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Predators try to bounce back vs. Hurricanes

by Tal Pinchevsky

HURRICANES (14-21-7) at PREDATORS (21-15-4)

TV: FS-Carolinas (HD)

Last 10:
Carolina 4-3-3; Nashville 6-4-0

Season Series: This marks the first of two matchups this season between these teams, who will play again in Raleigh on Feb. 28. Nashville won both games last season, winning 2-1 in a shootout on Nov. 20, 2010, before topping the Hurricanes 5-2 in Nashville two weeks later.

Big Story:
Both teams have enjoyed a recent winning stretch. The Hurricanes remain near the bottom of the Eastern Conference but enjoyed a recent run of three wins in four games before dropping two straight. Nashville remains squarely in the Western playoff picture and won three straight while captain and leading scorer Shea Weber was out with a concussion. The Preds welcomed Weber back to the lineup on Thursday in a 4-1 loss to Dallas.

Team Scope:

After opening December with a 1-4-0 record, Carolina was able to go 4-3-2 to close out the year, the team's best stretch in two months. After opening 2012 by blowing a late lead to the Islanders before falling 4-3 in the shootout, Carolina hosted the Sabres Friday night.

Against Buffalo, Carolina allowed the Sabres to come from behind to tie the game twice before Chad LaRose's go-ahead goal 8:10 into the third period sparked a 4-2 win. Eric Staal continued to show signs of rebounding from a dreadful start to the season by scoring a goal, adding two assists and taking a team-leading six shots. The standout game from the Carolina captain happened to coincide with his insertion between Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen on the team's top line. "I felt good tonight," Staal told the team's website. "I like playing with 'Ruuts' and Jussi."

Nashville closed out November with a 1-4-1 record but enjoyed a strong December that included an 8-3-0 stretch to finish off 2011. That winning run continued into the new year, which the team opened with a 5-3 home win over Calgary. But despite welcoming Weber back from injury, Nashville couldn't continue that hot play against Dallas. After Gabriel Bourque's first NHL goal tied the game 1-1 in the first period, Mike Ribeiro's second of the game gave Dallas a lead with just 39 seconds remaining in the opening period. Dallas put two more pucks past Pekka Rinne and hold the Predators to 13 shots in the second and third periods to close out the 4-1 win.

"The game was not a very good game by us," defenseman Ryan Suter said. "I thought we pretty much gave them every goal by mistakes we made."

Who's Hot:
For the Hurricanes, Staal has eight points in his last four games while LaRose has goals in consecutive games. … Jordin Tootoo has been an unlikely offensive source for the Predators, providing six points in his last seven games.

Injury Report: Jeff Skinner (concussion), Joni Pitkanen (knee), and Brian Boucher (lower body) are on IR for Carolina. … With Weber back in the lineup, Colin Wilson (upper body) is Nashville's lone injury.

Stat Pack:
The key for the Hurricanes so far this season has been shot differential. The team is 9-6-3 when outshooting the competition and a League-worst 4-13-4 when outshot. Unfortunately for Carolina, the 31.4 shots the Hurricanes allow per game are the fourth-highest in the League.

Puck Drop:
Carolina's defense is ranked 29th out of 30 NHL teams, bettering only the Tampa Bay Lightning. That could be a prime opportunity for Nashville, whose top players have had trouble scoring lately. Among the team's top scorers, Craig Smith has one assist in his last nine games while David Legwand, Suter, and Martin Erat have all gone pointless in their last five games.

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