Predators-Flames Preview

Matt Cullen’s return has provided another spark for the Nashville Predators, who are off to a solid start with first-year coach Peter Laviolette and a host of newcomers.

The Calgary Flames, meanwhile, are having trouble staying healthy.

Nashville looks to avenge an earlier loss the Flames, who complete a five-game homestand Friday night.

The Predators (6-1-2) fired longtime coach Barry Trotz after missing the playoffs the last two seasons and underwent a bit of an overhaul during the offseason. They brought in Laviolette as well as veterans Mike Ribeiro, James Neal and Derek Roy to combine with 21-year-old winger Filip Forsberg and former Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber.

Forsberg and Ribeiro are tied for the team lead with seven points while Neal tops the club with five goals. After Nashville suffered its first regulation defeat with a 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday, Cullen assisted on one of Craig Smith’s two goals in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Edmonton that kicked off a six-game road trip.

Ribeiro assisted on Weber’s second-period goal.

"Our forwards can really skate and using their wide speed, they pushed their defense back and made some good plays," Weber said.

Cullen, who turns 38 on Sunday, missed the first eight games with an upper-body injury but meshed quickly with Smith’s line.

"Our unit was able to create some turnovers and use our speed to make plays," Smith said. "Cullen getting back in the lineup, I thought he was outstanding. I didn’t think he missed a stride."

The Predators were 18-2-4 last season when Cullen had a point, and he totaled six in two visits to Calgary.

Nashville, 2-0-1 on the road, is 4-0-2 in its last six with the Flames but lost the only meeting this season. Forsberg and Ribeiro scored, but Joe Colborne’s shootout goal gave Calgary a 3-2 road victory Oct. 14.

Colborne, though, suffered an upper-body injury in Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Montreal, and Matt Stajan went down with a knee injury.

Stajan will miss about six weeks while Colborne is day to day. The Flames (5-4-2) were already missing Mason Raymond, on injured reserve with a shoulder problem and considered week to week.

"You can’t call a timeout in the NHL season when you have injuries," coach Bob Hartley said. "We have some options out there. We have 20 guys and I feel awful for (Stajan) and for (Colborne) and Mason Raymond a few days ago, but every team goes through this. There’s no sense creating excuses or anything."

Calgary is 1-1-2 on its homestand, scoring only one goal in each defeat. Rookie Johnny Gaudreau, who assisted on Mark Giordano’s goal Tuesday, still took plenty of positives from the latest performance – like outshooting the Canadiens 29-13 after the first period.

"The team was flying out there in the second and third periods," Gaudreau said. "That’s the way we need to play the whole game. I think we should’ve come out with a win."

Jonas Hiller made 18 saves and is 3-0-1 with a 0.72 goals-against average over his last four starts. He’s mainly split the net with Karri Ramo, but Hartley gave Hiller the nod again for this contest.

"I want to keep playing the way I am or even get better," Hiller said. "It might go the other way pretty quick. I’ve got to take the games I get and don’t look too far ahead."

Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is also off to a hot start at 6-1-1 with a 1.71 GAA.