The play of goaltender Pekka Rinne has the Nashville Predators looking to move into playoff contention. An inconsistent offense, meanwhile, has the Anaheim Ducks struggling to stay among the Western Conference leaders.
The Ducks (26-23-5) will try to get back on track against the Predators (23-24-3) on Thursday at the Sommet Center.
However, they might have to get the puck past a confident Rinne, who has slowly taken over the Predators No. 1 job with a string of steady performances. After playing behind Dan Ellis in nine of the first 31 games, Rinne has appeared in 16 of the past 19 contests and made a career-high fifth straight start in Tuesday's 2-1 victory over Phoenix.
Since replacing Ellis in a 7-2 home loss to Atlanta on Jan. 17, the Nashville goalie is 3-2-0 with a 2.03 goals-against average, and has stopped 61 of the last 63 shots. Rinne has also allowed two goals or fewer in 14 of his last 20 appearances and recorded four shutouts.
"I think he has found his groove," Predators captain Jason Arnott said. "From training camp on I knew he was going to be a tough goalie to play against and beat. He is getting better every game. We need a goalie who is going to stand on his head for us, keep us in games and help us win."
While Rinne has never faced Anaheim, the Predators haven't gotten much out of their netminders in previous meetings with the Ducks, who have averaged 3.21 goals while going 9-2-3 against Nashville dating back to March 23, 2004.
With their goalie's help, the Predators remain five points behind eighth-place Vancouver in the West, while the Ducks are fifth with 57 points. Anaheim, however, has dropped eight of its last 13, including a 3-0 defeat Wednesday at Minnesota in the opener of a three-game road trip.
"It's only going to get tighter, and these two points were too important for us to pass up," coach Randy Carlyle said. "It's just disturbing from the standpoint of how little we were into the game."
The Ducks have scored two goals or fewer in each of their past five losses. In its last four wins, Anaheim has averaged 4.25 goals.
Even the normally reliable Ryan Getzlaf has not been immune from the inconsistency. Getzlaf, among the NHL leaders with 61 points, has failed to record a point in four of his last six games, but does have five in the Ducks' last two road contests.
The All-Star center scored the tying goal in regulation in a 4-3 overtime loss to Nashville on Nov. 14 and added an assist. Getzlaf has two points in each of the past three meetings with the Predators and a point in six straight games versus Nashville.
Like Rinne, Jonas Hiller has made five straight starts since replacing All-Star starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere in a 2-1 loss Jan. 21 to the New York Islanders. With his team playing back-to-back games Thursday, Carlyle could give Hiller some rest and look to Giguere, who is 7-1-1 with a 1.87 GAA in his last nine starts against the Predators.
Anaheim is 4-1-1 in the past six meetings with Nashville, but 1-2-1 in its last four at the Sommet Center, needing a 2-1 win last season to break a three-game skid.