) ranked power plays in the League, putting it third in the League on home ice at 87.7 percent.
MAKE IT TEN FOR KOSTITSYN
First year Predator Sergei Kostitsyn not only notched his third two-goal game of the season (he had three career two-goal games entering this season) and second three-point performance of the campaign in Tuesday’s 6-3 victory over Atlanta, but also extended his active point streak to 10 games – tied for the second-longest point streak in franchise history and tied for the longest active point streak in the League with Anaheim’s Corey Perry. The Novopolotsk, Belarus native has 14 points (6g-8a) during the streak, which started March 17, and has seen him become Nashville’s only 20-goal scorer (22), in addition to moving to within a single point of the team lead with 49. Kostitsyn had never recorded a point streak longer than four games (2g-2a, Dec. 20-27, 2007) in his first 174 NHL contests, but now has three point streaks spanning six games or more since Dec. 1, amassing a team-best 46 points (20g-26a) in 56 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).
Seventy-seven NHLers entered Thursday’s games with 22-or-more goals, but Kostitsyn was the only one who had racked up that many with less than 120 shots. He leads the League in shooting percentage (24.2), accumulating his total on 91 shots.
HORNQVIST AND FISHER ROUND OUT OFFENSIVE TRIO
Filling out Kostisyn’s line are Patric Hornqvist and Mike Fisher, who have put together hot streaks of their own recently. Fisher scored his first power-play goal as a Predator in Tuesday’s victory, extending his active point streak to five games, racking up seven points (4g-3a) in that span after posting four points (1g-3a) in his first 20 games with Nashville. He is now just one goal shy of his fifth 20-goal campaign in the last six seasons. Playing in his 700th career contest on Tuesday, Fisher was a +1, and has now finished with a plus or even rating in 16 of the last 18 games, helping the club to a 12-3-3 mark in that span. Hornqvist tied a career high – and a high by a Predator this season – with three assists against Atlanta, giving him 11 points (1g-10a) in his last nine games. Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf (16) is the only NHLer with more assists than Hornqvist in his team’s last 10 games.
HALISCHUK AND TOOTOO FIND CHEMISTRY
Rookie Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo have provided some welcomed secondary scoring of late for the Predators, with each player recording a multi-point effort on Tuesday. For Tootoo, the two-goal, three-point performance was the first of his career, earning him First Star honors. He has goals in back-to-back games played (missing one due to injury) and six points (4g-2a) in his last five games after posting a single assist in his previous 19 games played. The Rankin Inlet, Nunavut native has nine points (5g-4a) in eight career games against the Thrashers. Halischuk has points/assists in four straight games dressed going back to March 19 (1g-4a), and points in six of eight since March 10 (2g-5a).
LATE SEASON CHARGE
Fresh off of a four-game West Coast swing and heading into their March 10 game against Minnesota, the Nashville Predators sat 11th in the Western Conference with a 33-24-10 record and 76 points. Since then, the Predators have gone 10-2-1, moving all the way up to fourth in the West. Nashville entered the contest vs. the Wild with 163 non-shootout goals in 67 games (2.43), but since then, has scored 46 goals in 13 games (3.54). Nashville is nearing its sixth playoff berth in the last seven seasons – something accomplished by only six other franchises (New Jersey, Philadelphia, Montreal, San Jose and Detroit), and has amassed the League’s fifth-highest win total since 2005-06 (271). It is one of just four teams (with Detroit, San Jose and Calgary) to reach the 40-win mark in each of the last six seasons.
PLAYER QUICK HITS Martin Erat notched an assist on Tuesday to become the club’s first 50-point player. It is the fourth time in the last five campaigns he has reached 50 points, and the seventh consecutive season he has posted at least 49 points. With points (2g-2a) in three straight, the Trebic, Czech Republic native now has 17 points (7g-10a) in 16 games since March 3, and 29 points (11g-18a) in 30 games since the All-Star break…. Cody Franson’s fifth multi-point performance of the season on Tuesday gives him three helpers in his last three games and six assists in his last 11 outings… Ryan Suter has nine points (1g-8a) in his last 10 games, giving him 17 points (3g-14a) in 26 games since Feb. 5. 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… David Legwand has nine points (6g-3a) in his last 10 games, and 23 points (10g-13a) in 26 outings since Feb. 9… Joel Ward’s next point will be his 100th… 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 (2.14), and save percentage (.929). Since Dec. 31, the Kempele, Finland native has seen action in 40 of Nashville’s 44 games, allowing two goals or fewer 26 times in that span while posting 24 wins, second-highest in the League. He has a goals-against average of 2.02 and a save percentage of .934 in that 40-game span… Shea Weber has scored an NHL defenseman-high 12 of his 16 goals this season on home ice.