TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. WINNIPEG
Tonight, the Predators host the Winnipeg Jets for the first time since the franchise relocated from Atlanta, where it resided from 1999-2011. The Preds have earned at least a point in seven of eight games against the team formerly known as the Thrashers since 2005-06, going 5-1-2 in that span. Overall, Nashville is 5-2-(0)-0 all-time at home against the club, including a 3-1-0 mark since 2005-06.
In their last meeting at Bridgestone Arena on April 5, 2011, game No. 80 on Nashville’s schedule, the Predators jumped out to a 5-0 lead on goals from Matt Halischuk, Sergei Kostitsyn and Jordin Tootoo (twice). Atlanta would rally in third period, scoring three goals in the final 17 minutes of play, but a Mike Fisher power-play goal at 6:18 of the frame would ice the 6-3 win for the Preds.
Tootoo has produced at a better clip against the Thrashers than any other team. He has nine points (5g-4a) in eight career games against them… Martin Erat has four points (1g-3a) in his last four games against Atlanta.
On Thursday at Pittsburgh, forward Alexander Radulov played his first game in a Predators sweater since Game Six of the 2008 Western Conference Quarterfinals vs. Detroit (April 20). Playing alongside David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist, Radulov logged 15:54 of ice time and notched Nashville’s lone goal at the 12:01 mark of the second period. It was his first NHL goal since Game Three of that 2008 playoff series when he tallied two points (1g-1a) against the Red Wings. His last regular season marker came against Detroit on March 20, 2008 – a two-goal effort.
The Nizhny Tagil, Russia native spent the last four seasons with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League, claiming the KHL scoring title in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, and winning the “Golden Hockey Stick” as the league’s most valuable player each of the past two years (2010 & 2011; yet to be awarded in 2012). He also helped Ufa win the 2011 Gagarin Cup as KHL champions.
Nashville's first choice, 15th overall (first round), in the 2004 Entry Draft, Radulov last played for the Predators during the 2007-08 season, finishing third on the club in goals (26) and points (58), and third among NHL sophomores in goal-scoring. During his rookie campaign in 2006-07, he established single-season franchise records for goals (18) and points (18g-19a-37pts) by a Predators rookie.
THE 10-12-74 LINE
The line of Martin Erat, Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn has been the driving for behind the Predators offense during the second-half of the season. The trio has been in on the scoring 62 out of Nashville’s 109 goals (56.8 percent) since the calendar flipped to 2012.
Erat has been more than a point-per-game player (10g-24a-34pts, 33gp) since Jan. 7 and ranks among the League’s Top 15 point getters since that date. He has already tied his career-high 57 points (18g-39a) in just 66 games this season, making him the only player in franchise history to post at least 50 points more than three times in his career. Erat has posted 57 points three times in his career – the others came during the 2006-07 (16g-41a) and 2007-08 (23g-34a) seasons. He is now just two helpers shy of his career-high 41 assists set in 2006-07.
Fisher has posted 31 points (16g-15a) in 35 games since Jan. 1, and his 16 goals since Jan. 1 has him second on the team in goals (23) and among the Top 20 players in the NHL during that span. He has tallied seven game-winners this season ranking him in the League’s Top 15 in the category and putting him within one of the franchise record. Fisher is a plus-10 in 2011-12 despite playing against the fifth-most-difficult quality of competition among NHL forwards (60gp) according to behindthenet.ca. He leads all Nashville forwards in average ice time (19:15), and the Predators are 15-1-3 when Fisher scores this season.
Kostitsyn has posted 16 points (5g-11a) in his last 21 games, including seven points (2g-5a) in his last nine outings. The younger of Nashville’s Kostitsyn brothers ranks among the NHL’s most accurate shooters, scoring 17 goals on 90 shots this season (18.9 percent).
HOME ICE ADVANTAGE
The Predators have gone 19-4-2 in their last 25 home games, and have only been dealt two regulation loss at Bridgestone Arena since Jan. 5 (12-2-2). Nashville ranks among the League’s best on home ice since the beginning of the 2005-06 season, compiling 178 home victories – ranking it second behind only Detroit (185) in that span. The Predators are the only team in the NHL to post 23 home victories in seven consecutive seasons.
A factor in the Predators’ success has been the atmosphere in Bridgestone Arena. The Predators have sold out Smashville for a franchise-record 21 games this season – surpassing the previous record of 20 sellouts established during the 1999-2000 campaign. Bridgestone Arena is averaging 16,645 fans per home game this season – 97.2 percent capacity.
TROTZ APPROACHES 500 WINS
Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz – the only coach in franchise history – is just three wins shy of 500 for his career, a mark attained by only four other benchbosses with a single franchise (Al Arbour, NYI; Lindy Ruff, BUF; Billy Reay, CHI and Toe Blake, MTL). He already ranks third behind only Arbour and Ruff in games coached with a single team, and is one of just four coaches in expansion-team history (among the four major sports) to have a record better than .500.
The Dauphin, Manitoba native began his coaching career in 1984 as an assistant with the University of Manitoba. After his time with the Bisons, he became the head coach and general manager of the Dauphin Kings junior hockey club (1985-87) before returning to the University of Manitoba as the head coach in 1987. In January 2001, Trotz was inducted into the University of Manitoba’s Hall of Fame.
• Nashville has posted a 24-10-4 record in its last 38 games, outscoring the opposition 114-93 (plus 21), despite being outshot 1,158-1,069 (minus 89).
• Nashville’s power play has posted six goals in its last seven games dating back to March 10 vs. Detroit. For the season, Nashville’s PP leads the League (21.5 percent). The team has posted 50 PPGs in 74 games this season, after scoring 41 PPGs in 82 games a season ago.
• Nashville (104.2) ranks among the NHL’s top five teams in combined special teams play (PP%+PK%).
• The Predators have six players – not including trade deadline acquisition Andrei Kostitsyn– with five or more power-play goals this season – the most for any team in the NHL. Pittsburgh and Vancouver are second with five players with at least five PPGs.
• The Predators lead the NHL in winning percentage (.698) in combined one- and two-goal games. They rank among the NHL’s Top 10 in one-goal games (19-9-8) and have the NHL’s best record (14-3) in games decided by two goals.
• The Predators have 10 players who have scored 10 goals or more for them this season, tied for a League high with Detroit and Philadelphia. That doesn’t include Andrei Kostitsyn’s 15 goals – he brought 12 markers with him from Montreal.
• With 39 victories on the year, Pekka Rinne holds the franchise-record and ranks second in the League in the category. Since Dec. 28, Rinne has posted an NHL-best 23-6-4 record with a 2.23 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage, improving to 39-16-8 on the season. He leads the League in saves (1,817) and shots against (1,972), and ranks second in appearances (66). Nashville is 14-0-2 this season when Rinne makes 35 saves or more.
• Nashville has scored 63 goals in the middle frame this season, including at least one goal in 18 of their last 21 second periods, outscoring the opposition 23-17 during that span. It has outscored the opposition by 13 in the second period (63-50) this season. That is the fifth-best differential in the NHL and second-best in the West behind only San Jose.
• The Predators rank among the League’s top five in third-period scoring this season. Nashville has potted 79 goals in the final frame, including 29 goals in its last 27 third periods. Twenty-three of Nashville’s 79 third-period goals have come in the final 100 seconds of regulation.
THE PLAYOFF PUSH
As Nashville makes a push for its seventh playoff berth in the last eight seasons, it has posted a 42-24-8 record for 92 points through 74 games. A season ago, Nashville was 39-25-10 for 88 points through 74 games. It went 5-2-1 in its final eight games of 2010-11 to finish with 99 points, good for fifth in the West. This season, the Preds play five of their final eight games against teams currently holding a playoff position.
This month has been a strong one for the Predators the past two-plus seasons; they have posted a 26-12-4 record in March since 2010. Nashville posted 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.
The Predators have won 19 road games this season, and are just one road win shy of posting at least 20 road victories for the third straight season. Four of Nashville’s final eight games will be played away from Bridgestone Arena, including two in the Central Time Zone, one in the Eastern and the final game of the regular season in the Mountain.
With its win over Detroit on March 10, Nashville became just the second team in the NHL to post at least 40 wins in seven consecutive seasons – the Red Wings are the only other team to do so. The team accomplished the feat in just 68 games – the third fastest in franchise history. The Predators are now just three wins shy of the franchise’s 500th victory.