The Nashville Predators are set to play their first game of the New Year when former captain Shea Weber and the Montreal Canadiens come to town tonight. It's the first meeting between the two clubs since the summer blockbuster that saw Weber head to Montreal in exchange for defenseman P.K. Subban. The Preds placed Subban on Injured Reserve on Sunday with an upper-body injury, which will keep him out of the lineup for at least two to three weeks, including tonight's contest against his former club.
The Predators are coming off a 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 30, including a spectacular goal from Viktor Arvidsson and the first career shutout for goaltender Juuse Saros. Ryan Johansen leads the team with 27 points, including 20 helpers. Viktor Arvidsson is second on the team in both goals and points with 10 and 24, respectively. Mike Fisher also has 10 goals, while James Neal leads the club with 14 goals. Pekka Rinne is 13-10-5 on the season in net; Saros is 3-2-1.
Montreal (37-22-9) is led in scoring by Max Pacioretty, who has 15 goals and 30 points in 37 games. Alexander Radulov is second on the team with 26 points, followed by Paul Byron and Alex Galchenyuk with 23 points each. Shea Weber has nine goals and 21 points from the backend. Galchenyuk, Andrew Shaw and Andrei Markov are not expected to play tonight due to injury. Carey Price is 27-18-5 in goal for the Habs.
Video: Canadiens visit Preds for first time since trade
Morning Updates: The Predators held an optional morning skate on Tuesday. Their projected lineup may be seen here.
The Preds recalled forward Harry Zolniercyzk from Milwaukee (AHL). They also activated d-man Anthony Bitetto off Injured Reserve and sent him on a conditioning assignment. See more on the roster moves here.
As the Preds look for two points against their former captain and the Canadiens, here are three things to watch for:
Video: The Former Preds captain on returning to Nashville
Once the puck drops tonight, it'll be all business for the Preds and Habs, but one player will likely have a bit more on his mind. Shea Weber will take the ice at Bridgestone Arena for the first time as a member of the opposition, a date that has been circled on the calendar since the trade was made in June. The consummate pro, Weber will surely be at the top of his game, providing a unique challenge to the Predators, whether it's getting by him in his own end or defending against his booming shot.
"Am I looking forward to seeing Shea and watching him play? Absolutely," Predators General Manager David Poile said. "I think it's going to be emotional for so many people, including myself, to have him back in our building… It's all good, I think from both sides, we've moved on, he's moved on and now we have to face him [tonight]."
"It's going to be a big game with what happened over the offseason," forward James Neal said. "I'm sure it'll be weird for [Weber], I've been in that position before, but we've just got to focus on ourselves and have a big game against a good team."
Video: P.K. Subban talks about injury, trade and transition
New Year, New Preds?
Peter Laviolette admitted a few days prior to the new year that he wasn't sure if the changing of the calendar would mean anything as far as flipping the page for a fresh start, but the Preds would certainly like to end up on the right side of the ledger more often than they did as 2016 came to a close.
However, a 4-0 win against St. Louis on Dec. 30, their final game of the calendar year, won't hurt their confidence, as they look to add more consistency to their game on a nightly basis.
"I liked the way we played last few games," Laviolette said. "The results didn't always go our way, but we went 1-1-1 [last week] and we played three hard division games… I really liked the way we played the Chicago game, there was some unfortunate luck there for us at the end, but we played a pretty good game in St. Louis, so we've just got to keep building on that."
Video: Laviolette talks about Preds improving their starts
Up to the Task:
Already without his services for the past seven games, defenseman P.K. Subban will remain out of the Predators lineup for at least the next two to three weeks with an upper-body injury. Poile said Monday he's confident Subban will be able to return sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, the Preds defensemen will have to continue to step up to compensate for the absence of Subban.
"When you're in the business that we are, you want to play as much as you can," defenseman Matt Irwin said. "It's easier to get into the game when you're playing a lot… the more you play, the more involved you are, so everyone's just going to have to step up and play some more more minutes, play a little bit more on special teams and kill some penalties. Everyone is going to have to step up their game."
When You Go:
Doors to Bridgestone Arena open at 5:30 p.m. CT for tonight's 7 p.m. start. It's a Guaranteed Win Night in Smashville, with every fan receiving a winning scratch-off card upon entry into the building. The grand prize is kitchen makeover, courtesy of Hermitage Lightning Gallery.
Take It In:
Tonight's game can be seen on Fox Sports Tennessee with the Predators Live! pregame show beginning at 6:30 p.m. with Willy Daunic, Stu Grimson and Lyndsay Rowley. The Preds Radio network will also carry the action with Pete Weber and Brent Peterson on the call.