The Toronto Maple Leafs (10-6-2) are in Nashville tonight to take on the consistently successful Predators (9-5-3). In the six seasons since the lockout the Predators have managed to advance to the playoffs five times in the tough Western conference. Similar to the the Leafs’ last opponent (the Phoenix Coyotes), the unbelievably spartan Predaors rely on their systems and strong goaltending.
Barry Trotz has been the coach since day one in Nashville and keeps getting the job done regardless of the names on the back of the jersey. Possessing one of the elite goalies in the world in Pekke Rinne the Predators are a threat to win every time they take the ice. Rinne signed a 7 year 49 million dollar contract earlier this season, and has continued to be lights out by carrying an amazing 2.13 GAA and .933 save percentage. Rookie Craig Smith leads the Preds in scoring with 14 points through 17 games. He’s currently tied with ultra hyped Oiler Ryan Nugent Hopkins for the rookie lead. Funny though haven’t really heard much about Smith as Hopkins has been shoved down our throats by the MSM.
The Leafs will dress seven defenseman tonight as they are dealing with a rash of injuries. Ex-Predator Cody Franson will dress tonight for only the fifth time this season. Forwards Mikhail Grabovski (lower body) and Clark MacArthur (upper body) join Colby Armstrong (knee) on the sidelines as the Leafs need to weather the storm without these key players. Tim Connolly will return to the lineup having missed the last four games with a shoulder injury. Connolly will slide in the lineup between the struggling Nikolai Kulemin and the dormant Matt Frattin. In the four games without Connolly the Leafs have managed only 8 goals. With the Kessel line most likely being checked by the dominant Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, the Leafs will need Connolly and the rest of the secondary forwards to chip in offensively. Ben Scrivens will start tonight for the fourth straight game as James Reimer continues to recover from injury. Scrivens has been strong in his brief time with the Leafs, but he’ll need to match one of the games best save for save tonight in order for the depleted Leafs to earn a result.
Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
Kulemin – Connolly – Frattin
Crabb – Steckel – Lombardi
Brown – Dupuis
Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
Liles – Komisarek
Gardiner – Schenn
Wilson – Smith – Hornqvist
Kostitsyn – Fisher – Erat
Bergfors – Smithson – Tootoo
Halischuk – Geoffrion – Spalling
Suter – Weber
Klein – Bouillion
Hillen – Blum
Players to Watch
Leafs: Dion Phaneuf – The captain has really struggled of late. His offense has dried up, and he’s begun to make some bad pinches and reads. With the Leafs going up against a defense first Predators team goals should be at a premium. Dion will need to prevent them on one end and contribute to them on the other.
Predators: Patrick Hornqvist – A two time twenty goal scorer is well on his way to a third straight 20+ season with 7 through the first 16 games this year. A hard nose Sweedish forward in the Tomas Holmstrom mold. He’ll be key both five and five and on the power play.
Game Time: 8:00 at the Bridgestone Arena. TV – Leafs TV. Radio – AM640