TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. CALGARY
Calgary visits Nashville for the second and final time in 2011-12 tonight – the National Hockey League’s first game of 2012. The Preds claimed victory their first time hosting Calgary three weeks ago after the teams split a pair of games at Scotiabank Saddledome on Oct. 22 and Nov. 29. The Predators hold the 2-1 advantage in the four-game season series, and are 24-19-9 against the Flames all-time, including a 14-9-3 record on Bridgestone ice.
In their last meeting on Dec. 13, Nashville defeated the Flames, ending a six-game home losing streak to the team from Cowtown. Matt Halischuk tallied the game's first goal at 11:43 of the opening period. Curtis Glencross’ tied the game 6:10 into the second frame. Colin Wilson netted his third game-winning goal of the season – a power-play goal – at 3:31 of the third period to give the Predators a 2-1 victory. On Nov. 29, Nashville was in the midst of a five-game road swing. Pekka Rinne stopped 28-of-29 shots, but one goal proved to be the difference. Calgary’s Derek Smith scored the game’s only goal with 1:11 remaining in the first frame, and Mikka Kiprusoff stopped all 26 Nashville shots to lead the Flames to a 1-0 victory. In their first meeting of the 2011-12 campaign, it was Rinne who stole the show, turning aside 33 shots to earn his 21st career shutout and his first-ever win against the Flames, the final Western Conference team he was winless against. The whitewash against the Flames tied Rinne for the franchise’s shutout record held by Tomas Vokoun. Niclas Bergfors scored his only goal in a Predators sweater and Sergei Kostitsyn added his first goal of the season to ensure the victory.
Both of Brian McGrattan’s two points (2a) as a Predator have come against his former team. The Hamilton, Ont., native spent the 2009-10 season with the Flames, registering four points (1g-3a) and 86 penalty minutes in 34 games… Martin Erat has 25 points (8g-17a) in 32 career games vs. Calgary, his highest total against a team outside the Central Division. Outside of the Central Division, David Legwand’s next three highest totals come against Northwest foes – he has 31 points (11g-20a) in 43 games against Edmonton, then 25 points in 40 games against Calgary (9g-16a) and in 38 games against Colorado (8g-16a)… Jerred Smithson played his entire major junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen. In five seasons (1995-2000), he registered 111 points (47g-64a) in 319 games, and helped the Hitmen capture the WHL championship in 1998-99.
The Predators set a franchise record on Wednesday against Minnesota, when Gabriel Bourque became the 20th Predators draftee to see time with the club this season. Three of the 20 draftees, Jonathon Blum, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, are rookie defensemen, who have had to quickly make the transition to the NHL level.
Blum began the 2011-12 season with 23 games of NHL experience under his belt, after making his NHL debut a season ago (Feb. 22, 2011). This season, he has posted seven points (3g-4a) in 33 games, including two points (1g-1a) in his last three games.
Josi was recalled from Milwaukee on Nov. 26 and has posted five points (2g-3a) in 17 games for the Predators. Head Coach Barry Trotz recently commented on Josi’s playing style, saying, “Josi reminds me of a young Ryan Suter. Like Suter, he has the ability to elude forechecks with his smooth skating and passing. They both have great escape-ability and are very intelligent players. It has been fun to watch them play together.”
With increased confidence from the coaching staff, Josi has seen nearly an eight minute increase in his average ice time over the last three games.
Ellis made his NHL debut against Detroit on Dec. 26, making him the 19th draftee to suit up for the Predators – matching the precious franchise record set last season. In three games, he has averaged nearly an 18 minute in ice time. Ellis had big shoes to fill with the absence of Captain Shea Weber, but his skill was immediately noticed by Red Wing’s head coach Mike Babcock. “The kid they brought up is as good as there is in hockey on the power play, so he’s no slouch. He doesn’t have the bomb that Weber has, but he has all those other things – he’s very deceptive, he really sees, he has ice water in his veins,” Babcock said. “He’s going to be dominant power play guy in the National Hockey League.”
Goaltender Pekka Rinne has posted shootout victories in back-to-back games, stopping 69 of 71 shots in the two wins. In shootouts this season, Rinne has stopped 14-of-16 shooters, leading Nashville to a 3-1 record in the post-overtime tie breaker. For his career, he’s stopped 91-of-116 attempts for a .784 save percentage – good for the top spot among all active goalies appearing in at least five shootouts.
This season, the Kempele, Finland native is 18-10-4 with a 2.58 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and three shutouts. He ranks third in wins (18) and leads all NHL goaltenders in shots faced (1,022), saves (940) and appearances (34). The 2011 Vezina Trophy finalist has posted at least 29 wins in three consecutive seasons, and has more shutouts (23) since the beginning of 2008-09 than any other netminder.
Nashville closed out the final month of 2011 with a 2-1 shootout win over St. Louis on Friday night. The Predators finished December with a 9-5-0 record, tying a franchise record for wins in December established during the 2005-06 season and also attained in 2006-07 and 2009-10. Included in those nine wins was a season-long five-game win streak from Dec. 8-17. Nashville’s wins came despite being outscored by its opponents 42-37 (minus five) and outshot 417-409 (minus eight) during the month’s 14 contests. Fourteen different Predators found the back of the net, with David Legwand posting five of his team-leading 10 goals in 2011’s final month.
Nashville posted four come-from-behind victories last month; it overcame a two-goal deficit three times and a three-goal deficit once. A season ago, the Predators overcame just three two-goal deficits and no three-goal holes. Nashville rallied to defeat Vancouver, 6-5, on Dec. 1 at Rogers Arena, then again came back from a two-goal deficit to defeat Columbus in overtime at Nationwide Arena just a week later (Dec. 8) thanks to a pair of extra-attacker goals in the final 100 seconds. Nashville scored twice in the final 4:24 of the third period to defeat Detroit, 4-3 on Dec. 15. The final come-from-behind victory of the month occurred on Dec. 22, as the Predators defeated Columbus 6-5 after trailing 4-1 at the first intermission.
Eleven of the 14 games the Predators played in the final month of 2011 were one-goal games. Nashville posted 10 consecutive one-goal games from Nov. 28-Dec 17, a streak that was just two one-goal games short of the NHL record. The Predators went 7-3-0 in those contests.
In the Predators 14 games last month, they outscored their opponents 18-12 (plus six) in the third period. Nashville’s 18 final-frame goals in December came from 11 different skaters. The Predators ranked third in the League behind only Vancouver (19) and Calgary (20) in third-period goals during the final month of 2011.
For the season, Nashville ranks among the League’s top five in third-period scoring with 43 goals, while its opponents have scored 36 goals in the third (plus seven). Thirteen of Nashville’s goals have come in the final 90 seconds of regulation, including three extra-attacker goals, and four more game-winning goals. The Predators third-period success has continued despite being outshot 381-348 (minus 33) in the final 20 minutes.
David Legwand has been the best Predator in the final 20-plus minutes of play, as seven of his team-leading 10 goals have come in the third period or overtime.
• Nashville is 5-5-0 against the Northwest Division this season, including a 2-1-0 mark on home ice.
• Nashville reached 20 wins in 38 games – they hit 20 wins at the 39-game mark a season ago and were 19-13-6 (44 points) through 38 games, the identical number of points as this season.
• Entering January, the Predators have won six of their last seven home games, giving them 10 home wins on the season. Nashville’s 165 home wins since beginning of the 2005-06 season ranks third in the NHL.
• There have been 10 sellout crowds in the Predators first 19 home games this season. They did not record their 10th sell-out last season until Feb. 19 – their 27th home game.
• Ryan Suter has 16 points (2g-14a) in his last 23 games.
• Martin Erat has six points (3g-3a) in eight games. He has 23 points (8g-15a) in 29 games since returning from injury on Oct. 29. Nashville is 6-0-0 when Erat scores.
• David Legwand – who has nine points (5g-4a) in 14 games – became the first Predator to reach the 800 games played milestone on Dec. 26 against Detroit.
• The Predators are 15-2-2 when scoring more than two goals.
• Predators have never lost in regulation when Nick Spaling scores a goal. They were 6-0-0 last season, 1-0 during last year’s playoffs and are 4-0-1 this season.
• In their 20 victories this season (17 non-shootout wins), the Predators have received game-winning goals from 13 different players. Colin Wilson (3), Martin Erat (2) and Nick Spaling (2) are the only players with multiple game-winning goals.