PREDATORS (26-15-4) at RANGERS (28-11-4)
TV: NBCSP (HD), TSN2
Last 10: Nashville 8-2-0; New York 7-3-0.
Season Series: This is the only meeting of the season. When the teams last met on Nov. 27, 2010, the Rangers left Bridgestone Arena with a 2-1 shootout win behind 29 saves from Henrik Lundqvist.
Big Story: You would be hard-pressed to find two teams hotter than the Rangers and Predators. Monday saw Nashville -- winners of five in a row and eight of nine – move to sixth in the NHL's Super 16. The Preds will face a team enjoying its best start in 40 years. Though New York is coming off a 4-1 loss in Montreal, the Rangers will be back home -- where they have won six of eight -- and their impressive .698 win percentage is the highest since the 1971-72 season.
Predators: Nashville is not playing like a team that's sitting fourth in its division. But when your division is the Central, and you're just four points from first-place Chicago, the picture becomes clearer. Behind goalie Pekka Rinne, whose 24 wins rank second in the League, Nashville has ironed out the early wrinkles. Monday afternoon, the Preds kicked off a three-game road swing with a 3-1 win against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Nashville gave Rinne an early edge with three first-period goals, and the League's hottest netminder allowed just one goal on 37 shots.
"We were really inconsistent early on in the year. We played three or four good games and three or four poor games," Nashville captain Shea Weber said. "The level of dropoff isn't as much right now. We're not quite as consistent as we want to be, as good as we want to be, but it's getting there."
Rangers: It's not every night that a backup outduels the mighty Lundqvist, but that's exactly what happened in Sunday's 4-1 loss to the struggling Canadiens. Just hours after the Rangers and Martin Biron shut out the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-0, on Saturday night, the Rangers managed just a goal while conceding three to the line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Erik Cole.
"We had no structure defensively; that was our biggest problem," coach John Tortorella said. "After a slow start in the first I thought we got back into it, we started getting a little physical and we crawled back into it that way. But as good as were last night defensively, we were that bad tonight."
Who's Hot: In playing in nearly every Nashville game, Rinne has won 14 of 16 dating to Dec. 8. He's surrendered more than two goals only twice in his last nine outings.
Injury Report: One-half of Nashville's All-Star blue line of Weber and Ryan Suter is "doubtful" for Tuesday's game, according to coach Barry Trotz, after Suter left during the first period Monday with an upper-body injury. Trotz said Suter was "nicked up" Saturday against Philadelphia, and further aggravated the injury Monday. Forward Craig Smith missed Monday's game with flu-like symptoms, while center Jerred Smithson is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. … New York forwards Brandon Dubinsky (sore right shoulder) and Ruslan Fedotenko (back spasms) are questionable. Jeff Woywitka (foot), Steve Eminger (right shoulder), Michael Sauer (concussion) and Chad Kolarik (knee surgery) are all on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: Special teams could play a large role. New York's penalty kill is fifth in the NHL at 86.5 percent, and the Rangers have killed 20 of 21 penalties over the past 10 games. Nashville regularly cashes in on man-advantage chances, and its 21.4 percent conversion rate ranks third overall.
Puck Drop: "With guys like Sutes and Webs (Weber), top players in the League, you don't really replace them. Everybody just has to pick up more of the load and try to get it done together." -- Nashville coach Barry Trotz on the potential loss of key defenseman Ryan Suter