One of the League’s top teams, Montreal has 99 points on the campaign, one of three NHL clubs to reach that mark this season. Having played just one game in the past six days, the Preds are undoubtedly looking forward to the challenge that comes with facing a top club in the Habs.
“When we were up in Montreal last time, it was a good hockey game,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “We felt like we played a really good game up there, and I would expect [Tuesday] to be no different. [We are] two teams who have had some decent success this year, and the goalies as well, so it should be a good game.”
Nashville’s last visit to Quebec brought about a 2-1 overtime loss back in January, and the Predators haven’t forgotten about that trip to the Bell Centre.
“They got us in overtime earlier in the year, so I think we definitely owe them one and it’s certainly a test for us,” forward Taylor Beck said. “That was big win on Saturday [against Buffalo] and we want to carry that into Tuesday. I know they’re a top team in the East, so it’s a huge test for us.”
With just nine games remaining in the regular season schedule for the Preds, time is running short to collect points. Nashville’s next five contests come against teams that currently hold a playoff spot, and Tuesday night presents an opportunity for the Predators to see where they stack up against the rest of the League’s best.
The club knows that nothing comes easy at this time of the year, but the Preds bench boss believes that his team is more than ready for the stretch drive, beginning against Montreal.
“We’ve won a lot of hockey games, and there should be a lot of confidence with our club with regard to winning games or beating teams; we’ve done it all year long,” Laviolette said. “That being said, we know it’s a big challenge for us. Montreal sits at the top of the heat with 99 points, and if you want to climb up the ladder, there’s no team you’d rather beat.”
Combos & Pairings:
Forward Colin Wilson was on the ice for practice on Monday, the first time he’s skated with the team since leaving last Thursday’s practice with a lower-body injury.
“I skated yesterday too, and I’m feeling good,” Wilson said after Monday’s practice. “[I’m] getting ready to get back out there.”
After the session, Laviolette called Wilson, and forward James Neal, who did not participate, day-to-day.
Forward Matt Cullen did not practice and was given a maintenance day. Forward Eric Nystrom remains out with a lower-body injury.
Monday’s lines looked like this:
Wilson - Ribeiro - Bourque
Arvidsson - Fisher - Smith
Forsberg - Jarnkrok - Stalberg
Beck - Gaustad - Santorelli
Josi - Weber
Jones - Franson
Ekholm - Ellis
Extra: Bartley - Volchenkov
Tuesday night’s contest between the Preds and Habs figures to be a good one; both teams have at least 96 points, but don’t be surprised if the overriding entertainment value comes courtesy of the two men in the blue paint putting on a clinic of sorts.
Pekka Rinne and Carey Price, the two best statistical goaltenders in the NHL this season, and arguably the two best netminders in the world, are likely to face one another for the first time in the current campaign Tuesday.
“For Rinne, he’s been unbelievable all year and he’s been our most important player all season,” Preds blueliner Roman Josi said. “It will definitely be a good goaltender matchup.
“We haven’t seen Price much, we only played them once and he was pretty good in that game. I’ve seen Peks all year, and he’s a great goaltender and clearly one of the best in the League. As a team, we’re definitely hoping he has a better game than Price [Tuesday].”
While the two figure to be competing for the Vezina Trophy come June as the League’s top goaltender, the focus for now is solely on the two points up for grabs on March 24.
“It’s a huge two points for either team, and it’s going to be a fun game,” Rinne said Monday after practice. “Price is one of the better goalies in the League. He’s a great goalie, and a guy I like to watch and have a lot of respect for. It should be a fun game, and it’s always fun to face one of the top guys.”
So Rinne is looking forward to the challenge of facing his counterpart, but what about those who will be attempting to beat Price, a task not many have accomplished as of late?
“It’s going to be little bit of a goaltender duel, we assume,” forward Taylor Beck said. “We’ve got to make sure we get lots of traffic in front of Price because he’s seeing the puck so well nowadays. We want to make it as hard on him as we can.”
“It’s two of the best goalies facing each other and two really good teams as well,” forward Filip Forsberg said. “With Price, we’ve got to take his eyes away, and we know what Peks can do for us.”
The assignment to score on Price may seem daunting, but one Preds skater feels that he’s been preparing for this moment since September.
“We practice against Peks every day, so usually you have to be at the top of your game to just try to score on him in practice,” Forsberg quipped. “So it’s no different [facing Price].”
Going 1-for-1 on the power play on Saturday, with the goal coming four seconds into the man advantage, wasn’t enough for the Predators to abandon fine tuning the special team’s unit at their next practice.
Monday’s skate began with the two PP groups taking to the ice early for a 15-minute, full-ice session with Assistant Coach Phil Housley (who oversees the team’s power-play system). Later, when the whole-team practice began, the power-play and penalty kill skaters saw even more work with the PK unit.
Preds D-man Roman Josi said that the reason behind the extensive time spent focusing on the PP was done in an effort to increase chemistry and familiarity with the team’s chosen method of attack. When executing a power play system becomes second nature, the offensive players are given even more freedom to focus on converting chances.
“It definitely helps when you know where guys are standing and everyone knows their job,” Josi said. “The more you can depend on each other, the better it will get in the games too.
“The main thing is just getting some reps in at practice. We didn’t have a lot of time to practice it before, and it just helps to move the puck around a little bit and get more confident on the power play.”
Taylor Beck’s power-play goal versus the Sabres gave Nashville their third man advantage score in their last four games. If the recent production is a sign of good things to come, the Preds head coach will be pleased; he again called the units “really important” on Monday.
“Our power play was struggling a bit, so for us to come out and put one in was huge,” Beck said. “That ended up being a huge goal in the game.”
“We’re continuing to work on chemistry,” Wilson, who was back practicing on the first PP unit after missing Saturday’s contest, said. “When your power play is clicking, everyone is feeling it and you’re moving the puck [in all areas of the game]. When you have confidence, people are moving and shots are getting to the net. We’re just trying to concentrate on that and get things clicking.”
Whether or not the Predators attention to improving their power play will continue to pay dividends will be seen tomorrow. The Canadiens hold the NHL’s seventh-ranked penalty kill, converting at 84.6 percent.
Peter Laviolette on Viktor Stalberg’s recent play:
“You give him a lot of credit because he’s been through some adversity this year. He’s come up here and been a very effective player for us. He’s using his speed, he’s generating offensively and he’s been responsible defensively. So Viktor deserves a lot of credit for coming back up here and being a real impactful player for us.”
Colin Wilson on Pekka Rinne and Carey Price:
“They’re both some of the best goalies in the world, I guess it’s always up for debate. They’re amazing. I don’t get to see Price as much, but I know Rinne is unbelievable and gives us a [chance to win].”
Filip Forsberg on the confidence gained from Saturday’s win:
“It was good. Coming back here, and after struggling a little bit lately at home, it was good to get a win in front of our fans. We’re just trying to get back on a winning track.”
Shot of the Day: