The Nashville Predators are set for a California swing this week, beginning tonight in Anaheim against the Ducks at Honda Center. The three-game trip is Nashville's longest remaining road excursion of the season, and it begins with the Preds and Ducks meeting for the final time in 2016-17, with both teams having won once so far.
Nashville is coming off a 5-3 loss to Chicago on Saturday that saw Viktor Arvidsson score twice and Calle Jarnkrok add his 13th of the season. Defenseman Ryan Ellis, who missed Saturday's game with a lower-body injury, participated in Monday's practice in Nashville but his status for tonight is unknown.
Ryan Johansen leads the Preds with 51 points, followed by Filip Forsberg with 50 and Arvidsson with 47. Forsberg's 26 goals are tops on the team while Arvidsson is second with 23. Roman Josi has 11 goals and 38 points from the backend and Captain Mike Fisher has 16 goals and 37 points on the season. Goaltender Pekka Rinne is 25-16-6 on the season; Juuse Saros is 7-6-3.
Anaheim (33-22-10) has alternated between wins and losses for 11 consecutive games, most recently falling to Vancouver 2-1 on Sunday. Ryan Getzlaf leads the team with 49 points, followed by Ryan Kesler with 47 and Corey Perry with 42. Rickard Rakell has 26 goals on the season and Kesler has 19. Netminder John Gibson is 23-15-8 but is currently dealing with an injury and may be unavailable tonight; Jonathan Bernier is 10-7-2.
Video: Thomas Willis has a preview of NSH vs. ANA
Lineup Update: Defenseman Ryan Ellis is expected to return to the Predators lineup tonight, Head Coach Peter Laviolette said following the team's morning skate at Honda Center. Ellis exited Thursday's loss to Montreal with a lower-body injury and missed Saturday's game against Chicago, but was back alongside Roman Josi for the Preds last two on-ice sessions. Click here to see the Predators projected lineup.
We're Still the Better Team: While pulling into the team hotel in Anaheim, entering through the lobby or even walking around the surrounding grounds, little flashes from April of last year come popping to mind. A seven-game series between the Preds and Ducks in 2016 - with Nashville collecting three wins away from home at Honda Center - won't leave the memory banks anytime soon, and returning to the scene only helps to reinforce feelings from last season's playoff run.
"We spent a lot of time in that hotel," Preds center Ryan Johansen said with a laugh. "We know this is a team that doesn't like us, and we don't like them very much. [Tonight's game] means more than just an early March game. This could potentially be another playoff matchup, and we want to show them that we're still the better team."
Key for Johansen and his mates tonight will be cleaning up the small errors that have seen Nashville give up two game-winning goals, both with under 70 seconds remaining in regulation, in their last two games.
Laviolette said Tuesday the lapses are something he and his staff addressed with the club, but that he also doesn't want to distract the Preds from the high quality play they've exhibited overall during the last 15 games or so.
Johansen said the confidence is still there for a Preds team that was 6-1-1 prior to the two recent losses.
"I don't really know how to explain it," Johansen said of the late-game goals against. "It's just kind of a fluky, unlucky, small mistake, but that's the thing about this League - it's 60 minutes. The team that makes the fewer mistakes, they win games. Those things are going to happen, but you have to try and limit those late in games. You have to make sure you're not giving the opposition chances to burn your club that late in the game. Hopefully if we're in that situation tonight we can take care of business."
As the Preds start the week in Orange County, here are three things to watch for:
After a solid run of points in six straight to end the month of February, the Preds find themselves having lost two consecutive outings, both late in regulation. There's plenty of elements the team remains pleased with, but it's never too late in the season to keep improving, and that's what Monday's practice in Nashville was all about.
"I don't think we can sweep everything under the carpet, and there's always things that we can do better out there," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "We can't jump ahead of this three-game road trip, we can't worry about what other people are doing, we have to make sure we continue to try and get better and build off of the momentum that we did have."
The Predators have 17 games remaining in the regular season, and with each passing contest comes another night of increased intensity and importance as teams battle for postseason positioning. Tonight will be no different with each team sitting third in their respective division and a desire to solidify those spots. Not that the first two meetings between the two clubs weren't intense, but the lopsided scores on either side in those outings are likely to be replaced by something more hotly contested tonight.
"With the points being so huge right now just to get into the playoffs, I think every team is kind of playing with that desperation every single night," forward Austin Watson said. "We know every opponent that you face has that same mentality, and it leads to good hockey."
Trying to state that this road trip for the Preds carries any more importance than the last or the next wouldn't be entirely accurate, especially at this time of the year. However, this California swing could either put the Preds on solid footing in the Central when all is said and done, or they could be right back in the mess that is the Wild Card battle. All it takes is one shift, one goal or one win to get a team going. Look to see if the Preds can create one of those moments tonight to start the trip off right.
Take It In:
Tonight's game from Anaheim comes with a 9 p.m. CT puck drop, starting with pregame coverage on Fox Sports Tennessee at 8:30 p.m. The Predators Radio Network and 102.5 The Game begin coverage at 8 p.m. CT.