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Flames try to halt home skid, Predators' road streak

by Matthew Mankiewich
PREDATORS (28-16-3) at FLAMES (26-15-6)

Last 10 -- Nashville 6-4-0; Calgary 6-3-1

Season series --
Final meeting of the regular season -- the teams have alternated in the win column so far with the visiting team grabbing each one. Calgary won the most recent meeting 3-1 on Jan. 5 at the Sommet Center, but the Flames have stumbled a bit, going 1-3-1 in the five games since. Nashville, meanwhile, has won three of four.

Big story -- Another case of teams going in opposite directions, the Preds looking for their first five-game road winning streak in three seasons while the Flames are trying to stave off a fourth straight loss at Pengrowth Saddledome. Both teams have been playing close games, with three of Nashville's four road wins coming by one goal and two of Calgary's last three home losses by the same slim margin.

The net result is that the Predators hold a one-point edge over the Flames in the Western Conference standings, rising to fourth after a slow start.

Team scope:

Predators -- "We were struggling a little bit at home of late," coach Barry Trotz said of his team's recent success. "Sometimes getting on the road can be good for your hockey team and you can get things in order."

A 3-2 win in Vancouver and a 5-3 win in Edmonton took the sting away from a 2-2 homestand and a curling excursion lightened things up even more.

That's right, Trotz and crew took a day off from one winter sport and tried another at the Garrison Green Curling Club in Calgary Wednesday afternoon.

"We finished three games in four nights before coming out here, and we just wanted to kill an afternoon and have some fun," Trotz told the Calgary Herald. "It’s a good team-building thing, and I'm a big believer in doing that.

"The season is very demanding and it's easy to get in a rut. You're eating, sleeping and playing hockey, getting on the plane, staying in hotels.

"It becomes Groundhog Day, so this sort of breaks it up."

Flames --
The Flames want nothing to do with brooms as they try to avoid getting swept on their three-game homestand. The problem isn't a lack of effort. A 38-shot attack with plenty of scoring chances was simply turned back by a hot Marc-Andre Fleury and the Flames ended up with a 3-1 loss to the Penguins Wednesday.

Two nights earlier, Craig Anderson turned in a first-star performance, stopping 44 Flames shots and netting a 3-2 shootout win for the Avalanche.

"We've run into some good goaltending lately and they've made those big saves," pointed out forward Nigel Dawes on the team's official Web site. "You've just got to stick with it."

Who's hot --
Jarome Iginla may have three goals in three games against the Predators this season, but he doesn't face them every night. Against everyone else, he's been off the board in his last five games, something he hasn't experienced since Dec. 12-21, 2001. He feels, however, that he and linemates Jamie Lundmark and Olli Jokinen are on the verge of a breakout.

"We need to be better as a line, we need to create a little bit more and more consistently," Iginla said. "If we keep pushing, staying positive, we're going to find ways to score goals. We have before. We're doing good things and we will again."

Marleau, Crosby, Ovechkin and Gaborik might be jockeying for the NHL lead in goals, but nobody has scored more since Dec. 14 than Nashville's own Patric Hornqvist. He has 12, including five in his last five games. He was the last pick in the 2005 Entry Draft (No. 230) and spent most of last season in Milwaukee.

Defenseman Shea Weber has 11 points in eight games since Dec. 29, which leads all NHL blueliners in that span.

Injury report --
Predators captain Jason Arnott (upper body) has missed the last three games and Trotz still isn't sure he will be ready for Friday. If not, he should be ready for Tuesday's game against Toronto. Calgary goes into action with a clean bill of health.

Stat pack --
The Predators have seven different players with 25 or more points, tied with Toronto, Philadelphia and Washington for tops in the NHL. They're now 21-12-2 in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver combined since the start of the 2005-06 season. They're 6-1-1 against Northwest Division teams after going 3-7-0 against them last season. The power play is 6-for-20 (30 percent) over the last five games.

Puck drop --
No team likes to see another leapfrog them in the standings, and with these two so close, the points will be foremost in their minds.

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