The NHL-leading Nashville Predators (32-11-6) host the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight (22-25-4) in Bridgestone Arena. You might remember the Maple Leafs as the team the Preds beat back in November by a 9-2 score. It was only the third time in franchise history that the Predators scored at least nine goals in a game. It was also the time that this happened.
Okay, we’ve all seen that plenty of times (over 5 million views on Youtube), but it can’t be overstated how amazing a gesture that was from the fans of Toronto. That’s why there’s been a movement to have the Smashville faithful show some southern hospitality to our neighbors from the north and sing O’ Canada tonight to show our appreciation. Download the lyrics and sing along tonight. We’re not going to let a bunch of Canadians out-nice us good southern folk, are we? Okay. Now on to the preview.
There’s no easy way to put this, the Leafs stink (at least right now). They’ve lost nine in a row, and a loss tonight would tie a franchise record. Unfortunately, there’s not much to look forward to this season for the Leafs. They aren’t bad enough to have a chance in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, but they’re not good enough to have any chance of making the playoffs. They currently sit 12 points behind 8th place Washington in the East, and it’s extremely close to that point in the season that a 12 point deficit is impossible to dig out of.
The Leafs are lead in points this year by All-Star Phil Kessel, who has 20 goals and 25 assists for a total of 45 points. James van Riemsdyk leads the team in goals with 21 and is only two points behind Kessel with 43. Jonathan Bernier has been the number one netminder this year and has actually not played terribly, posting a 16-15-4 record and .915 save percentage, which is around the league average of .913. A former Predator takes the ice tonight for Toronto as well. Cody Franson leads all Leafs defensemen with 29 points and is on pace to blow away his career highs in both goals and assists in the final year of his contract. He is a name that keeps getting thrown out as a possible trade to a multitude of teams, as Toronto has been unable to re-sign him as of yet.
Another familiar face will be in the building tonight as Toronto’s interim head coach Peter Horachek comes to town. You might remember him from his years in Nashville as an assistant coach to Barry Trotz. Horachek has had some bad luck since leaving town, taking over for a woeful Panthers team last year, and this year taking the helm in Toronto after Randy Carlyle was fired on January 6th. We hope things turn around for Coach Horachek, just not tonight.
After the 9-2 beating the Maple Leafs took back on November 18th, they have every reason to come down to Nashville looking to score some revenge and throw a wrench into the Predators’ division title plans. They really seem to have nothing else left to play for, and pride can be a huge motivator for NHLers.
Nashville is still without the services of Vezina Trophy candidate goalie Pekka Rinne for a bit longer, and Carter Hutton will again be between the pipes tonight for the Preds. Hutton has filled in admirably, and aside from a horrendous second period against the Blues he has played fairly well in Rinne’s absence posting a 3-1-2 record in his absence (I don’t count the Detroit game as horrendous on his part. He never should have started to begin with in the back-to-back).
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The Preds are 6-2-2 in their last 10 and have won their last eight at home. In fact, the last time the fans at Bridgestone Arena left without seeing a victory was way back in 2014, on December 6th against the Blackhawks.
Filip Forsberg got two assists on Sunday night in the 4-0 win over the Penguins to re-take the team points lead from Mike Ribeiro. Forsberg now has 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) to Ribeiro’s 43 (10 goals, 33 assists). This should be a fun race to watch down the stretch as the two vie to be the team points champion.
Roman Josi, who is putting together an incredible (if overlooked) season picked up his 9th goal against Pittsburgh to go along with his 24 assists. He sits just one goal back of Shea Weber‘s 10, and one point back with 33 to Weber’s 34. The Josi-Weber pairing has put up a total of 67 points this year with 19 goals and 48 assists, and they are a combined +35. This is a pairing that has really hit it’s stride and the two seem to really be in sync with each other. Josi is building off of the career year he had last season and Weber is… well, he’s Shea Weber, he’s really good at hockey.
Puck drops at 7 p.m. Central and will be on FS-TN.