Maple Leafs-Predators Preview
He'll look to stay hot and help Toronto to its fourth straight road victory Thursday night against the surging Nashville Predators.
Kessel scored his league-leading 13th goal but failed to convert in the shootout during a 3-2 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday. He scored with 15:19 left in regulation to rally the Leafs from a 2-0 deficit.
''We battled,'' said Kessel, who has three goals and an assist in his last four games and at least one point in 15 of Toronto's 18 games. ''We really tried to win this game and we battled back. Hopefully we can build on it.''
The defeat dropped Toronto (10-6-2) to 1-3-1 in its last five.
''We've got to bring that same resilience to start the game,'' said Mike Komisarek, whose goal preceded Kessel's to begin the comeback attempt. ''Not sort of feeling the other team out and seeing what kind of game it's going to be. We need to dictate the play and assert ourselves.''
The Leafs' win during their slide came in St. Louis on Nov. 10, giving them four wins in five games on the road. They'll look to continue that run in Nashville, where the task may be more difficult without second-line forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur.
Grabovski left Tuesday's game with an undisclosed injury following a collision at center ice, and MacArthur sat out the third period with a lower-body injury. The team announced Wednesday Grabovski will miss at least two weeks and MacArthur will not play in this game, but coach Ron Wilson said forward Tim Connolly likely will be in the lineup Thursday.
Nashville (9-5-3) is 3-0-1 in its last four games at home and 6-1-2 in its last nine overall after beating Washington 3-1 at home Tuesday. Martin Erat and Shea Weber each had a goal and an assist, and Colin Wilson scored for the second time in three games after going his previous 10 without a goal.
Pekka Rinne, who signed a seven-year, $49 million extension Nov. 3, made 39 saves and improved to 6-0-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average over his last eight starts.
"Unbelievable. There's a reason he got signed up for seven more years," Wilson told the team's official website. "You see how valuable he is. I don't know how you can play any better than that."
Since a 17-save shutout of Toronto on Jan. 13, 2009, however, Rinne has struggled against the Leafs. He allowed three goals on eight shots in the first nine minutes before Kessel scored the game-winning goal in a 4-3 loss Jan. 18, 2010. Rinne then lost 5-4 in the most recent meeting between the teams Nov. 16, 2010.
The Predators are 1-0-1 on their current five-game homestand, which Rinne said has helped them realize how good of a team the Predators can be.
"This homestand is important for us," Rinne said. "It showed that resiliency that we've been known to have, going back to last year. We never seem to panic anymore. That's a good sign. We just keep going at it."
Toronto's goaltending has been suspect since James Reimer suffered what is believed to be a concussion Oct. 22, though the Leafs have kept his status quiet. Rookie Ben Scrivens, who has started the last three games, has gone 2-2-1 with a 2.92 GAA, and Jonas Gustavsson is 3-3-0 with a 3.34 GAA.
The Predators have won two of three all-time meetings at home against the Leafs.