Their five-game road trip in full swing, the Rangers (11-11-0, 22 pts) arrive in Nashville Saturday night to face off with the Predators (11-9-2, 24 pts) at Bridgestone Arena to play the second game on this swing through Dallas, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Florida and Boston. The Rangers are off to a good start on the trip, coming off Thursday's 3-2 victory over the Stars, which was their fifth straight road win, upping their record on the road this season to 7-6-0. The team will also have the support of 18 of their fathers who are taking part in the team's Dads' Trip, and will be sitting in the stands Saturday night.
However the Rangers best player in Thursday's trip-opening win in Dallas--goaltender Henrik Lundqvist---will not be starting against the Predators as head coach Alain Vigneault is instead opting to go with rookie Cam Talbot between the pipes. Lundqvist was sensational Thursday, making 23 first-period saves and finishing with 41, pretty much singlehandedly keeping his team in the game until the Rangers found their collective legs after a long flight into Dallas and played the Stars on more even terms as the game progressed.
Talbot has played real well, though, too, and will be seeking his fifth straight win in the net. Coming off a 22-save shutout one week agao in Montreal, Talbot is 4-1-0 with a 1.58 goals against average and .943 save percentage in five starts as Lundqvist's backup.
No matter who starts in net the Rangers defensive play needs to be much better than it was in Dallas, where the Stars stormed Lundqvist at will. Though it ended up being the fourth straight game and 13th in the last 15 contests the Rangers surrendered two or fewer goals, this one belonged to the goaltender and the rest of the squad needs to tighten things up in Nashville.
Marc Staal, one of the team's key defenders, hurt his foot Thursday and did not practice on Friday. Vigneault stated Friday that he expects Staal to play against the Preds, but it remains to be seen if he will be compromised by the sore foot. No other changes are expected in the lineup, meaning J.T. Miller will be scratched for a third consecutive game. Rick Nash's return from injury knocked Miller to the press box, and Nash has gone on to play two very solid games. He scored his first goal of the season in Dallas on Thursday, and generated a slew of scoring opportunities for himself and linemates Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan.
The Rangers finally scored their first even-strength goals in five games Thursday when Chris Kreider and John Moore tallied 37 seconds apart while 5-on-5 in the third period. The team's three goals on Thursday marked the first time in five matches that the Rangers had scored more than two, and bypassed the two they were able to score in the previous three games combined.
Nashville returns home riding a three-game winning streak after besting the Maple Leafs 4-2 on Thursday. Former Ranger Matt Cullen had a four-point night in Toronto just two nights after the Preds also skated out of Detroit with two points in a 2-0 victory. Nashville enters play tied with Dallas for fifth place in the ultra competitive Central Division, returning home to play four of their next five contests at Bridgestone Arena to close out the month of November.
The Predators are 5-2-1 at home this season, and since the 2005-06 campaign Nashville has the fourth most wins on home ice of any team in the National Hockey League.
One of the keys in the Preds recent strong play has been rookie goaltender Marek Mazanec, who has backstopped each victory on the three-game win streak. Filling in for injured veteran Pekka Rinne, Mazanec stopped 24 of 26 shots in Toronto after earning his first NHL shutout with a 27-save outing in Detroit on Tuesday. Prior to that he kickstarted the winning streak by making a career-high 39 saves in a 7-2 home-ice victory over the Blackhawks last Saturday. The 22 year-old native of the Czech Republic had lost his first two decisions before running off the three consecutive wins.
Having scored 52 goals so far on the season, Nashville is the lowest scoring team in the Western Conference---though they still have scored six more than the Rangers have. Three players, including team captain Shea Weber, have a team-high six goals, while veteran center David Legwand leads the team with 18 points (4-14-18) in 22 games.