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Game Day: Preds vs. Avalanche

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

(19-14-7) Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche (20-18-3)
  8 P.M. (CT) | Pepsi Center | #NSHvsCOL
TV: FS-TN | Radio: 102.5 The Game


The Nashville Predators begin a four-game road trip tonight in Colorado, and they'll do so with a new addition to their top line.

Acquired Wednesday via trade from Columbus, center Ryan Johansen is expected to make his debut in a Predators uniform when the Preds face the Avalanche at Pepsi Center, the second of five meetings this season between the Central Division foes. The Predators sent defenseman Seth Jones to Columbus to complete the swap.

“[This is] a new opportunity for me," Johansen said following his first practice with the team on Thursday. "It’s a chance to take a big step in my young career while still being a young player in this League. There’s no better opportunity to come to a great team and start off on a top line. So I'm just excited to get right in there with this back-to-back.”

Johansen, who has six goals and 26 points this season, skated between Colin Wilson and James Neal on Nashville's top line during practice on Thursday.

Tonight's contest is followed by stops in Arizona (Saturday), Chicago (Tuesday) and Winnipeg (Thursday) for the Preds, a trip that sees the club playing against Central Division teams three times and seven times total in the month of January. The Preds have a 4-7-1 record so far against Central Division squads this season.

The Predators continue to feature a high-scoring backend, with Roman Josi leading Nashville with 30 points (9g-21a), while Shea Weber leads the d-corps with 11 goals. Preds defensemen are first in goals in the NHL with 31, and the group as a whole ranks second in the League with 100 points coming from the blue line. Colorado also gets offense from their defensemen, slotting fourth in the NHL with 86 points from the D.

Josi's 30 points pace the Preds, followed by Weber and forward Filip Forsberg, who has 10 goals. Johansen is also now tied for second on the team in points with 26. James Neal, who is one goal away from 200 for his career, leads the Preds with 15 scores; Mike Ribeiro has 25 points, including 21 assists. Goaltender Pekka Rinne, named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game on Wednesday, along with Josi and Weber, is 16-12-6 on the season.

Defenseman Ryan Ellis has tallied at least a point in five of his last six games versus the Avalanche (2g-7a), while Colin Wilson has six career goals against the Colorado, tying his career high versus any team.

Matt Duchene leads the Avs with 19 goals in 41 games and is tied with Nathan MacKinnon for first on the club in points with 34. MacKinnon has 14 goals on the season; Jarome Iginla is third on the team with 11. Semyon Varlamov has gone 14-10-3 between the pipes for Colorado in 28 starts.

Johansen Debuts as Preds Hit Halfway Mark:



The Preds will play game No. 41 of an 82-game slate tonight against the Avalanche from Pepsi Center, a mark of the campaign that can be viewed from two different perspectives. On one hand, it’s only halfway through the season. On the other hand, the season is already halfway over.

Nashville will be looking to add to their total of 45 points earned at this juncture, and they’ll have some help as newly acquired centerman Ryan Johansen is expected to make his Predators debut this evening. While hopes are high for what Johansen can bring to the lineup, Head Coach Peter Laviolette knows his new forward isn’t the only one who is tasked with helping the Preds win on a consistent basis in the second half.

“[Johansen is] expected to come in and be part of our group; he’s going to play some minutes, just like everybody else on our team,” Laviolette said. “We need our team to be great tonight. He’s now part of our team, he’s part of our forward group, he’s part of the power play, but everybody has to do their job. As a team, we know we need to be ready to play tonight. It’s a big game.”

Defenseman Mattias Ekholm, as well as the rest of his teammates, also know where they stand in the Central Division, with the Avalanche two points behind them. Winnipeg is only two more points behind Colorado for the seventh and last spot among the group, but the current trip, which includes stops in Colorado tonight and Winnipeg next Thursday, offers a chance to pull away from those same clubs.

“Every game right now is so important,” Ekholm said. “It’s tough to call it playoff games or anything like that, but for us, it really is. It’s so tight in our standings, our division, especially Colorado and we have Winnipeg coming up too. Those are the games we really need to win to create that separation, so it’s a really big game for us tonight.”

Laviolette may very well offer up words of motivation and inspiration prior to puck drop, a craft in which he is one of the best, but he also knows he doesn’t have to harp on what’s at stake – not just tonight, but the rest of the way.

“Everybody knows exactly what the standings say,” Laviolette said. “We know we’ve got to start playing some good hockey in the second half here.”


Projected Lineups:

The Predators held an optional morning skate on Friday morning at Pepsi Center. The below lineup is based on line rushes seen at practice on Thursday.

Nashville Predators:

Forwards
Colin Wilson Ryan Johansen James Neal
Filip Forsberg Mike Ribeiro Calle Jarnkrok
Miikka Salomaki Mike Fisher Craig Smith
Eric Nystrom Paul Gaustad Austin Watson
Defense
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm Ryan Ellis
Anthony Bitetto Barret Jackman

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Goaltenders: Pekka Rinne is the expected starter in net with Carter Hutton serving as the backup.

Extra: (D) Petter Granberg, (F) Viktor Arvidsson, (F) Cody Hodgson, (F) Gabriel Bourque (IR; upper-body)


Colorado Avalanche:

Forwards
Andreas Martinsen Nathan MacKinnon Matt Duchene
Gabriel Landeskog Carl Soderberg Blake Comeau
Alex Tanguay Mikhail Grigorenko Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod John Mitchell Jack Skille
Defense
Nick Holden Tyson Barrie
Francois Beauchemin Andrew Bodnarchuk
Nate Guenin Zach Redmond

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Goaltenders: Semyon Varlamov is the expected starter in net with Calvin Pickard serving as the backup.

Extra: (D) Erik Johnson, (D) Brad Stuart (IR), (F) Ben Street (IR), (F) Jesse Winchester (IR), (F) Ben Street, (G) Reto Berra (IR)

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