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At the Rink: Predators at Maple Leafs

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- Eighteen games into the season, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle believes his team has not yet forged an identity.

"I just think we're too erratic and too inconsistent," Carlyle said. "In the games before the games we played this past weekend we had kind of adopted a style that was working and then we seemed to lose it. I go back to the work ethic. I don't think we out-competed people and that, to me, is the most alarming thing. We have to out-work some people to have success."

The Maple Leafs, who host the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, earned a 6-1 victory against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 12, but lost 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at home Saturday and were defeated 6-2 by the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.

Already there have been peaks and valleys in the Maple Leafs season, but veteran defenseman Cody Franson said that is not surprising.

"Every season comes with its ups and downs," Franson said. "That's just the way it goes. It's not like we went into Buffalo with a mindset that it was going to be an easy game or anything like that. We generated some chances early and their goalie made some big saves. We fell behind and stretched ourselves out, getting away from our system. We tried to play run-and-gun and we got bit."

Losing 6-2 to the 30th place Sabres was definitely a low point for the Maple Leafs, who are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

"We gave up a lot more odd-man rushes in that last game than we had in a little bit and we did some uncharacteristic things with the puck," Franson said. "We didn't support our puck carriers enough. There were a number of little things we didn't do well in the Buffalo game. It was just an off night for us."

The Predators have a reputation of being a tough defensive team that is hard to play against regardless of where they are in the standings. That reputation was forged under coach Brarry Trotz, now coaching the Washington Capitals. New Predators coach Peter Laviolette has the team playing a bit more of an offensive style.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne has noticed a significant change in the Predators' style.

"For sure it's a new voice, a new character and new systems that we play," Rinne said. "I feel like we play an active style of game where we are really aggressive on the puck on the forecheck. It's nice to see. Obviously we now have the players to do that. I feel like this year we have a lot of speed and guys can play that type of game. It has been a lot of fun. We play fast, intense games."

Toronto center Nazem Kadri knows the Predators are a formidable foe.

"You have to play tight against them, but they have an Eastern Conference coach now who had been on this side for a lot of years so they'll have that defensive system like most teams, but they'll be aggressive as well," Kadri said. "We have to be aggressive as well and not come out playing a tentative style. We have to be ready to attack right away."

Here are the projected lineups:

PREDATORS

Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - James Neal

Matt Cullen - Derek Roy - Craig Smith

Colin Wilson - Calle Jarnkrok - Olli Jokinen

Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Taylor Beck

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis

Anton Volchenkov - Seth Jones

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Gabriel Bourque, Victor Bartley

Injured: Mike Fisher (Achilles tendon), Viktor Stalberg (knee)

MAPLE LEAFS

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

Daniel Winnik - Nazem Kadri - David Clarkson

Leo Komarov - Peter Holland - Mike Santorelli

Richard Panik - Trevor Smith - Josh Leivo

Dion Phaneuf - Cody Franson

Jake Gardiner - Roman Polak

Morgan Rielly - Stephane Robidas

Jonathan Bernier

James Reimer

Scratched: Matt Frattin

Injured: David Booth (broken foot), Joffrey Lupul (broken hand), Brandon Kozun (ankle)

Status report: Booth, who has not played this season because of a foot injury, skated hard at the morning skate and could be inserted into the lineup as early as Thursday…Kozun was also skating hard at the morning skate. He injured his ankle in Toronto's fifth game of the season and is close to returning… Wilson is playing his second game for the Predators since missing games with a lower-body injury.

Who's hot: Forsberg has seven goals and 12 points in his past seven games…Franson has two goals and nine points in his past seven games.

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