After a successful 3-0-1 home stand, the Nashville Predators head back on the road for a three-game set, beginning this evening in Toronto to face the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. It's the first of two meetings between the clubs this season; the other will come in Nashville in late March.
The Preds have points in six-straight games and have won three in a row to bump their record to 6-5-3 overall. As the confidence continues to build, Nashville's focus now turns to improving their play away from home.
"We have to continue to win," Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "We're still not in a playoff spot, so we haven't done anything yet. We have to continue to work hard to try and climb out of that hole… [Practices have] been good and competitive. Hopefully that translates into a game, and we can take that onto the road. We've done some things, we've won some games now, we've closed out some games, and our road record has got to be better. We have to do things on the road that we're doing at home, and we get that opportunity now."
Filip Forsberg, who tallied his first goal of the season last Saturday, leads the Predators in scoring with 11 points. Winger James Neal is second with 10 points (6g-4a) and has scored in four consecutive contests. Viktor Arvidsson (4g-5a) has nine points on the season, followed by defensemen P.K. Subban and Roman Josi who have eight points apiece. Pekka Rinne, named the NHL's Third Star of the Week, went 3-0-0 with a shutout in three starts last week.
The Maple Leafs (6-6-3) have lost two of their last three, but have plenty of young guns worth watching, including the NHL's top selection in 2016, Auston Matthews. Along with Mitch Marner and William Nylander - all age 20 or younger - Matthews shares the team lead in points with 12, including six goals, four of which came in his first NHL game. Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk each have 11 points, and Kadri's seven goals lead the team in the category. Former Anaheim Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen is 6-4-3 in 13 starts this season.
Video: Thomas Willis has a preview of Preds and Leafs
Laviolette announced on Tuesday that goaltender Pekka Rinne is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Marek Mazanec said after the morning skate that he is scheduled to start in net for Nashville; a projected lineup for the Preds may be seen here.
"I didn't know I was going to start. I thought Peks was going to play yesterday, and then I got a text saying I would start, so it was a little surprising," Mazanec said. "I'm happy, I just got back from Milwaukee and can start now.
"It's part of my job. They send you down and call you up the next day, and I have to be ready to play."
As the Preds begin their trip north of the border, here are three things to watch for against the Leafs.
On the Road Again:
After collecting three more wins last week on Bridgestone Arena ice, giving them a 5-1-1 record in Tennessee, the Predators are now looking to improve their mark away from home. Nashville has just one win on the road this season, but now that things are starting to come together, a couple of strong performances in a hostile environment would only help to boost the confidence in the locker room, and the place in the standings.
"We should feel pretty comfortable and confident going on the road," Rinne said. "The last road trip - it was tough for us. We battled hard at the end and collected some points, but that's the one area we can improve, playing on the road and improving our road record and collecting more points. But I think the whole team is feeling really good right now, and we should feel really confident after this week."
Nashville continues to see improvements across the board in offensive categories, especially from winger James Neal, who has goals in four straight. Filip Forsberg also found the back of the net for the first time this season in the Predators last outing, and forward Calle Jarnkrok had a two-goal game last week.
Now that Forsberg has one goal to his credit, is No. 2 close behind? He registered a natural hat trick in his visit to Toronto last season. Neal will also be looking to extend his scoring streak, and players like Viktor Arvidsson, who had two assists on Saturday, continue to find ways to contribute offensively.
There is a three-way tie for the leading Maple Leafs scorer, and none of them were born before 1996. Matthews, Marner and Nylander are all tied atop the team leaderboard with 12 points, and while Matthews is the name garnering the most attention, the Predators will be doing everything they can to contain Toronto's young guns.
"I've heard all the great things and know he's a great player," Preds Captain Mike Fisher said of Matthews. "You always look forward to playing against those guys. He's a star already, and we're trying to shut him down and do what we can to be successful against their whole team. They're a young, good, solid team that works hard, and it's going to be a tough opponent."
Take It In:
Tonight's game in Toronto comes with a 6:30 p.m. (CT) start time, beginning with the Predators Live! pregame show on Fox Sports Tennessee beginning at 6 p.m. Willy Daunic, Stu Grimson and Lyndsay Rowley call the action on the television side while Pete Weber and Brent Peterson handle radio duties on 102.5 The Game and the Preds Radio Network.