PREDATORS (12-4-2) at SENATORS (8-5-4)
TV: FS-TN, RDS2, TSN5
OTTAWA -- Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne is getting a night off.
Rinne has started 16 of the Predators 18 games this season and leads NHL goalies with 12 wins, but Carter Hutton will be in goal against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
"We don't want anybody sitting too long. We've got a lot of confidence in Carter," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's played well in both of his appearances. We're confident he'll come out and give us an opportunity to win the game tonight."
Hutton's last start was Nov. 4, when he made 23 saves in a 3-1 loss at the Winnipeg Jets. In his only other start this season, the Predators lost 2-1 in overtime at Chicago Blackhawks.
Hutton has a 1.95 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage this season.
Hutton's last win was April 13 at the Minnesota Wild.
The Predators, who experienced a number of offseason changes, lead the Central Division with a 12-4-2 record and lead the Western Conference with a plus-15 goal differential.
A big change was the hiring of Laviolette, who replaced Barry Trotz, the only coach the Predators had since entering the League in 1998.
The players said Thursday they have enjoyed playing Laviolette's upbeat style.
"For sure. It's different from last year," said forward Filip Forsberg, an early Calder Trophy favorite with nine goals. "I think everybody likes this style. We try to play offense all the time. As soon as we lose the puck, we try to get it back and go offense. I really like that. I really like the attacking mindset we have."
Forsberg has been playing on a line with veterans Mike Ribeiro and James Neal, both acquired in the offseason.
"I'm just trying to work hard all the time and make hard plays," Forsberg said. "Obviously playing with (Neal) and (Ribeiro) really helps me a lot … they've been in the League for a really long time, so I just learn as much as I can from them."
Senators forward Bobby Ryan said he's noticed a difference in the Predators.
"They've never been traditionally known as a team that's offensive, I guess," Ryan said. "They've always seemed to be a team that waits and gets you with their transition game. They seem to be taking the initiative and scoring a lot of goals in a lot of tough buildings. The makeup is different, right? They're probably a little more dynamic team than they have been in the past and they're playing to it right now."
For the Senators, an injury to rookie center Curtis Lazar means Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, who loves to tinker with his line combinations, will be making more changes.
He was planning a shuffle for the game Thursday, moving center Mika Zibanejad to the wing and Zack Smith, who had been struggling on the wing, back to center. With Lazar out, Zibanejad will go back to center in Lazar's spot with Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone. Forward Colin Greening will go into the lineup.
Smith, who has two goals, will play between Milan Michalek and Chris Neil.
"(Smith) never played (the wing) before and this is a hard League to learn in," MacLean said. "To kind of learn to play a position in this League is a difficult chore. Moving back and forth I think gives him a little bit of a comfort when he's back in the middle. We can always put him back again.
"Now he's learned a little bit more about when to go and when to stay as a winger. That's the hardest part. A center is more of a free-flowing position, way more continuous motion than as a winger. That's the biggest difference for him. With the opponents we have, it's important that we have his tenacity and grit through the middle of the rink."
Robin Lehner will start in goal for the Senators.
Here are the projected lineups:
Filip Forsberg – Mike Ribeiro – James Neal
Colin Wilson – Calle Jarnkrok – Craig Smith
Matt Cullen – Olli Jokinen – Derek Roy
Eric Nystrom – Paul Gaustad – Taylor Beck
Roman Josi –Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm – Ryan Ellis
Anton Volchenkov – Seth Jones
Scratched: Gabriel Bourque, Victor Bartley
Injured: Mike Fisher (Achilles tendon), Viktor Stalberg (knee)
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris – Alex Chiasson
Colin Greening – David Legwand – Bobby Ryan
Milan Michalek –Zack Smith – Chris Neil
Mike Hoffman – Mika Zibanejad- Mark Stone
Chris Phillips - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Erik Condra, Patrick Wiercioch
Injured: Curtis Lazar (undisclosed), Marc Methot (back/hip)
Status report: Fisher said he was hoping to return to play against the Senators, but isn't ready. He hasn't played this season after injuring his Achilles tendon during the summer. … Phillips has been bothered by a lower-body injury, but will play Thursday. Greening is back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past three games and for eight of the past 10.
Who's hot: Forsberg has eight goals in his past eight games. The Forsberg-Ribeiro-Neal line has a 10-game point streak. It was last held without a point Oct. 25 vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins. Beck had the first two-goal game of his career Tuesday against the Maple Leafs.