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At the Rink: Panthers at Predators

by Robby Stanley

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators will try to avoid losing back to back games for the first time this season as they host the Florida Panthers on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena.

Nashville has been able to respond well after losing games so far this season because of its consistency. Players feel they have played well even in losses.

“Well I think we’ve had a pretty consistent effort night in and night out,” Predators forward Matt Cullen said. “I think we’re improving as a team each day. We’re consistently working to find what makes us successful on a nightly basis. I think that’s something that we’re proud of, but it’s not something that you’re guaranteed. We have to come out and work and continue to fight for that.”

The Predators were a streaky team at times last season, winning a few games in a row and following up those games with a few losses in a row. That inconsistency is something they have tried to eliminate.

“We were pretty streaky last year, and we’re trying to take that out of our game,” Predators defenseman Seth Jones said. “Just staying very consistent with our play, and I think we’ve done a great job so far.”

Nick Bjugstad has been carrying the weight offensively for Florida lately, accounting for four goals and three assists in the past three games. His line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes has been clicking lately.

“It’s been clicking with our line,” Bjugstad said. “Boyes and Huberdeau are helping out quite a bit. Before, I had a tough time finding the back of the net, so eventually it’s going to come if you’re creating chances and getting shots.”

Bjugstad hit a lot of posts earlier in the season when he was getting high quality chances. Those shots have been going in for him lately.

“That’s how it goes in this League,” Bjugstad said. “You’re going to go through some tough spurts. It’s just how you handle it after that and hopefully you get through it. I had some good chances earlier in the season, but you’ve got to find the back of the net somehow.”

The game against Nashville will be the last of a four-game road trip for Florida. It’s been a 2-1-0 trip so far against Western Conference teams.

“We’ve played pretty well defensively,” Bjugstad said. “We haven’t allowed a lot of goals, which is good for us, and we’ve produced offensively. Luongo has done well for us. He always does. We have a lot of contributors on the team and a solid four lines and we kind of roll through those four lines. That’s good for our team.”

Saturday will be the first game of a four-game homestand for Nashville, which has spent much of the past month on the road.

“It’s been a grind,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think it’s been two [home games] and nine [road games] in the last 11. It’s good to get home and play some home games.”

Here are the projected lineups:


Jonathan HuberdeauNick BjugstadBrad Boyes

Tomas FleischmannAleksander BarkovRocco Grimaldi

Jussi JokinenVincent TrocheckJimmy Hayes

Tomas KopeckyDerek MacKenzieShawn Thornton

Brian CampbellAaron Ekblad

Willie MitchellDmitry Kulikov

Dylan OlsenErik Gudbranson

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Scratched: Colby Robak

Injured: Brandon Pirri (Concussion), Dave Bolland (Groin), Sean Bergenheim (lower body) Scottie Upshall (lower body)


Filip ForsbergMike RibeiroJames Neal

Matt CullenDerek RoyOlli Jokinen

Colin WilsonCalle JarnkrokCraig Smith

Eric NystromPaul GaustadTaylor Beck

Roman JosiShea Weber

Anton VolchenkovSeth Jones

Mattias EkholmRyan Ellis

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Gabriel Bourque, Victor Bartley

Injured: Mike Fisher (ruptured Achilles), Viktor Stalberg (lower body)

Status report: Florida had 16 forwards on the ice for the morning skate, including Bolland, Upshall, Pirri and Bergenheim. Coach Gerard Gallant said all are close to returning and didn’t rule them out for the game. … Nashville held an optional morning skate.

Who’s hot: Bjugstad scored two goals Thursday for Florida against the San Jose Sharks and has seven points in his past three games. Weber has six points in his past four games for Nashville while playing against the opposition’s top line every game.

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