The Nashville Predators (14-12-0) are traveling North of the border to face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs (13-6-4) for the second time this season. The Predators are running hot, riding a three-game winning streak entering tonight’s matchup, while the Maple Leafs are coming off a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.
The last time these two teams played each other was on Oct. 28, when Ryan O’Reilly put up two goals, and captain Roman Josi notched the overtime winner at Bridgestone Arena as the Predators downed the Maple Leafs 3-2.
The Predators are Hot
The Predators are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They are 8-2-0 in their last ten, and as Alex Daugherty of PenaltyBoxRadio pointed out, the Predators have 18 points (9-2-0) through 11 games since Nov. 18, besting the Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers, who are next in line. Their winning ways have them one point up on the St. Louis Blues for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference and within six points of first in the Central Division.
The Maple Leafs appear just as lethal over their last ten. Despite having only three regulation wins since the beginning of November, the Maple Leafs are finding ways to put up points in the standings. They are 7-1-2 in their last ten, which may appear better than some expect, given the defense and goaltending concerns surrounding the team.
With Joseph Woll injured in their recent game against the Senators, fans can expect Ilya Samsonov — 3.58 goals-against average (GAA), .878 save percentage (SV%) — to get the start tonight as he looks to refind his form from last season —2.33 GAA, .919 SV%.
Saros Still Finding His Groove
Easily lost in the Predators 9-2-0 record since mid-November is Juuse Saros slowly returning to form. Saros is sporting an 11-10-0 record with a 2.93 GAA and a .904 SV%. However, if we only look at the games he has played since Nov. 18, his play resembles what one expects from the Finnish phenom.
Saros has played eight of the Predators’ eleven games during their hot streak and, for the most part, has played exceptionally. Aside from three games that saw his save percentage dip below .900, Saros has posted a .923 SV% or better, with four games featuring a SV% well above .930.
Despite a rough start, Saros is finally finding his groove. He was named one of the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week on Nov. 27 for his play between Nov. 20 and Nov. 26, and he is helping contribute to winning hockey in Nashville. With head coach Andrew Brunette’s system fully implemented and the Predators nearly two months into the regular season, Saros has finally adjusted to the new defensive scheme.
Novak Returning From Injury
Predators fans should expect Tommy Novak to suit up for his second straight game tonight since he missed 11 consecutive contests due to an upper-body injury. The Predators forward returned to action against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 7 but played a hair under 13 minutes. He registered no points and was a minus-1 in the match.
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As Novak plays in more games after returning from the sidelines, fans should expect him to start popping up on the scoresheet and produce at the rate he was before his injury. However, given the Predators are playing in back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday, resting him for one of the two might be best as he works towards getting 100% healthy.
The Predators kick off a brief two-game road trip in Eastern Canada Saturday night, first taking on the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena as they look to extend their winning streak to four games. Puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m. EST, 6:00 p.m. CST.