Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town for only the third time in league history to face the red hot Nashville Predators, who recently swept all three games on their Western Canada road trip. In beating Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary, the Predators moved to sole possession of 4th place in the West with a 29-16-3 record and 61 points. The Maple Leafs sit in 14th in the East, owners of a 16-24-9 record and 41 points. Only nine points out of 8th place, however, the Leafs are still capable of making noise in the Eastern conference playoff drive.
UPDATE: If you can, be sure and join Pension Plan Puppets and leave a few relevant and sportsmanlike comments in their game thread this evening, as they are donating 6 cents per comment to Haiti. I believe the goal is 25K comments.
Continue below where we break down the matchup...
Nashville coming in:
The Predators are on a 3 game winning streak, all on the road, and are 7-3-0 in their last 10. They return captain Jason Arnott from a short layoff this evening and Jerred Smithson will also be returning from a broken hand, according to John Glennon of The Tennessean. They've seen a slight improvement in their special teams, and with Toronto's weak penalty kill (dead last) it will be important to cash in on their opportunities. Dan Ellis recorded a shutout against Calgary on Friday, but it appears that Pekka Rinne will be getting the nod in goal. As the Predators return two important pieces from injury, look for their special teams to improve even further. Smithson especially is a huge part of Barry Trotz's penalty kill.
Toronto coming in:
The Leafs are toiling in the basement of the East, and at 3-7-0 in their last ten things aren't exactly looking up. I suppose the chance of a playoff run still stands, but they'll need to turn it around quickly to have any hope of that. Their penalty kill is dead last in the NHL, only killing penalties an astonishing 68.6% of the time. Their power play is slightly better at 17.1%, but like the Predators', nothing to write home about. The Leafs' leading scorer this year is defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who has 40 points. They've had problems in goal, however, with both Toskala and Gustavsson "boasting" some less than attractive stat lines. Look for David Legwand's line to matchup wherever Phil Kessel is, as he's Toronto's most potent offensive weapon to speak of.
For the Predators, its been pretty much everyone of late. However, being forced to choose just one guy leads us again to Patric Hornqvist who has been excelling in all facets, especially putting pucks in nets:
|2009 - Patric Hornqvist||47||19||11||30||12||22||6||0||6||0||152||12.5|
For the Leafs, its hard for me to accurately gauge this but a player to watch out for is rookie Tyler Bozak:
|2009 - Tyler Bozak||4||1||3||4||0||2||0||0||1||0||4||25.0|
For Nashville, Ryan Suter hasn't been showing up on the scoresheet much lately but it would be unfair to place him here due to his all-important defensive contributions. That said, Martin Erat has been pretty cold since returning from a sprained knee:
|2009 - Martin Erat||41||15||13||28||-6||30||4||0||2||0||80||18.8|
For the Leafs, I think that Mike Komisarek was supposed to be an important free agent acquisition. Looking at his stat line, it doesn't look like things are entirely panning out:
|2009 - Mike Komisarek||34||0||4||4||-9||40||0||0||0||0||35||0.0|
The Guys in Goal
For the Predators John Glennon is reporting that despite Dan Ellis' shutout, that Pekka Rinne will get the go this evening:
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||31||1710||18||8||78||2.74||835||757||.907||2|
For the Leafs, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail reports Jonas Gustavsson gets the start.
|2009 - Jonas Gustavsson||26||1390||8||10||69||2.98||699||630||.901||1|
For the Predators, Jason Arnott and Jerred Smithson return. Cal O'Reilly was sent back to Milwaukee, while Dirk attended the morning skate and reports that Andreas Thuresson looks like the healthy scratch.
For Toronto, Pension Plan Puppets provided these subject to change lines:
Tonight appears on the surface to be your typical "trap" game. Preds are on a winning streak, facing a team of lesser capabilities and record. That said, Nashville has overcome the last two trap games (Carolina, Edmonton) and the Maple Leafs have considerably worse goaltending. It'll be important, as always, for the boys to come out hard early. I see the Leafs giving Nashville trouble early, but the return of Arnott and Smithson will give the Preds an extra edge. Good guys win, 3-1.