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Preds, Oilers hope to bounce back

by David Kalan
PREDATORS (10-8-4) at OILERS (12-9-2)


Last 10: Nashville 4-4-2; Edmonton 4-6-0.

Season Series: The Oilers have taken both of their two meetings with the Predators this season. Their most recent victory against Nashville was a 6-2 win at Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 22.

Big Story: After strong starts both Nashville and Edmonton have endured slumps lately that have them suddenly outside the top eight in the West. As both the Predators and Oilers get into the second quarters of their season, they'll look to get a win to jumpstart their rise back into playoff position.

Team Scope:

Predators: Nashville had a promising start to its season and plenty of high expectations for a club coming off its first ever postseason series win, but now the 2011-12 campaign has hit the skids in a big way. The Predators have suddenly lost three in a row and won just two of their last seven, dropping them to fourth in the highly-competitive Central Division and a full seven points back of the first-place Blackhawks.

One thing that may be becoming clear is that as Pekka Rinne goes, so go the Preds. Rinne has struggled significantly of late, giving up 14 goals in his last four starts -- including one where he was chased after just 20 minutes by these same Oilers. As a result, Rinne's goals-against average has jumped to 2.47 and the Predators are struggling. Rinne must turn it around for Nashville to get its season back in order, but as they make three final stops on this current road trip, that could be difficult. After Monday night's game in Edmonton, the Predators head to Calgary and Vancouver.

Oilers: With a roster loaded with young talent, Edmonton's rise hasn't been so much a surprise as the fact that it's happened so soon. Last season the Oil ended up in the League cellar, but this season Edmonton has been competing for the Northwest crown. The Oilers have slowed down somewhat from their hot start, enduring a four-game losing streak earlier this month, but since then the Oilers have recovered to win three of their last five games.

That recovery has kept the Oilers very much in the mix, though their losing streak two weeks ago has knocked them down the third in the division and out of the top eight. Still, Edmonton entered Sunday's action just three points back of first-place Minnesota and could have itself set up in very good position with a win against Nashville. The Oilers have certainly been playing well enough to put together another extended hot streak. Ryan Smyth, Jordan Eberle and Shawn Horcoff have all been lighting up the scoresheet with regularity of late.

Who's Hot: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may be a rookie, but he certainly isn't playing like one lately. The top overall pick from this year's draft has 10 points in his last five games. ... Ryan Suter continues to have a strong season on the Nashville blue line with six points in his last five games.

Injury Report: The most notable concern for the Oilers is that Taylor Hall is questionable with a left shoulder injury. Nashville, meanwhile, is likely to be without Francis Bouillon, who is doubtful with a groin injury.

Stat Pack: Do the Oilers know something about Rinne the rest of the League doesn't? The Finn has established himself as one of the steadiest goalies in the NHL, but in two starts against Edmonton this year Rinne has given up six goals in just 79 minutes, good for a 4.56 GAA.

Puck Drop: One could argue that given their expectations before this season, the Oilers are playing with house money. That seems an unlikely view for the Oil to take, but it is for that reason, and for the reason of Nashville's own preseason expectations, that the Predators are under far more pressure to eke out a win Monday night. Fortunately for the Preds, once their current five-game trek is over they'll get to stay home for a while. Six of their next seven games after the trip are in Music City.
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