TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. FLORIDA
Tonight, the Predators travel to South Florida for their only match-up of the season with the Panthers. Since going winless in the first five games of the all-time series – from the franchise’s first-ever game, a 1-0 loss at Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 10, 1998, to a tie on Oct. 27, 2000 – the Predators have gone 7-1-(2)-0 against the Panthers, and have won five of the last seven matchups. Eleven of the 18 all-time games between the clubs have been determined by a single goal, with six of those going to overtime or a shootout.
In 2010-11, the Predators and Panthers were wild card opponents, playing a home-and-home slate. These teams last met more than a year ago on Jan. 13, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center. Nashville held a 2-1 lead with 10 minutes remaining before Florida notched two unanswered goals to defeat Nashville, 3-2. David Legwand – who now has 11 points (4g-5a) in 11 career games against Florida – had a goal and an assist and Colin Wilson also scored for the Preds. In the first matchup of 2010-11 on Dec. 11, 2010, Anders Lindback pitched his first career shutout, stopping 22 shots, and Ryan Suter notched the game-winning goal and an assist to give him five points (1g-4a) in eight career games vs. Florida.
BEYOND THE FIRST LINE
The Predators top line of Martin Erat, Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn continues to be the driving force behind the Predators’ offense since the calendar flipped to 2012. Fisher has posted 23 points (11g-12a) in 25 games played, while Erat has 23 points (6g-17a) and Kostitsyn has 21 points (10g-11a) in the team’s 26 games since Jan. 1.
Outside of the top line, the Predators have received solid support from the likes of Patric Hornqvist, David Legwand, Jordin Tootoo and Colin Wilson. In his last 12 games, Hornqvist has added 11 points (6g-5a) and is tied now with Fisher for the team lead in goals (18). He is just two goals shy of becoming the first Predators’ draftee to post at least 20 goals in three consecutive seasons for the team. Legwand has notched six points (1g-5a) in his last six games, including four helpers in his three outings. The Predators’ first-ever draft selection has now posted 40 points (14g-26a) for the eighth time in his career and he is just one point shy of his total from last season. Tootoo has already established career-high numbers in assists and points. He is just one helper shy of doubling his previous career-high assist mark (12 in 2008-09), after posting eight in his last 10 games. Wilson tied his career high in points (34) with a goal against Carolina on Tuesday and he is just one goal shy of tying his career high (16) from last season. In the Predators’ last six games, he has five points (4g-1a).
Nashville has been able to cement itself among the Western Conference’s best teams using a balanced scoring attack not only down the roster, but through all phases of the game. The Predators have 10 players who have scored 10 goals or more them this season, tied for a League high. That doesn’t include Andrei Kostitsyn’s 12 goals he brought with him from Montreal. The Predators rank among the League’s Top 10 teams in first-period scoring (52), and are 26-3-3 when scoring first, ranking them among the top five in the League.
Nashville has scored 54 goals in the middle frame this season, including at least one goal in its last 11 second periods, outscoring the opposition 14-8 during that span. It has outscored the opposition by 13 in the second period (54-41) this season. That is the fourth-best differential in the League and second-best Western Conference behind only San Jose.
The Predators rank among the League’s top five in third-period scoring this season. Nashville has potted 69 goals in the final frame, including 19 goals in its last 17 third periods. Twenty-one of Nashville’s 69 third-period goals have come in the final 100 seconds of regulation. Nashville has outscored the opposition by 11 goals in the final frame; that differential ranks it fifth in the Western Conference.
NASHVILLE POSTS A 19-6-3 RECORD IN ITS LAST 28
Nashville has posted a 19-6-3 record in its last 28 games, outscoring the opposition 85-61 (plus 24), despite being outshot 865-772 (minus 83). Since the run started on Dec. 28, Nashville has averaged 3.03 goals per game, while allowing just 2.17 goals per game. Those totals have pushed its goals per game average from 2.60 prior to the stretch to 2.78 (ninth) currently, while its goals-against average has fallen from 2.80 to 2.52 (ninth). The Predators’ current streak includes outscoring foes 69-47 at even strength; they were outscored 72-54 at even strength in the first 36 games of 2011-12.
NASHVILLE’S VEZINA CANDIDATE Pekka Rinne posted his League-leading 35th victory of the season against L.A. on Monday, surpassing his previous career high for wins in a season set in 2010-11 (34). That total is the second highest in franchise history, and just one win shy of tying Tomas Vokoun’s franchise-record 36 wins set during the in 2005-06 season. Since Dec. 28, Rinne has posted a League-best 19-3-3 record with a 1.89 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage, improving to 35-13-7 on the season. He also leads the League in saves (1,599), shots against (1,727) and appearances (57).
As Nashville makes a push for its seventh playoff berth in the last eight seasons, it will play 11 games against teams currently holding a playoff position with a combined point percentage of .570. The Predators will play 10 of their final 18 games away from Bridgestone Arena, including four in the Pacific Time Zone, three in the Central, two in the Eastern and the final game of the regular season in the Mountain.
The month of March has been a strong one for the Predators the past two seasons. They’ve posted a record of 21-8-3 in the past two Marches. Nashville racked up a franchise-record 11 wins during March 2010 (11-5-1 record) – a mark tied in January 2012 (11-2-0 record) – and went 10-3-2 in this month a season ago.
• Nashville is 6-6-3 against the Eastern Conference this season, including a 3-2-0 mark versus the Southeast Division.
• Nashville’s power play has scored 17 man-advantage goals in its last 24 games. For the season, Nashville’s power play ranks third (21.5 percent). The Preds have potted 44 man-advantage goals in 64 games this season, after posting 41 in 82 games a season ago.
• Nashville’s special teams are now plus-10 on the season after finishing plus-three in 2010-11. Nashville (103.6) ranks among the League’s Top 10 teams in combined special teams play (PP%+PK%).
• Craig Smith leads the team in road points this season with 21 (8g-13a) in 30 games, while Hornqvist has a team-high 10 goals in 29 road games.
• Nashville is 30-4-4 when scoring three or more goals, and 29-2-1 when holding the opposition to two or less.
• In their 37 victories this season (34 non-shootout wins), the Predators have received game-winning goals from 15 different players, tying them with Vancouver and Colorado for the second-most players with a GWG. St. Louis leads the League with 16 players. Fifteen of Nashville’s GWGs have come in the third period or overtime, with 11 coming in the final eight minutes of regulation or overtime.
• The Predators lead the League in winning percentage (.700) in combined one and two-goal games. They rank among the League’s Top 10 teams in one-goal games (17-8-7) and have posted the League’s best record (11-2) in games decided by two goals.
• In his last 103 regular season games dating back to Dec. 1, 2010, Martin Erat has posted 90 points (29g-61a).