The five-day break has concluded for the Nashville Predators, and they're back on the road in the State of Hockey tonight to meet the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. It's the fourth of five meetings between the two Central Division foes; the Preds have gone 1-1-1 against Minnesota, most recently coming back to beat the Wild in their last meeting.
The Predators also produced a comeback in their last outing before the break, a 5-3 win over Dallas last Sunday. Roman Josi scored twice in that contest and Pekka Rinne recorded the victory in net. Now after five days off, Nashville turns their attention back to the ice, focused on a back-to-back weekend on the road which kicks off a stretch of 26 games in 50 days to close out the regular season.
"There's a lot of hockey, a lot of important hockey as we all know at this time of year," Captain Mike Fisher said. "I think we all look forward to it because every game is important. The schedule is tough, but standings are so tight too, and that's what makes it so fun. We're looking forward to it."
Ryan Johansen leads Nashville with 40 points on the season, while Viktor Arvidsson is the top goal-scorer with 18 to his credit. James Neal has tallied 17 times while Filip Forsberg and Mike Fisher have 16 goals apiece. Rinne has gone 22-14-6 between the pipes.
Minnesota (38-13-6) sits atop the Western Conference and is 3-1-1 in their last five, including a 3-1 victory over Dallas on Thursday. Mikael Granlund leads the club with 51 points and Nino Niederreiter is first in goals with 19. Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle have 44 points apiece; Staal, Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker have 16 goals each. Devan Dubnyk has posted a 31-10-3 record in 44 starts this season.
Video: Preds return from break for two games in two nights
Morning Update: The Preds held a full morning skate on Saturday. You can see their projected lineup here.
Additional Update: The Predators have recalled forward Kevin Fiala from Milwaukee (AHL).
As the Preds return to the ice and look to knock off the division's best, here are three things to watch for:
Back in the Swing:
After five days away from the rink, the Predators have quite the test as they're welcomed back to the regular season - they'll face the top team in the Western Conference. It'll certainly be a tall task right away, and the stats haven't been great out of the break - teams are 3-9-2 in their first game back after the week off, but Nashville's awareness is heightened on the matter.
"We've just got to take care of our game, get our timing down and that's going to be [during the skate this] morning," defenseman Matt Irwin said. "We'll do the best that we can in the morning to get our legs under us, feel the puck, make good passes and have a good hard skate. When the puck drops at seven o'clock…we're going to look to use some fresh, rested legs to our advantage."
The offensive upside of defenseman Roman Josi's game has been shining through as of late. The blueliner has tallied in three consecutive contests for the first time in his career, including Nashville's first two goals in a 5-3 win over Dallas. Josi also has points in four-straight games and has six points in five outings since returning from injury on Feb. 4.
26 in 50:
It was inevitable with the condensed schedule, but the Preds play 26 games over the next 50 days as the regular season enters its final stretch. Most of those games for Nashville will come against clubs either currently in a playoff position or fighting to claim a spot, which will undoubtedly ramp up the intensity night after night. The stretch drive unofficially starts tonight in Minnesota, and it won't get any easier in the coming weeks.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing right now; at this point of the season, pretty much every team is fighting for the playoffs," Irwin said. "They're trying to establish positioning within the top eight of their conference, so to speak… We're playing the team that's leading our division [tonight], it's a rivalry game and we're going to approach it that way and look to put our best foot forward."
Take It In:
Tonight's game from St. Paul comes with a 7 p.m. CT puck drop, beginning with Predators Live! on Fox Sports Tennessee at 6:30 p.m. Pregame radio coverage on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network commences at 6 p.m.