Final home game of 2006-07 tonight
The Nashville Predators continue their quest to finish first overall in the NHL and Western Conference tonight when they visit Rexall Place to take on the Edmonton Oilers.
Last night, the Oilers snapped a 12-game winless skid with a 4-3 shootout win over the Colorado Avalanche, sparked by the return of Ales Hemsky and Marty Reasoner to the lineup. Hemsky scored a goal while Reasoner netted the shootout winner.
"It was a welcome relief last night to finally get a win so we want to repeat that," remarked Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.
Tonight is the last home game of the season for Edmonton, concluding a six-game homestand. The team has six more games on the road to wrap up the 2006-07 campaign.
"It was a pretty incredible atmosphere in the building last night considering the situation we're in," said MacTavish, pointing out that the team would like to close out their home schedule with a 'W'.
Despite opening with three straight losses, the Preds have essentially owned top spot in the Central Division almost the entire season.
However, their hold on top spot in the division is slipping of late with Detroit nipping at their heels. The Preds have struggled a little recently with a record of 3-3-3 in their last nine games.
On Thursday, the Predators lost to the Calgary Flames 3-2 in overtime. The Flames scored late to tie the game at 2-2 before Rhett Warrener potted the winning goal. Despite the loss, Nashville clinched a playoff spot by virtue of gaining the extra point.
"We came into the season with higher expectations," Predators Coach Barry Trotz told The Tennessean afterwards. "But still, we've done it another year to improve. That's a tribute to the guys in the organization that have stepped forward every year."
This is the first of a home-and-home series between Edmonton and Nashville. The Predators won the previous two meetings, 5-3 in Edmonton on November 1 and 3-2 in Nashville on December 12.
LINEUP UPDATE (12:20 PM): Mathieu Roy is expected to make his return to the lineup tonight for the Oilers after missing a number of games due to a concussion. Despite playing yesterday, Ales Hemsky will likely not suit up with his shoulder not at 100%. Zack Stortini should draw into the lineup in his place.
ROSTER UPDATES: Edmonton – Mathieu Roy (concussion) is questionable. Ales Hemsky (shoulder) is doubtful. Jarret Stoll (concussion) is out. Ethan Moreau (shoulder) is out. Steve Staios (knee) is out. Daniel Tjarnqvist (sports hernia) is out. Jan Hejda (shoulder) is out. Petr Nedved (knee) is out; Nashville – Steve Sullivan (back spasms) is day-to-day. Scott Nichol (broken thumb) is out. Scott Hartnell (broken foot) is out. Martin Erat (sprained knee) is out. Jordan Toottoo (suspension) is out.
OILERS TO WATCH: Tom Gilbert made an impressive return to the Oilers lineup last night. With 23:35 of icetime, he had an assist and was +1. The Oilers have not lost in regulation this season with Gilbert in the lineup (4-0-1)... Raffi Torres has been the most dangerous Oiler against the Predators this season with three assists in two games. Fernando Pisani has a goal and an assist and is +3 in both contests versus Nashville in 2006-07.
PREDATORS TO WATCH: Defenceman and Predators captain Kimmo Timonen has hit 40 assists for the first time in his career and has 52 points on the season – a career high. He also needs two more points for 300 in his career Peter Forsberg is now back in the Preds lineup after missing a number of games due to injury. He has nine points in 10 games since being acquired by Philadelphia.
FAST FACTS: The Predators lead the Western Conference in goals (251) and goals per game (3.33). The club is eight goals shy of matching the franchise record for goals (259), set last season... Nashville has outscored opponents 89-53 in the first period and 92-58 in the second frame... The Preds have scored the first goal in 49 of 74 games (36-9-4) and have only trailed entering the third period 16 times.