The Nashville Predators (29-16-3) will host the Toronto Maple Leafs (16-24-9) in only their third visit to Nashville in franchise history. The only prior visits came in 2002 and 2007, with the Leafs losing both games.
The Predators have a 6-3-1 all-time record against Toronto and the Leafs are the only NHL team that has yet to win a game in the Sommet Center. The two team's last meeting was on January 13, 2009 in a game that resulted in a 2-0 Pekka Rinne shutout but was better remembered for when Steve Sullivan got his first point on an assist after his return after a 23 month injury.
John Glennon reports that injured Predators Jason Arnott (missed 4 games -upper body) and Jerred Smithson (11 games -broken hand) will return tonight. Jordin Tootoo may return Thursday as Barry Trotz did not want to return three players in the same contest.
Toronto has had a disappointing season after G.M. Brian Burke and Coach Ron Wilson tried to craft a winner in the off-season. Goaltending troubles and inconsistency have led to a record that is not acceptable to Toronto hockey fans.
The Leafs are led by high scoring defenseman, Thomas Kaberle (5 goals, 35 assists) and a host of others including six players in double digits in goals. Phil Kessel (14 goals, 13 assists), who was acquired from Boston in a trade and did not play until November, is the player the franchise will be built around and is the player to watch.
The goalie match up will be Pekka Rinne (18-8-2, 2.74, .907) versus Jonas Gustavsson (8-10-7, 2.98, .901). It is somewhat surprising that Dan Ellis did not earn a back to back start with his shutout at Calgary on Friday. Barry Trotz preferred to stick with the rotation he has been using and could justify that decision with Rinne's 17 save shut out last season. Dan Ellis has never faced the Leafs.
Predators Keys To The Game
Avoid The Trap Game...
This contest has all the makings of a trap game. Much like the game two weeks ago against Carolina, the Predators cannot overlook the lowly Leafs because on any given night they can win a game.
The Preds are coming off a season highlighting sweep of Western Canada including Friday's 1-0 thriller in Calgary where Dan Ellis and Patric Hornqvist starred. Later this week, the Preds take their dads to Phoenix and Colorado who are the fifth and third place teams with the Preds in between in fourth. It would be easy for the Preds to have an off night this evening.
Quick Start is Essential...
Against a team like the Leafs who are 7-14-4 on the road, the Preds need to score early and often so that Toronto doesn't have the chance to gain any confidence that they could win a low scoring contest on a fluke goal late in the game.
The Preds cannot afford to come out flat as they have several times in recent home games. Regardless of the foe, a full sixty minute effort is needed.
With Jason Arnott and Jerred Smithson returning, their pace may be a bit slower than the Preds have been playing and the key will be to speed them up, not slow the team down.
Pred Nation Needs To Show Up...
This is an odd key to the game but it is a very important one for the image of Nashville s a hockey market. The entire Toronto media machine will be here, in force, looking for ways to take cheap shots at what many there feel like a franchise in trouble that needs to move.
A small crowd on a holiday night against an original six team will be viewed by the Toronto press as what should be a guaranteed sellout. I don't expect a sellout but 15,000 to 16,000 would be better than some of the small Monday crowds that we have seen.
Therefore, after you have called a couple of extra friends to go to the game, when you get there make sure and be loud to show Canada how the Sommet Center can rock.
The Predators will leave with their dads on Wednesday for a critical quick trip to Phoenix and Colorado against two teams that, like the Preds, are trying to return to the top eight at season's end for a return to the playoffs.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass