Ok, the Olympics are over, and the Stadium Series circus is over. It is now time to look ahead and prepare for the final stretch of the regular season and push for the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins start their playoff run tonight with a trek to Nashville for a meeting with the Predators. The Penguins are looking to rebound after being embarrassed by the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field on Saturday night. The Preds are 1-1 since the Olympic break, most recently falling to the Winnipeg Jets, 3-1, on Saturday.
When and where: Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, TN); 8:00 pm/et (Root Sports, FS-TN)
Records: Penguins (40-16-4, 84 pts.); Predators (26-25-10, 62 pts.)
Season series: Penguins lead 1-0
Last meeting: The Penguins and Predators wrap-up their home-and-home season series tonight, having faced each other in Pittsburgh back on November 15th. Nashville kicked-off the scoring with a Gabriel Bourque goal in the first period, but that is all they would get as the Penguins got goals from Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang, James Neal, and Brandon Sutter to defeat the Predators, 4-1. Marc-Andre Fleury picked up his eleventh win of the season, stopping seventeen of eighteen shots.
Players to keep an eye on:
1. Pekka Rinne: Tonight Pekka Rinne makes his return to the Nashville Predators after missing the last fifty-one games with a hip injury. The two-time Vezina trophy winner last appeared in a Predators uniform on October 22nd in a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Will Rinne struggle a bit or will his two-game AHL conditioning stint be enough to get him in game shape?
2. James Neal: The Olympic break didn’t slow down James Neal, who is on a seven-game points streak. Having started his career in the Western Conference, Neal has seen the Predators several times, registering fourteen points in twelve games against Nashville.
Ex-Penguin alert: None
Penguins: G Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), D Paul Martin (broken hand), D Kris Letang (stroke), RW Beau Bennett (wrist), LW Pascal Dupuis (knee), RW Chris Conner (hand)
Predators: G Pekka Rinne (hip; will make first start in fifty-one games tonight)
-With the trade deadline tomorrow afternoon, is this the last game for Brandon Sutter and Simon Despres as Penguins? **Note: see Ryan Kesler rumors.**
-How will Pekka Rinne look coming off his hip injury?
-There have been more than 175 coaching changes in the NHL since Barry Trotz was named head coach of the Nashville Predators in 1997.
-The Preds’ first draft pick, David Legwand, is still around too, btw.
Penguins (via penguins.nhl.com)
14 Chris Kunitz (A)-87 Sidney Crosby (C)-49 Brian Gibbons
36 Jussi Jokinen-71 Evgeni Malkin (A)-18 James Neal
17 Taylor Pyatt-16 Brandon Sutter-46 Joe Vitale
15 Tanner Glass-27 Craig Adams-5 Deryk Engelland
3 Olli Maatta-2 Matt Niskanen
44 Brooks Orpik-47 Simon Despres
4 Rob Scuderi-41 Robert Bortuzzo
29 Marc-Andre Fleury (31-14-3, .915 save %, 2.34 GAA, 4 SO)
Predators (via dailyfaceoff.com)
7 Matt Cullen-12 Mike Fisher (A)-27 Patric Hornqvist (A)
57 Gabriel Bourque-11 David Legwand-15 Craig Smith
25 Viktor Stalberg-33 Colin Wilson-24 Eric Nystrom
16 Richard Clune-28 Paul Gaustad-21 Simon Moser
59 Roman Josi-6 Shea Weber (C)
42 Mattias Ekholm-3 Seth Jones
5 Michael Del Zotto-4 Ryan Ellis
35 Pekka Rinne (4-4-1, .917 save %, 2.31 GAA, 0 SO)