TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. VANCOUVER
The Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks renew acquaintances tonight at Rogers Arena for the first time since meeting in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals. The last time these teams took to B.C. ice, the Predators were staving off elimination and forcing a Game Six in Nashville thanks to Joel Ward’s third-period heroics and David Legwand’s two goals in the opening 21 minutes of play. One week prior to the 4-3 Game 5 victory, the Preds had made franchise history in Vancouver, winning Game 2 behind a Matt Halischuk goal at 14:51 of double-overtime, ending the longest game in club history and knotting the series at one. Though the Predators would fall to the eventual Cup Finalist Canucks in six games, they claimed two victories on three tries in the Pacific Northwest during their first venture into the postseason’s second round.
In the regular season, Nashville’s trips to Rogers Arena can only be described with one word – split. For the past six seasons, the Predators have gone 1-1-0 in Vancouver, claiming victory by a 3-2 margin on three occasions and shutting out the Canucks 3-0 on two other trips.
A season ago, both teams won twice in four meetings – Vancouver in the most recent matchup on March 29, 3-1, and Nashville in its last trip to Vancouver, 3-0, on March 3 behind Pekka Rinne’s 19th career shutout. Neither team could muster a first-period goal in the four games, but Nashville outscored Vancouver 8-6 despite being outshot 99-132.
Martin Erat – currently out of the lineup with an upper-body injury – led the team in points vs. Vancouver in 2010-11 with four (1g-3a) in four games. Since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, the Trebic Czech Republic native has 12 points (5g-7a) in 11 games against the Canucks including his second career hat trick and a career-high four points (tie) on Dec. 8, 2009… Rinne has a .500 record against the Canucks, going 4-4-0, but has 1.89 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in those eight career appearances.
Jonathon Blum spent four seasons with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants from 2005-09, and ended his junior career as the Giant’s all-time leader in defensive scoring, in addition to ranking third overall on the franchise’s scoring list with 204 points (49g-155a) in 248 regular season games. The Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., native also posted 42 points (14g-28a) in 67 postseason contests, helping the team claim four division titles, two conference titles, a WHL Championship and a Memorial Cup Championship. He was named the 2009 Canadian Hockey League Jack Link’s Defenseman of the Year and captained the Giants to their best season in franchise history in 2008-09.
NOTABLE STOYLINES TO WATCH
• The Predators are the youngest team in the NHL at 26 years old, and currently have six Calder-eligible rookies on the roster – forwards Craig Smith and Blake Geoffrion, defensemen Jonathon Blum, Mattias Ekholm and Teemu Laakso, and goaltender Anders Lindback.
• The Nashville Badgers – Craig Smith, who posted four points (2g-2a) in his first two NHL games, Blake Geoffrion, the first Nashville native to make it to the NHL, and Norris Trophy candidate Ryan Suter have all come to the Predators from the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
• Younger players receiving bigger roles – after a season or two of learning the ropes under veterans like Steve Sullivan, J-P Dumont and Joel Ward, several younger Preds are being given the chance to play increased roles early in 2011-12. Colin Wilson averaged 13:17 a season ago, but is up near 16:00 per game early this season; Nick Spaling’s ice time has increased roughly nearly four minutes this season; and Matt Halischuk has gone from 10:07 per game in 2010-11, to 15:56 in 2011-12.
KOSTITSYN’S FIRST GOAL EXTENDS POINT STREAK TO FIVE
With his first goal of the 2011-12 season on Monday at Edmonton, Nashville forward Sergei Kostitsyn extended his season-opening point streak to five games (1g-4a). It is the first time a Predator has kicked off a campaign with at least a point in five straight since Dan Hamhuis attained the feat to start the 2007-08 season (1g-5a). The Novopolotsk, Belarus native tied for the team lead in points (23g-27a-50pts) and paced the Predators in goals in 2010-11, despite notching only three points (1g-2a) in Nashville’s first 23 games. He’d go on to amass 47 points (21g-26a) in 59 games from Dec. 1, 2010 to the end of the regular season.
LEGWAND’S STRONG START
Though David Legwand saw his four-game point streak to start the season end on Monday night, he still has eight points (2g-6a) through five games to lead the team and rank among the League leaders. Nashville’s first ever draft pick has been in on eight of the team’s 12 goals so far, and tied a career high in points in game No. 2 of the season at St. Louis on Oct. 8 (2g-2a-4pts). Legwand’s career highs in both goals (27) and points (63) came during the 2006-07 season when Nashville set franchise records for wins (51) and points (110). Since then, the Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., native has amassed between 38 and 44 points per season.
Not only are the Predators the youngest team in the NHL, but they have a roster that includes 17 players that have been drafted and developed by the team. No fewer than 15 Nashville draftees have been in the lineup for a game this season, including the home opener on Oct. 15 vs. Phoenix when all six defensemen were of the homegrown variety.
Here’s a breakdown of Nashville’s current roster, including the three players (Erat, Fisher and Bouillon) that are currently on injured reserve.
• FOUR First-Round Picks – Legwand, Suter, Blum, Wilson
• FOUR Second-Round Picks – Klein, Weber, Geoffrion, Spaling
• FOUR Third-Round or Fourth-Round Picks – Laakso, Ekholm, Smith, Tootoo
• FIVE picks from the Fifth Round or Later – O’Reilly, Erat (191st overall), Lindback (207th overall), Hornqvist (230th overall) and Rinne (258th overall)
• THREE through Trade – Fisher, Kostitsyn and Halischuk
• FIVE Free agents/waivers – Smithson, Bergfors, McGrattan, Bouillon and Hillen
A WINNING CULTURE
The Nashville Predators have made the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, making them one of only six franchises to advance to the playoffs six times since 2003-04 (San Jose, Detroit, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Montreal are the others). Nashville is also one of just four teams (with Detroit, San Jose and Calgary) to reach the 40-win mark in each of the last six seasons, and has amassed the League’s sixth-highest win total (274) since 2005-06.
COUNTDOWN TO NASHVILLE’S 1,000TH GAME
The Nashville Predators will celebrate their 1,000th regular season game on Saturday, Nov. 12 vs. Montreal. Leading up to this game – and all season long – we will look back on some of the most memorable moments in Predators history to date.
October 21, 1998: Dunham makes 52 saves at Detroit
Five games into franchise history, Mike Dunham’s 52-save effort against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena still stands as one of the most impressive single-game goaltending performances in franchise history. The save total registered in that night’s 5-2 defeat, Nashville’s first game against the then-defending Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings, stood as the franchise’s record for most stops in a single game for more than 10 years.
Perhaps most impressive that night was that Dunham kept the young Predators in the game, despite the feeling that the visitors from Nashville spent most of the tilt skating uphill. Detroit took a one-goal lead into the third period despite having outshot Nashville 40-7 through two periods, and the Predators tied the game at 1-1 only 1:04 into the third period. The Johnson City, N.Y., native, who now serves as the New York Islanders’ goaltending coach, stopped all 27 shots he faced in the second period, which still stands as a single-period franchise record.