Flames, Predators continue fights for first place
Saturday, 12.19.2009 / 2:00 PM
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff Writer
PREDATORS (21-11-3) at FLAMES (20-10-4)
Last 10: Nashville 6-2-2; Calgary 5-4-1
Season Series: Calgary leads the season series, 1-0, after blanking the Preds, 5-0, on Nov. 30 in Nashville.
Big Story: The streaking Predators head to Calgary to face Miikka Kiprusoff, who might be the only thing hot about the Flames right now.
Predators -- After a rough start to the season, Nashville has staged a remarkable turnaround, going 15-3-2 since Nov. 12. The Predators' run over the last five weeks has lifted them out of the Western Conference doldrums and into a battle with the Blackhawks for first in the Central. More impressively, the Preds aren't showing signs of slowing down. Nashville has won five of its last six games while scoring 18 goals over its last three outings -- all victories.
Their last time out, the Preds, who are in the midst of a three-game swing through western Canada, beat up the Oilers on Thursday, 6-3, bolstered by a big game by Patric Hornqvist, who extended his current goal-scoring streak to three games with two tallies and an assist. Not to be outdone, Ryan Jones lit the lamp for the fourth straight game. With Nashville about to face one of the premier netminders in the game, it will need to continue its strong production.
Flames -- The Flames are in the midst of a four-game homestand, and staying at the Pengrowth Saddledome might be the best thing for them. While Calgary has gone 3-0-1 in its last four games in the comforts of the Stampede City, the Flames have won just two of their last five overall. The skid comes at an inconvenient juncture for Calgary, which is fending off Colorado atop the Northwest Division. While the teams are tied for first place, the Flames do hold the trump card with an additional win and two games in hand.
Kiprusoff almost single-handedly willed the Flames to a 2-1 win over Los Angeles Thursday night, making 15 saves in the third period alone. Calgary has gotten some production from Rene Bourque, who has five points in his last three games, and Mark Giordano has chipped in from the blue line with four points in his last six. Giordano has also made a physical impact by delivering some massive hits to L.A.'s Dustin Brown Thursday, but Calgary may need more than just brawn to climb out of its current funk. The Flames will likely have to start scoring in bunches again to hold onto first place.
Who's Hot -- Kiprusoff may only have three wins in his last seven starts for Calgary, but the burden hardly rests on his shoulders. The likely Vezina finalist has given up more than two goals just once in his last 12 games, lowering his goals-against average to 2.14. … While many of the Predators have put up strong numbers lately, Martin Erat's might be the most impressive. The Czech winger has seven goals and five assists in his last nine games.
Injury Report -- Nashville recently lost Jordin Tootoo, who is expected to miss 2-3 more weeks with a broken foot. Calgary will be without Cory Sarich, who has been on injured reserve since late November.
Stat Pack -- The Predators' run hasn't been the work of a friendly schedule, as Nashville has gone 5-0-1 in its last six games away from the Sommet Center. The Preds' six-game road point streak is just one shy of the franchise record, a seven-game winning streak early in the 2006-07 season.
Puck Drop -- Despite being the hotter team heading in, Nashville could be running into a roadblock in Alberta -- the Predators have lost their last five games against the Flames. With both teams embroiled in tight division races, the two points at stake Saturday are crucial for either side, but the Predators find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Flames. While Calgary has two games in hand on its nearest competitor, Nashville has already played two more games than the Blackhawks, making every game that much more important as the season nears its midway point.