Contending for the Central Division title has become an expectation for the Nashville Predators, who have come close to doing so multiple times in recent seasons but haven’t quite gotten over the hump.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are out to prove they’re not in a state of decline.
Nashville seeks a fourth consecutive victory Saturday night when it hosts a Pittsburgh team having trouble finding the back of the net.
The Predators (6-1-0) made a 16-point turnaround in Peter Laviolette’s first season behind the bench in 2014-15, but still had to settle for their third second-place finish since 2010-11.
Now Nashville, which spent much of last season in first place, has gotten off to another hot start. The Predators relied on goaltending while totaling 10 goals in their first four games, but have put up 12 non-shootout goals in their three straight victories.
"In the last four games, I think we have had more attack to our game," Laviolette said after Thursday’s 5-1 win over Anaheim. "We have to keep getting better and keep improving."
Eric Nystrom scored his second goal before Ryan Ellis, Mike Ribeiro, Mattias Ekholm and Colin Wilson followed with their first of the season. The Predators share the early Central lead with Dallas.
"We’re working hard to establish ourselves where we want to be in the standings, and that’s at the top," Nystrom said. "We want to continue this the whole season and every night’s a new test. We’ve got Pittsburgh coming in here next game, and that’s going to be a really strong challenge for us. We’ve got to continue to improve and we want to stay on the top. That’s where we think we belong."
Pittsburgh (3-4-0) won four division titles in an eight-season stretch, finishing second four other times, before dipping to fourth in 2014-15.
The Penguins’ slow start to this campaign stems from a lack of offense, as it’s totaled 11 goals and managed three just once. Sidney Crosby went without a point in his first five and Phil Kessel has two goals and an assist.
Nick Bonino scored the lone goal in Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Dallas. Pascal Dupuis played his first regular-season game in almost a year after battling through blood clots that threatened his career and a lower-body injury that delayed his season debut.
”I’m happy to be back, but I’m definitely not happy with the result,” Dupuis said. ”We started well, but we had a little letdown.”
Former teammate James Neal has five goals and three assists during a four-game point streak for the Predators, who had dropped five straight meetings before winning 4-0 on Feb. 1.
Pekka Rinne wasn’t in net for that contest but should be in this one. He’s off to a 5-1-0 start with a 1.82 goals-against average after making 27 saves Thursday, but he’s 0-3-1 with a 3.70 GAA in his last four against the Penguins.
Marc-Andre Fleury has started each game for Pittsburgh and should be in goal again with the club having three nights off before playing at Washington on Wednesday.
Fleury has a 2.17 GAA despite Thursday’s defeat and has a 1.95 GAA in 10 career games against the Predators.