PENGUINS (45-21-6) vs. PREDATORS (42-23-8)
WHEN: March 22, 2012 - 7:00 pm | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
The Nashville Predators proved that they are in it to win it this year by being the NHL’s busiest team at the trade deadline. They added former Penguin Hal Gill to an already-deep blue line anchored by top pairing Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, brought in three-time 20-goal scorer Andrei Kostitsyn to reunite with his brother Sergei and sent a first-round pick to Buffalo for faceoff specialist and physical force Paul Gaustad.
“I think with these trades we've certainly given us a chance to play with the big boys this year when we get in the playoffs," Predators GM David Poile told reporters after the deadline.
Now the Predators have added a gamebreaking talent in Alexander Radulov, who rejoined the team Wednesday after four seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. He will make his re-debut Thursday in Pittsburgh or at home on Saturday against Winnipeg.
Before making the decision to return to the organization that drafted him in the first round (15th overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft, the 25-year-old Radulov had widely been considered the world’s best player not in the NHL. Since leaving Nashville in 2008 (where he scored 44 goals in two seasons), Radulov claimed the KHL scoring title in both 2010-11 and 2011-12 and was named league MVP each of the past two years (2010 and 2011; yet to be awarded in 2012). He's said to have grown into a much bigger, stronger and physical player during his time in Russia.
Radulov will join a team that’s fighting for home ice in the playoffs, as Nashville is locked in a battle with Central Division rival Detroit for fourth place in the Western Conference. As of Wednesday, the two clubs each had 92 points through 73 games played.
The Predators are a defensively oriented team anchored by goalie Pekka Rinne, who’s won a franchise-record 39 games this season (tied with Marc-Andre Fleury
for most in the NHL). He’s certainly had to work for every win, as he leads the league in saves (1,799) and shots against (1,949).
But while head coach Barry Trotz’s philosophy centers around a strong defensive game, the Predators possess plenty of talent up front and their top line of Sergei Kostitsyn, Mike Fisher and Martin Erat has been driving them offensively. Erat carries a five-game point streak into Thursday’s game, where he has eight points (2G-6A) over that span. Fisher is also on a five-game point streak (3G-2A), while Kostitsyn has seven points in his last eight outings.
PREDATORS: ALEXANDER RADULOV
Radulov has been labeled the best player not currently in the NHL. Radulov has returned to Nashville after four seasons in the KHL, where he was a two-time MVP, won a pair of scoring titles and earned a league championship. But Radulov also had success in his first two seasons with the Preds before heading home to Russia, scoring a combined 44 goals. And by all accounts, he’s grown bigger, stronger and more physical in the years since – and could provide a huge boost to Nashville’s lineup.
At practice, Radulov skated on a line with center David Legwand and left wing Patric Hornqvist, Nashville's leader with 24 goals. He also practiced on the team's second power-play unit with Legwand and Andrei Kostitsyn up front and forward Sergei Kostitsyn and defenseman Ryan Ellis on the points. PENGUINS: SIDNEY CROSBY
Crosby has been incredibly productive since his return to the lineup on March 15 vs. NY Rangers after a 40-game absence due to injury, as the captain has piled up nine assists in just four games back (where the Penguins have piled up 20 goals while going 3-0-1 in that span). Crosby recorded four of those in Pittsburgh’s last game – an 8-4 win over Winnipeg on Tuesday – and they were all beauties. After being out of the lineup for such an extended period, Crosby looks increasingly comfortable with each passing game and seems to be on the precipice of fully regaining his timing and goal scoring touch. It could all come to fruition Thursday against Nashville.
Pittsburgh enters Thursday’s game having gone 13 straight games without a regulation loss (12-0-1) dating back to their last loss on Feb. 19 at Buffalo – tied for the fifth-longest unbeaten stretch in franchise history (13 games; Jan. 20-Feb. 16, 1995; 12-0-1).
During their 13-game unbeaten stretch, the Penguins have scored four or more regulation goals in six of the 13 games. They have tallied 53 goals in that span for an average of 4.08 goals per game.
The Penguins have won a season-high eight straight home games entering tonight – the longest active streak in the NHL. A win Thursday would equal Pittsburgh’s third-longest home winning streak in franchise history (9 games; Feb. 26-Apr. 5, 1975).
Since Jan. 17 the Penguins have gone 14-1 in their last 15 home games. They have outscored their opponents, 60-34.
Pittsburgh has gone 12-2-3 this season against teams from the Western Conference. That’s good for the best out-of-conference record among Eastern Conference teams. Only the St. Louis Blues (14-2-2) have posted a better out-of-conference record among all NHL teams.
This season the Penguins have killed off 53-of-54 (98.1%) opposition power plays in 17 games against Western Conference foes. Pittsburgh has gone 15-for-69 (21.7%) on the man-advantage against teams from the Western Conference.
G Brent Johnson
, undisclosed (13)
F Joe Vitale
, undisclosed (2)PREDATORS:
D Roman Josi, upper body (day-to-day)
F Paul Gaustad, upper body (day-to-day)
F Colin Wilson, groin (day-to-day)
Author: Michelle Crechiolo