Before the Nashville Predators begin their first-ever mandatory five-day break, a doubleheader stands in their way and it begins this afternoon when they host the Florida Panthers at Bridgestone Arena for a 1 p.m. CT matinee. It's the second and final meeting between the two this season; the Preds dropped a 2-1 decision on the road in January.
Nashville is coming off a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday that saw Cody McLeod, Calle Jarnkrok and Roman Josi tally a goal, while Juuse Saros took the loss in net.
Ryan Johansen is the first member of the Preds to hit the 40-point mark this season, leading the club with 40 points on the dot. He's followed by Viktor Arvidsson with 35, Filip Forsberg with 34 and Captain Mike Fisher, who has 32 points on the season. James Neal has 17 goals for Nashville; Arvidsson and Forsberg have 15 apiece. Pekka Rinne is 21-14-6 in net. Saros has gone 5-4-2.
The Panthers (23-20-10) lost 6-3 to Los Angeles on Thursday night, their first game after their five-day break. Vincent Trocheck leads the club with 18 goals and 35 points, followed by Jonathan Marchessault with 33 and then the NHL's second-leading scorer of all-time, Jaromir Jagr, who has nine goals and 30 points on the season. Jonathan Huberdeau has returned to the Florida lineup from injury, with a goal and assist in his first two games of the season. Roberto Luongo is 14-14-6 in net for Florida; James Reimer is 9-6-4.
Video: The Preds play a weekend doubleheader at home
Update: Nashville will not hold a morning skate prior to their matinee game on Saturday. See their projected lineup based on Friday's practice by clicking here.
As the Preds begin their weekend full of hockey, here are three things to watch for:
Work Before Play:
The Predators are undoubtedly looking forward to their five-day break next week, but for now, they're focused on the weekend, particularly the Panthers this afternoon. As is the case with a number of teams in the moment, the Panthers are stuck in the middle of a logjam for playoff positioning, and much like the Preds, are desperate to add wins to their record.
"Every game is so important right now, and Florida's a good team," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "They have some healthy bodies back, and they're in the same spot, trying to climb up the standings, so it'll be a good hockey game."
Video: Neal, Irwin and Rinne speak on Panthers vs. Preds
Center of Attention:
With a goal on Thursday in New York, Calle Jarnkrok has scored a goal in consecutive games for the third time in his career, and for the second time in his last six contests. Playing the center position as of late, Jarnkrok has eight points (4g-4a) and three multi-point games in his last seven contests, quietly showing as one of Nashville's best players in the past month.
"He's been really good since he's been put in his new environment at center and up the lineup," Laviolette said of Jarnkrok. "He's taking on more minutes and more responsibility, the power play, he's done a really good job on the power play, so inside all of that, he's still positionally sound, and defensively, whatever he does he's just a smart hockey player. Now he's getting a chance to show what he can do offensively."
Video: Peter Laviolette discusses Panthers visiting Preds
Lots to Like:
Sure, there have been blips on the radar, but the Predators continue to be pleased with plenty of elements in their game over the last few weeks. Ryan Johansen named a few on Friday, particularly on the backend - which is now healthy - and the man advantage.
"I think there's a lot of positives we can look at right now, and one of the big things is our D-corps is all healthy right now and playing together," Johansen said. "Then the power-play units, which have changed, hopefully they'll keep feeling more comfortable now with each other. Our power play has been having a little more success as of late now too, so I think there's a lot of positives we can be looking at right now."
When You Go:
Preds alumni Greg Johnson and Tomas Vokoun are in town today, starting with a skating session at the Smashville Outdoor Rink, presented by Nissan, from 9-10 a.m. CT, followed by an autograph session from 10 to noon. The Preds will be collecting used sports equipment to donate to The Sports Fund - bring your donations with you to the game. Fans attending today's game will receive a Preds Oven Mitt, courtesy of Intellicentrics.
Take It In:
Today's 1 p.m. CT puck drop can be seen on Fox Sports Tennessee, beginning with Predators Live! at 12:30 p.m. Radio coverage on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network kicks off at 12 p.m. CT.