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NHL-leading Predators provide test for Maple Leafs

by Robby Stanley

MAPLE LEAFS (22-25-4) at PREDATORS (32-11-6)


NASHVILLE -- The Toronto Maple Leafs will try to end a nine-game losing streak (0-8-1) against the NHL-leading Nashville Predators on Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena.

The Maple Leafs have been shutout four times during their losing streak.

"It's been frustrating, but I think our coaching staff has done a great job of managing our group through everything that we've been through," Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said. "We've been snake-bitten as of late here, but I thought in Philadelphia (a 1-0 loss Saturday) we played a pretty strong game. I think that's been the case for a number of the games we've lost recently. Our coaching staff has come in and kept the mood positive and made sure we're believing in what we're doing systematically."

Toronto lost 9-2 to Nashville on Nov. 18 at Air Canada Centre. Franson said that game was used as a learning experience for the Maple Leafs.

"The game in Toronto against these guys was probably our ugliest one of the year," Franson said. "We didn't play well that night. That game taught us a lot. We watched the film from that the next day and saw the small things that we were doing wrong that created so many problems for us."

Nashville has won eight consecutive games at home, which ties a franchise record set in 2007, and the Predators are a League-best 19-2-1 at home this season.

"I think there has been a lot of energy in our game when we play at home," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "We're just trying to build off of every game. It's been a great home record so far, but we've still got to keep building on it. We have a lot of games left."

Seven of the next eight games will be at home for the Predators, and goaltender Pekka Rinne appears to be closer to returning after missing three weeks with a sprained knee. Carter Hutton has received the majority of the starts during Rinne's absence, and had his first shutout of the season in a 4-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.

"It's awesome for him," Ekholm said. "He's been battling hard all year and I think he's been great. It was good to get that shutout for him confidence-wise and everything. I just think it's awesome playing in front of him. He controls everything, all of the rebounds and everything, so I think he's been really good so far."

Defenseman Stephane Robidas will return to the lineup for Toronto. Robidas has been out of the lineup since Jan. 14 because of an upper-body injury. Defenseman Dion Phaneuf participated in a full morning skate for the first time since sustaining a hand injury Jan. 21 but is not expected to play.

Here are the projected lineups:


James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

Daniel Winnik - Nazem Kadri - Joffrey Lupul

Leo Komarov - Peter Holland - David Clarkson

David Booth - Mike Santorelli - Richard Panik

Morgan Rielly - Cody Franson

Korbinian Holzer - Stephane Robidas

Jake Gardiner - Roman Polak

Jonathan Bernier

James Reimer

Scratched: Josh Leivo, Trevor Smith, Petter Granberg

Injured: Dion Phaneuf (hand)


Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - Craig Smith

Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - James Neal

Matt Cullen - Calle Jarnkrok - Gabriel Bourque

Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Taylor Beck

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Victor Bartley - Seth Jones

Mattias Ekholm - Anton Volchenkov

Carter Hutton

Marek Mazanec

Scratched: Olli Jokinen

Injured: Ryan Ellis (lower body), Pekka Rinne (sprained knee)

Status report: Bernier was the first goaltender off the ice at morning skate and is expected to start. … Rinne participated in the morning skate but is not expected to play against Toronto. … Nashville will have the same lineup it had against Pittsburgh.

Who’s hot: Kessel leads the Maple Leafs with 45 points in 51 games and is in the top 10 in the League with 172 shots on goal. … Fisher has three goals and one assist in the past three games and has 22 points in 28 games this season.

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