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Game Day: Preds vs. Penguins

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

(39-25-13) Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (43-25-8)
  6 P.M. (CT) | Consol Energy Center | #NSHvsPIT
TV: FS-TN; NHL Network | Radio: 102.5 The Game


The Nashville Predators are in the Steel City tonight as they finish up their two-game road trip against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center. The opportunity for the Preds to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs exists once more tonight; if they can defeat the Penguins, they'll be in the postseason.

Nashville is coming off a 5-2 loss in Dallas on Tuesday night, with the Predators losing two consecutive games in regulation for the first time since early February. Pittsburgh has won three in a row, including a 5-4 shootout victory over Buffalo on Tuesday night and are 9-1-0 in their last 10 outings.

Two Predators are within striking distance of surpassing the franchise record for most goals in a single season. Filip Forsberg (31) and James Neal (30), trail Jason Arnott (33) to reach the mark. Forsberg and Neal are the fifth and sixth players in franchise history to score 30 in a single season. It's also the second time that the team has had two, 30-goal scorers in a single season. The only other time that the Preds had multiple 30-goal scorers was 2005-06, when Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya each notched 31. The Preds are one of only two NHL clubs so far this season to have multiple 30-goal scorers, joining the Dallas Stars in that category.

A former Penguin, Neal has scored 30 goals so far this season, with 26 being even-strength. He is the current franchise record holder in that category. Forsberg, who has 23 even-strength tallies, is just three away from tying Neal.

Predators defenseman Shea Weber is one goal shy of tying the franchise record for most power-play goals in a single season. Weber has tallied 13 with the man advantage, with the franchise record being 14 by Andy Delmore and Paul Kariya.

Forsberg leads the Preds with 31 goals and 58 points, while defenseman Roman Josi is one point behind Forsberg with 57. Neal is second on the club in goals with 30 and third with 52 points. Mike Ribeiro has 42 assists and 49 points on the season; Weber has 18 goals and 48 points. Pekka Rinne is 32-20-10 between the pipes for Nashville.

Mike Fisher has a point in two of his last three games versus the Penguins (1g-1a). Barret Jackman is on a three-game assist streak against the Penguins (3a) and Ryan Johansen is on a two-game point streak versus Pittsburgh (1g-1a).

Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins with 32 goals and 79 points, followed by Kris Letang with 59 points. Center Evgeni Malkin is third with 58 points, but is currently injured. Phil Kessel has 23 goals and 54 points while former Preds forward Patric Hornqvist has tallied 18 times. Marc-Andre Fleury owns a 34-17-6 record in net.

Tonight is the second and final meeting of the Predators and Penguins in 2015-16. In the first meeting between the two clubs on Oct. 24, 2015, Pittsburgh won by a score of 2-1 in overtime at Bridgestone Arena. Neal scored the lone goal for the Predators. All-time, Nashville is 10-8-4 versus Pittsburgh, including a 4-4-2 mark in the Steel City.

Elliott Makes Preds Debut:



For a player with the AHL affiliate of an NHL club, the call could come at any time. Yesterday, Stefan Elliott was the recipient of that summoning.

Acquired by the Predators on Jan. 15 from Arizona in exchange for Victor Bartley, the defenseman reported to Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, posting 17 points in 29 games with the team. And when blueliner Ryan Ellis left Tuesday’s game in Dallas with an upper-body injury and did not return, the Preds needed some help. Enter Elliott.

“When we talked to [Admirals Head Coach] Dean [Evason], he was a guy he recommended to come up,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said of Elliott. “He’s moving the puck well, he’s playing good defense, he plays an offensive game where we’re taking an offensive defenseman out of the lineup, so it’s a replacement there. More of a little bit of a match, and it’ll be good to see him play. It’s his first recall with us and getting him up here into our system with our guys, I think that’s important too for the playoffs, so it’ll be good to see him play.”

Elliott, who has played in 82 career NHL games with Colorado and Arizona, will wear No. 7 for the Preds when he makes his Nashville debut tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center. He was paired alongside defenseman Barret Jackman during the team’s morning skate.

“It’ll be good,” Elliott said of the chance to skate with Jackman. “He’s a veteran guy, and he’s a really nice guy. I had a chance to talk to him a little bit here, and I think that’ll be a good match and a good fit.”

“It’s a good fit for him,” Laviolette said of the pairing. “Barret provides a good presence out there and [Petter] Granberg and [Mattias] Ekholm have played well together, [Shea Weber] and [Roman Josi] will stay the same, so just a fit that seems like it’s right… It’s a good spot for him.”

Players often remark at the parity between the Milwaukee and Nashville systems, allowing them to make a seamless transition when they go up or down between the two teams. In Elliott’s case, joining a new organization altogether has been made easier due to that parity.

“For the short time I’ve been here, it seems like a majority of the systems are the same,” Elliott said. “That definitely makes it easier when you’re playing the same way. You just come in and keep playing the same way you’ve been playing before.

“I just have to try and play a solid game and just do whatever it takes to help the team win.”

If the Preds can pick up that victory, they’ll clinch a spot in the postseason, but it won’t be easy against a Pittsburgh team that has won nine out of their last 10. After losing two games in regulation for the first time since early February, the Preds know what must change to be successful once more.

“We’ve had a few chances here [to clinch], and we just want to focus on having a good start,” center Mike Fisher said. “Just getting back to the winning ways and having a real solid road game; if we worry about that, it’ll be icing on the cake if we can clinch tonight."


Projected Lineups:

Nashville Predators:

Defenseman Ryan Ellis (upper-body) did not participate in the Predators morning skate on Thursday. Recently recalled blueliner Stefan Elliott skated alongside Barret Jackman during the morning rushes.


Forwards
Calle Jarnkrok Ryan Johansen James Neal
Filip Forsberg Mike Ribeiro Craig Smith
Miikka Salomaki Mike Fisher Viktor Arvidsson
Paul Gaustad Colton Sissons Austin Watson
Defense
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm Petter Granberg
Barret Jackman Stefan Elliott

i

Goaltenders: Pekka Rinne is the projected starter in net after leaving the morning skate first. Carter Hutton will serve as the backup.

Extra: (D) Anthony Bitetto (lower-body), (D) Ryan Ellis (upper-body), (F) Eric Nystrom (lower-body), (F) Colin Wilson, (F) Gabriel Bourque (upper-body)


Pittsburgh Penguins:

Forwards
Chris Kunitz Sidney Crosby Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin Nick Bonino Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl Matt Cullen Bryan Rust
Conor Sheary Eric Fehr Beau Bennett
Defense
Trevor Daley Kris Letang
Derrick Pouliot Ben Lovejoy
Ian Cole Justin Schultz

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Goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury is the projected starter in net with Matthew Murray serving as the backup.

Extra: (F) Scott Wilson, (F) Evgeni Malkin, (F) Kevin Porter, (F) Scott Wilson, (D) Brian Dumoulin, (D) Olli Maatta, (F) Oscar Sundqvist, (G) Jeff Zatkoff

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