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At the Rink: Predators at Wild

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For the first time this season, the Nashville Predators will play a team from inside the Central Division when they wrap up a four-game road trip against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

Nashville is the final team in the NHL to play an intra-divisional game. No division in the League has more combined wins than the Central, which has 52 among the seven teams. The next closest is the Atlantic Division, which has 47 victories but also has eight teams.

"The games are competitive. I'm sure they are all over the League, but good teams, play competitive, fast, physical," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "We seem to have good competition with each other."

Five points separate the first-place Dallas Stars from the sixth-place Chicago Blackhawks, also making the Central the League's tightest division.

Two of those teams are the Predators and Wild, who have matching 7-2-2 records and are each four points behind the Stars with two games in hand.

"All the teams are playing well," Nashville forward Craig Smith said. "Every game is going to be close and the one that comes in prepared is going to have the best chance to win."

Neither team has played since Sunday and Laviolette believes the pace could be quick, especially early.

"That's what we're preparing for," Laviolette said.

Wild captain Mikko Koivu is celebrating 10 years since he made his NHL debut against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 5, 2005.

"I don't think you really think about it on a daily basis," Koivu said. "But when you think back and you think about what has happened and how fast it went, I guess it does feel like 10 years. But only in a good way."

Here are the projected lineups:


Filip Forsberg - Mike Fisher - James Neal

Miikka Salomaki - Mike Ribeiro - Craig Smith

Colin Wilson - Cody Hodgson - Calle Jarnkrok

Gabriel Bourque - Paul Gaustad - Austin Watson

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Barret Jackman - Seth Jones

Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Injured: Eric Nystrom (upper body)

Scratched: Victor Bartley, Anthony Bitetto


Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Nino Niederreiter

Thomas Vanek - Charlie Coyle - Jordan Schroeder

Chris Porter - Erik Haula - Ryan Carter

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba

Marco Scandella - Nate Prosser

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Tyler Graovac (groin), Justin Fontaine (knee)

Scratched: Niklas Backstrom, Christian Folin

Status report: Nystrom was on the ice after the morning skate as he continues to recover from an upper-body injury. ... Fontaine was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a knee injury.

Who's hot: Josi has at least one point in all three games on Nashville's current road trip. ... Koivu saw his points streak end against the St. Louis Blues but is averaging a point per game and is a plus-4.

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