Predators-Maple Leafs Preview
With little room for error in a crowded playoff race, the Nashville Predators don't want to squander an opportunity to pick up points against free-falling Toronto.
A lack of offensive punch has been the Predators' undoing of late, though they might not have trouble against a short-handed Maple Leafs team struggling to keep opponents out of the net.
The Predators look to keep moving up in the Western Conference race Tuesday night when they try to extend a franchise-record eight-game point streak on the road.
After making a push by sweeping a four-game trip in late January, Nashville (28-21-11) tread water on a 3-3-3 stretch before Monday's 2-1 shootout win at Montreal. Viktor Arvidsson scored in regulation before Craig Smith provided the third-round winner.
The Predators leapfrogged Colorado to take over the top wild-card spot in the West and can continue climbing by turning around an offense that has scored two or fewer goals in each of the past four games.
James Neal leads Nashville with 21 goals but hasn't scored in his last four. Filip Forsberg, who has 20 goals, has come up empty in the past two after scoring six times over his previous six.
Shea Weber, third on the team with 15 goals, hasn't produced a point in his last four games. However, he's scored in each of the past two home meetings with the Leafs after a three-assist performance in a 9-2 rout in the most recent matchup at Toronto on Nov. 18, 2014.
“Right now, every game is so big,” goaltender Pekka Rinne, who finished with 28 saves against the Canadiens, told the team's official website. “It doesn't really matter who you play against. It's usually this time of the year that is so much fun.
“It starts to become more realistic about what's coming up and it kind of hits you. You don't want to give up any points and look back and regret it.”
Nashville, 6-0-2 in its last eight road games, should feel confident offensively in the second of a three-game road swing that concludes Thursday at Chicago. Toronto has allowed 33 goals in its last seven games and fell to 4-12-3 since Jan. 7 with Saturday's 5-4 overtime home loss to Philadelphia.
“If you don't do your job, someone else is getting (it),” coach Mike Babcock said. “That's just the way it is.”
James Reimer, however, is expected to get another chance after allowing nine goals on 47 shots in his last two games. He has a 4.08 goals-against average in his past eight contests but he made 21 saves in a 2-1 shootout win Nov. 12 in Nashville that snapped Toronto's three-game skid in this series.
The Maple Leafs (20-27-10) will play without leading scorer Leo Komarov as he serves the second of a three-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. The club will also be missing injured forwards James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Josh Leivo, Milan Michalek and Joffrey Lupul as well as injured defensemen Matt Hunwick and Jared Cowen.
The Leafs sit last in the East and have already begun looking forward, dealing forward Shawn Matthias to Colorado on Sunday and defenseman Roman Polak and forward Nick Spaling to San Jose on Monday.
They added three more draft picks in the process, continuing their trend of stockpiling for the future.