The NHL All-Star Break has concluded, and the Nashville Predators are in the Steel City tonight to face the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena, as the final 10 weeks of the regular season begin. It's the second and final time the two clubs will get together this season; Nashville defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions, 5-1, at Bridgestone Arena in October.
Prior to the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, the Predators defeated Columbus 4-3, giving them points in eight of their last nine outings. P.K. Subban represented the Preds at All-Star, captaining the Central Division and scoring a goal in their game against the Pacific Division on Sunday.
Ryan Johansen remains atop the Predators scoring lead coming out of the break with 36 points, including 28 helpers. Filip Forsberg has 32 points, followed by Viktor Arvidsson with 30 and Mike Fisher with 29. Former Penguin James Neal leads Nashville with 17 goals, followed by Forsberg with 15, then Arvidsson and Fisher with 12 each. Pekka Rinne is 19-12-6 in goal on the season; Juuse Saros has gone 5-3-2.
Pittsburgh (30-13-5) has lost two in a row, including a 4-3 result against Boston last Thursday. Still, the Penguins remain one of the League's top teams, led by captain Sidney Crosby with 28 goals and 55 points. Evgeni Malkin has 22 goals and 54 points on the season, followed by Phil Kessel with 15 goals and 46 points. Matt Murray has gone 17-6-1 in net for the Pens; Marc-Andre Fleury is 13-7-4.
Video: Brooks Bratten previews Preds vs. Penguins
Morning Update: Roman Josi (Injured Reserve; upper-body) skated during Tuesday's morning skate, but is not expected to play tonight. See Nashville's projected lineup here.
With just 10 weeks to go in the regular season, here are three things to watch for from Pittsburgh:
It'll be quite a test right out of the break for the Predators as they face the defending Stanley Cup champs in Pittsburgh, a team that possesses two of the League's top players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It gives the Penguins a one-two punch up the middle and can make for a lethal power play, which is currently ranked fifth in the NHL. The Nashville defense will have to be on their game to slow down the League's highest scoring team with 170 goals to date.
Keep It Rolling:
A little rest and relaxation never hurt anyone, and after a few days off, the Preds will look to keep their current stretch of success intact. Nashville is 7-1-1 in their last nine games with points in five straight, good enough to propel them to third in the Central Division. The Predators are ahead of the current Wild Card teams by three points, but there's a mess in the standings below them, and staying in the win column more often than not will be necessary over the next two-plus months.
After a rough start away from home early in the season, Nashville has bumped their road record to a respectable 11-12-2, thanks in part to a recent 4-1-0 stretch on their last road excursion. After tonight, Nashville has nine games at home in the month of February, compared to four on the road, and now that the Preds have found some swagger in visiting buildings, they should continue to be able to pull in some points away from Bridgestone Arena, perhaps starting this evening.
Take It In:
Tonight's game in Pittsburgh comes with a 6 p.m. CT start from PPG Paints Arena, beginning at 5:30 with Predators Live! on Fox Sports Tennessee. Predators pregame begins at 5 p.m. CT on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network.