Ducks, Preds heading in right direction ahead of clash
Two teams trending in the right direction meet Saturday night in the Anaheim Ducks' only trip of the season to Nashville.
Anaheim (7-5-3) is 3-0-1 in its last four matches, including a 4-2 win Thursday night in Carolina as it overcame playing on consecutive nights with a three-goal explosion in the second period.
The Predators (5-5-3) are 3-0-2 in their last five games, stringing together consecutive wins for the first time this season with 3-1 victories over Ottawa Tuesday night and St. Louis Thursday night.
“For me, there's been a lot of good signs the last couple of games,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “And hopefully, the results keep falling into place.”
Laviolette was particularly encouraged by how Thursday night's game went down. Sluggish in the first period and for part of the second, the Predators picked up their level of play from the 10-minute mark of the second period.
Despite failing to convert 3:17 of power play time late in the second period, including 77 seconds of 5-on-3 action, Nashville kept pushing and eventually tied the game on a Calle Jarnkrok goal. James Neal and Jarnkrok scored on consecutive shots early in the third period to give the Predators control for good.
Aside from brief sequences where the Blues tried to make a push in the last 15 minutes, Nashville was able to drive the flow of play, attacking steadily and playing more like the team it aspires to be instead of the one that struggled through most of its first 10 games.
“We've been playing really good hockey for certain periods of time, but we've got to stick with it for 60 minutes,” right winger Filip Forsberg said. “Every win is not going to be pretty. Good teams figure out a way to win even if they're not playing well.”
As for the Ducks, they might have needed a few games to adjust to the second Randy Carlyle era. Carlyle, the coach when Anaheim won its only Stanley Cup in 2007, inherited a talented, veteran team that couldn't get it done in the playoffs under coach Bruce Boudreau.
With veterans like Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler hitting their stride, the Ducks are beginning to ascend toward the Pacific Division's top. They closed within two points of surprising leader Edmonton with Thursday night's victory.
The win was capped by Getzlaf's 532nd career assist on an empty-net marker by Kesler, enabling Getzlaf to break Teemu Selanne's franchise record.
“Teemu has been such a mentor to all of us,” Getzlaf said. “This means a lot because I played with T so long and learned so much from him.”
All-Star goalies are expected to match up in this one. John Gibson (5-4-3, 2.48), who had Thursday night off after playing in Wednesday night's 3-2 overtime defeat in Columbus, should man the pipes for Anaheim against the Predators' Pekka Rinne.
Over Nashville's point streak of five games, Rinne (4-4-3, 2.33) boasts a .955 save percentage and has looked like the Rinne who's a five-time All-Star.
“Pekka in the last four or five games has been excellent,” Laviolette said, “but he's been sharp all year.”