TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. ST. LOUIS
Tonight, Nashville and St. Louis close out their season series at the Scottrade Center. Nashville leads the season series 4-0-1 thus far. The Preds are 19-17-3 all-time on Scottrade Center ice, including a 16-7-0 mark at the venue since 2005-06. Close battles have been a trend between these two Central Division rivals with 17 of the last 26 meetings decided by one goal. The series has required a franchise-high 23 overtime periods to decide a winner. The Predators are 12-6-5 in those games, with all 12 wins coming since the 2005-06 season. Additionally, 12 of those 23 games have gone to a shootout, tying Nashville and St. Louis for the League lead during that span. Nashville has an 8-4 record in shootouts against St. Louis.
TROTZ APPROACHES 500 WINS
Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz – the only coach in franchise history – is just one win shy of 500 for his career, a mark attained by only four other bench bosses 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.
CENTRAL DIVISION SUCCESS
The Predators have the best intra-division record in the Western Conference (15-3-3, .785) and the second-best in the League this season, behind only Boston (17-4-1, .795). The team is also 36-17-5 against the Western Conference. Mike Fisher leads the team in goals with nine markers in 18 divisional games. Three Predators are producing near a point-per-game against the Central this season, as Martin Erat’s 17 points (4g-13a) in 19 games, David Legwand’s 20 points (5g-15a) in 21 Central Division games, Ryan Suter’s 15 points (2g-13a) in 19 games and Shea Weber’s 15 points (4g-11a) in 19 games lead the team against the division.
Nashville’s power play has posted eight goals in its last nine games dating back to March 10 vs. Detroit. Those totals have pushed Nashville’s PP to the top spot in the League (21.8 percent). The team has posted 52 PPGs in 76 games this season, after scoring 41 PPGs in 82 games a season ago. The Predators have six players – not including trade deadline acquisition Andrei Kostitsyn – with five or more power-play goals this season – the most of any team in the NHL. Pittsburgh and Vancouver are second with five players with at least five PPGs.
On Sunday, the Predators penalty kill was perfect for the 17th time in their last 20 games – they’ve killed 38 of 42 penalties during that span (90.4 percent). Nashville’s PK has improved from 17th in the NHL (81.4 percent) prior to the 20-game span to 13th currently (83.1 percent). The Predators have been shorthanded the sixth-fewest times in the League (225) and they are tied with Detroit for the fewest penalty minutes per game (8.5). Nashville’s special teams are now plus-16 on the season after finishing plus-three in 2010-11. Nashville (104.9) ranks among the League’s top five teams in combined special teams play (PP%+PK%).
ERAT ELEVATES PLAY IN SECOND HALF
Erat – who missed Sunday’s game in Chicago – has been a point-per-game player (10g-24a-34pts, 34gp) since Jan. 7 and ranks among the League’s Top 20 point getters since that date. He has already tied his career-high 57 points (18g-39a) in just 67 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 FINDS HIS GROOVE
Fisher has posted 34 points (17g-17a) in 37 games since Jan. 1, and his 17 goals since that date have him second on the team in goals (24) and among the Top 20 players in the NHL during that span. Fisher is now just one point shy of breaking the 50-point plateau for the second time in his career and one goal shy of his career-high 25 goals set during the 2009-10 season. 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-12 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 (19:16), and the Predators are 16-1-3 when Fisher scores this season.
NASHVILLE’S NORRIS CANDIDATE
On Sunday, Shea Weber recorded his ninth multi-point game of the season (1g-1a), giving him three points (2g-1a) in his last two outings. He has now topped the 40-point plateau for the fourth consecutive season and the fifth time in his career. The Sicamous, B.C., native ranks among the League’s top five d-men with 46 points on the year (16g-20a), while his 16 goals rank second among blueliners. Weber is now plus-19 on the season – that ranks third among defensemen with at least 40 points this season behind only Zdeno Chara and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Weber posted an assist on Patric Hornqvist’s power-play marker against Chicago, giving him a career-high 21 power-play points (9g-12a) this season – surpassing his previous mark of 20 power-play points (7g-13a) posted in 2009-10. Weber ranks among the Top 10 d-men in power-play points and leads all NHL d-men with nine PPGs on the year.
• Nashville has posted a 26-10-4 record in its last 40 games, outscoring the opposition 123-95 (plus 28), despite being outshot 1,208-1,121 (minus 87).
• Nashville is one of only five teams to rank in the League’s Top 10 in both goals per game and goals against per game – Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Vancouver are the others.
• 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 16 goals – he brought 12 markers with him from Montreal.
• Sergei Kostitsyn has posted 16 points (5g-11a) in his last 23 games, including seven points (2g-5a) in his last 11 outings. The younger of Nashville’s Kostitsyn brothers ranks among the NHL’s most accurate shooters, scoring 17 goals on 92 shots this season (18.5 percent).
• With 41 victories on the year, Pekka Rinne holds the franchise-record and is tied for first in the League in the category. He leads the League in saves (1,865) and shots against (2,022), and ranks second in appearances (68). Nashville is 14-0-2 this season when Rinne makes 35 saves or more.
• The Predators have sold out Bridgestone Arena for a franchise-record 22 games this season – surpassing the previous record of 20 sellouts established during the 1999-2000 campaign. Bridgestone Arena is averaging 16,658 fans per home game this season – 97.3 percent capacity.
THE PLAYOFF PUSH
As Nashville makes a push for its seventh playoff berth in the last eight seasons, it has posted a 44-24-8 record for 96 points through 76 games. The team’s 44 victories this season are the fourth-most in franchise history. A season ago, Nashville was 41-25-10 for 92 points through 76 games. It went 3-2-1 in its final six games of 2010-11 to finish with 99 points, good for fifth in the West. This season, the Preds play four of their final six 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 28-12-4 record in March since 2010, including a 7-4-1 mark this month. 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.
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 one win shy of the franchise’s 500th victory.