When the Nashville Predators hit the road two weeks ago, Pekka Rinne was due to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. The team has since rewarded him with the richest contract in franchise history, and Rinne has responded by winning each of his starts since.
Rinne could be in goal Saturday night looking to lead the surging Predators to a sixth win in eight contests in the opener of a five-game homestand against the Montreal Canadiens.
Nashville (8-5-2) concluded a solid 3-1-1 road trip against five playoff teams from last season with Thursday's 4-2 win over Anaheim. Rookie center Craig Smith had two goals and an assist, while Rinne made 31 saves for the Predators, who won't play on the road again until visiting Minnesota on Nov. 23
Rinne, who was given the night off for the first time this season in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to Los Angeles, has posted a 1.64 goals-against average in winning his three starts since signing a seven-year, $49 million contract with the Predators before last Thursday's game in Phoenix. He is also 5-0-1 with a 2.14 GAA and two shutouts since Oct. 27.
The Canadiens are no stranger to how strong Rinne can be between the pipes, as he has recorded a shutout in each of his last two starts in the series. In the last meeting between these teams Nov. 18, Rinne stopped 30 shots in a 3-0 victory, while former Predator Marcel Goc scored twice.
Montreal (6-7-2) arrives in Nashville after defeating the Coyotes 3-2 in overtime on Thursday, its first win in three contests. Josh Gorges scored the game-winner, Brian Gionta had a goal and an assist and Travis Moen also scored.
The Canadiens could have center Scott Gomez on the ice in Nashville for the first time since he suffered an upper-body injury in Pittsburgh on Oct. 20. Gomez, coming off a disappointing 2010-11, when he recorded a career-low 38 points in 80 games, has one assist in six contests this season.
Michael Cammalleri might also return after sitting out Thursday with a knee injury sustained in Tuesday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton.
"When you have guys out you have to have other guys chip in,'' said Carey Price, who stopped 32 shots Thursday.
Price has started each of the last seven games for the Canadiens, going 5-2-0 with a 1.86 GAA, but has recorded a 2.50 GAA in losing his two career starts versus Nashville.
The Predators are expected to be without David Legwand after he missed his first game of the season Thursday because of an undisclosed upper-body injury sustained in the first period Tuesday.
Smith stepped up in Legwand's absence Thursday, and finished the trip with four goals and two assists. The 22-year-old is tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead with seven goals and has matched Legwand with a team-best 14 points.
"I've only had (Smith) for a short time, but he's just a really focused kid,'' said Nashville coach Barry Trotz. "He's got dynamic speed. He wants to win those races for pucks and battles, and he's emerging as a really good player.''
With this game, Trotz will join Al Arbour, Billy Reay and Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff as the only coaches in NHL history to reach 1,000 games with one team.