Cross Checks: Nashville Predators

Nashville's Jordin Tootoo caught Minnesota's Greg Zanon in the Preds' 4-0 win Thursday:

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Zdeno Chara once again proved his domination, setting a record with the hardest slap shot (105.9 mph) at Saturday's SuperSkills competition. It was the fourth straight time Chara has won the event.

Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang just shook his head at the feat.

"Scary," he said. "Scary because I'm going to play against him a few more games this year."

The highlight for Letang, who ended up shooting on teammate Marc-Andre Fleury?

"Just being here," he said. "It's fun, it's an experience. Obviously, it's not a competition anyone wants to get hurt here, so just to be here having fun with the guys."

[+] EnlargeZdeno Chara
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesZdeno Chara set a SuperSkills record in the hardest shot competition, clocking in at 105.9 mph.

Was he disappointed at the lopsided Skills competition score?

"Honestly, I just want to have fun," said Letang, whose Team Staal squad pounded Team Lidstrom 33-22.

Shea Weber wasn't able to dethrone Chara, finishing second with a good showing nonetheless.

"We were having a blast," said Weber. "We're both competitors out there and he's got a great shot. He holds the record for a reason; he's a big man and he can really let it rip."

Weber hit triple digits and the crowd loved it.

"You surprise yourself," said Weber, who shot a puck through the net at the 2010 Olympics. "A couple of years ago in Montreal [at the 2009 All-Star Game] was the first time I timed my shot since I was a little kid. Just to see it go up there and see how hard it is was pretty crazy."

Weber hadn't checked his cell phone yet after the event, but he knew what would be waiting for him.

"I'm sure my teammates will be ripping me," said Weber. "There will be a few positives after the first round, but they were probably ripping me after the final."

No All-Star texts for Alex

Although Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin won the breakaway challenge, he admitted he liked Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban's effort, but would have voted for Anaheim's Corey Perry if he had a chance to vote.

When it was suggested the players should have been given phones, so they could text their votes, Ovechkin explained he could have since he never parts with his cell.

Said Ovechkin: "Well I have my cell phone all the time with me, but I don't want to spend the 50 cents, you know what I mean?"

Subban's jersey swap

It's been interesting to watch just how big a deal Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner is in Raleigh. Subban wore a Skinner jersey in the breakaway competition, much to the crowd's delight.

Subban said the idea for his jersey switch came from San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle.

"Dan Boyle was just like, 'Hey man, you need an idea,"' said Subban. "I was just like, 'That's a pretty good idea. I think the crowd would like that.' So I threw it on and they liked it -- that's what it's all about."

Skinner wasn't sure what to make of the old switcheroo.

"I didn't know [what he was doing]," Skinner said. "Five seconds before he shot, he just came up to me and said 'I need your jersey.' I just took it off. He put on a good show."

Fans in Montreal might have taken a dim view of Subban's move, but he's not in any hurry to trade in the fabled Montreal colors.

"To be honest with you, I'm more comfortable in my jersey," said Subban. "That jersey was snug and there was a little too much black in it. I prefer the bleu, blanc et rouge, you know what I mean?"

Among Skinner's Team Staal teammates was San Jose's Logan Couture, who looks to be in a neck-and-neck race with the Carolina rookie for this season's Calder Trophy.

"If this was in San Jose, I'm sure it would be the same for me, but I love how they support him. He's a great player, very gifted," Couture said. "Eighteen years old to be doing what he's doing this year is spectacular. He's a great kid, too. This is my first time of really getting to know him and be around him. He doesn't say much, but he's a great kid. He's always got a big smile on his face."

Couture said a number of players complimented him on his strong first NHL season.

"A lot of these guys have come up to me and said. 'You're having a great year, you're playing really well,' and it means a lot to me to hear it from these guys. These guys do it year in and year out," Couture said. "A couple of coaches tonight said that to me as well, so it's a great honor to hear that, it definitely means a lot to me."

Fleury on fire

Fleury was dynamite in the shootout event. We asked him if he was swearing at his shooters like he did with his teammates during shootout drills in HBO's "24/7".

"I'm not as comfortable with the guys here like I am back home in Pittsburgh,'' said Fleury. "I gave it a bit to Tanger [Letang] when I stopped him, but I was mad against myself for Perry on the last goal. I moved too fast. I said a few bad words after that."

Why the success in the shootout?

"I have some good teammates shooting on me at home," said Fleury. "I guess practicing against them helped me out."

Stammer versus Marty

Lightning linemates Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis faced off in the fastest skater competition and the kid beat the veteran.

"I didn't even know what I was doing when I got to the dressing room today, so we didn't have time to have a side bet," said Stamkos. "He let me know that I beat him and that I have 15 years on him and that he said he had a bad start. We might have to have a rematch back home."

Stamkos also took honors for hardest shot among forwards.

"I'll take pride in that," said Stamkos, the NHL goals leader. "I was a little nervous after the first one, only 95 [mph], but I beared down. It was nice getting over 100."

What to watch for Wednesday night

January, 26, 2011

Florida Panthers (22-21-5) at Boston Bruins (27-15-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-0 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Scott Clemmensen 5-5-2, 2.43 GAA) vs. Tim Thomas (23-5-6, 1.84 GAA)
Preview: Tim Thomas has dominated the Southeast Division, going 10-1-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .949 save percentage in 13 starts against the Southeast this season. The Bruins are looking to complete a sweep of the Panthers after being shut out by the Kings on Monday.

Carolina Hurricanes (24-19-6) at New York Islanders (15-26-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Carolina
Starting goaltenders: Cam Ward (21-15-5, 2.71 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-8-4, 3.39 GAA)
Preview: The Hurricanes are hoping for another happy trip to Long Island. Over the last five seasons, Carolina has the second-best record of any team on the road against the Islanders of teams that have played at least five games there. Look for Jeff Skinner to lead the Canes as the rookie has more goals in January than any other NHL player.

Washington Capitals (27-14-9) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-19-9), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-2 Atlanta
Starting goaltenders: Semyon Varlamov (8-6-3, 2.22 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-12-7, 2.51 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have scored more than three goals in a game just once since Dec. 22. And, the Thrashers have allowed more than three goals in a game seven times over that stretch, so a trip to Atlanta could be just what heals Washington's power play ails. Alex Ovechkin has scored 30 career goals against the Thrashers, tied for the most by any player against Atlanta.

New Jersey Devils (16-29-3) at Detroit Red Wings (29-13-6), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Martin Brodeur (10-18-2, 2.84 GAA) vs. Jimmy Howard (23-8-3, 2.86 GAA)
Preview: The Devils may have the worst record in the NHL, but they are playing their best hockey of late. They have won four straight and have earned a point in seven straight (6-0-1), giving them the NHL’s best points percentage since Jan. 9. Unfortunately, they have not enjoyed much success at Joe Louis Arena recently. Since they swept the Wings in the 1995 Cup finals, the Devils are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games at Detroit.

Nashville Predators (27-16-6) at Vancouver Canucks (30-10-9), 10 p.m. ET

Starting goaltenders: Pekka Rinne (17-12-4, 2.11 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (22-8-7, 2.31 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks lead the Western Conference thanks to a strong home record. They will be looking to earn at least one point in a 13th consecutive home game when they face the Predators for the first time this season. Nashville ended its three-game winning streak when it went 0 for 5 on the power play in a loss at Calgary on Monday night.

San Jose Sharks (25-19-5) at Los Angeles Kings (26-22-1), 10:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (13-13-2, 2.72 GAA) vs. Jonathan Quick (21-14-1, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Sharks attempt to win five in a row for the first time in more than a year, but the last time they won four straight, they followed it with a 4-0 loss to the Kings. The Kings will be playing their last game at home before beginning a 10-game road trip after the All-Star break.

VANCOUVER -- Greetings from the Left Coast. I see there's plenty of angry puck heads this week. Love it. Let's get at 'er:

gatorsandtitansfan44: The Nashville Predators are not getting enough notice. They have won 10 of 12, getting some of the best goaltending in the league from Pekka Rinne and look at their injury list! Two of their top scorers are on IR, their big offseason signing has played 1 1/2 games, a top four D-man (Boullion) and a filler they picked up to help with scoring since two of their top point guys are out (Svatos). Guess what, not only are the Predators quite arguably the hottest team in the league, but they are doing it while dealing with tons of injuries. Not to mention that they had to go nearly a month without starting goalie Pekka Rinne. The fact of the matter is the NHL season is a little over halfway done and the Nashville Predators with a rag tag group of guys and several key injuries are on fire and now sit just four points out of first in the division (second in the West) behind Detroit, four points ahead of the defending SC champion Blackhawks (who they have beaten in three out of five this year), and they are two points ahead of the Ducks (fifth in the West), who have played three more games than Nashville so far. Why can’t the fact that they have no "superstar scorer" be set aside and the fact that this is a good young hockey team with a solid foundation be brought out? The bottom line is this team has very good potential, and if they can keep playing the way they are this season who knows? Maybe a trip to the conference semis is finally within their grasp.

My take: Hey, I've done my best, writing a Preds story two weeks ago. But generally, you are indeed correct that this team just doesn't get the kind of national attention it deserves. Playing in a small and non-traditional market obviously doesn't help. What would also help is a deep playoff run, which they've never had. That would cultivate more of a respect factor around the league. Is this the year?

Kavashaforlife: Dear Mr. Nabokov:

Hey, it is me, Logic; I think we need to have a talk. I understand, the Islanders are not the ideal place to resume your NHL career, but are you not tired of the cold nights in Russia? Report to the Islanders, take the next week (including workouts over the All-Star break) to earn the starting goaltending job on despondent Long Island; play a week or so on the Island, show the rest of the NHL that you still have it (I see the headlines now: "Nabokov's 40 save night (again) sparks the resurgent Isles") and eventually get traded to Detroit (or another playoff contender) for a draft pick and mid-level player. Unlike at Burger King, you cannot always "have it your way;" take what the Islanders are offering you, it has to be better than what Russia's offering you.


Logic (Hopeful Islanders Fan)

My take: Problem is, my friend, the Isles can't trade him unless they put him on waivers first and it's unlikely he would clear. Hence, a trade is not a realistic option. By now, most hockey fans know I interviewed Nabokov on Sunday. He sounded genuinely surprised over the phone that the Islanders would claim him. And quite frankly, I'm with him on that. I mean, why aren't the Isles just focusing on losing games and getting another high lottery pick to join John Tavares and company on a young club that will be better over the next few years? Having said that, I also think Nabokov should report to Long Island. He needs to show the other 29 GMs that he can still stop pucks so that once July 1 rolls around, he'll get some interest.

phillyisbetterthanpitt: Stop protecting the players from headshots. This is a joke, they get paid all this money to play the sport the same way they have been playing it their entire lives. The NHL is getting more and more soft with each passing year Bettman remains the head. Stop letting GMs protect their money interests and let the players play the game the way it was intended to be played.

My take: Marc Savard has another concussion. David Perron hasn't played since his November hit to the head. Matthew Lombardi has played two games this season, still out with a concussion. The best player on the planet won't be showcased in the All-Star Game as he continues to recover from a concussion. Yup, you're right. No issue here whatsoever. All is well. I have no idea why we're even talking about it.

StLbluesfan314: I am so frustrated about the Blues this season! I feel like we are the Chicago Cubs of hockey. Every time the season begins, we all have the hopes of a Cup in STL. But year after year no such luck. DON'T GET ME WRONG, I enjoy getting to the playoffs but yet we can't make anything happen! Is it time to talk of trading some of those "cornerstone" pieces to get some real talent in here to make a playoff run? Any news on the talk of getting a sniper who can put pucks into the net with consistency? The addition of Oshie back from injury is nice but we still can't put up points. Is it inconsistency that is killing this team? GET US SOME HELP J.D.!

My take: Um, the Cubs of hockey are a team you may have heard of in Toronto. The Maple Leafs and Cubs have brought suffering to a new level for their fans.

LynchBages: Kings vs. Mike Murphy. Unfortunately Murphy has all of the leverage. However, the goal that was allowed to stand against Phoenix the other night from the high stick up around the head (never mind that Hanzal is 6'5"!) was ridiculous, especially when the feeds in the arena even showed it was almost two feet over the crossbar. The explanation from the "war room" was feeble, at best, and even though Lombardi's comment was out of line, the league should be embarrassed to ask him to pay that fine. With all of that in mind, it's painfully obvious that the Kings are frustrated because their plan to have the kids grow up fast makes them too thin -- they do have steaks where their talent is evident, but no consistency. REALISTICALLY, do you see any movement coming this season via trade? I'm thinking they're going have to look to the Eastern Conference ... more consistent scoring and a top-four D-man, but who??

My take: Hanzal's goal should not have stood. Bad call from the war room in Toronto. But Lombardi was out of line to say that publicly. Totally out of line. And when I spoke with the Kings GM on Friday, he felt brutal about it. Good on Lombardi to call Murphy on Friday morning and apologize. Classy move by Lombardi.

mrcheesenacho7: I'm tired of hearing everyone call out Sidney as a baby and a poor leader because he isn't able to play or participate in the All-Star Game. You have to realize that the guy would be on the ice in a second if he could help out his team, yet he hasn't skated in almost three weeks and does nothing but catch hell from haters for something he can't even help. The Sid haters have reached a new low.

My take: Anyone who thinks Crosby is not injured and skipping the All-Star Game on purpose it a moron. He's injured. He's got a concussion. He's doing the right thing by taking the week off to recover. Enough said.

cbjgatorhead: I'm not going to bash Scott Howson/Scott Arniel at all ... but I'm beginning to question some of their tactics lately. I don't understand why we sent down Kyle Wilson when we have Huselius floating around like a worthless bag of garbage. Also additional garbage, Anton Stralman, but thankfully we have Grant Clitsome! And obviously it's not because of money. We just sent our highest paid D-man down to the AHL. Why do we continue to keep Huselius around?!

My take: I feel terrible for Jackets fans. I love the city of Columbus, I've always thought it was an excellent choice for an NHL franchise. But it's been nothing but heartache and frustration for a decade plus. There are no easy solutions moving forward. The Predators model is the one to try to copy: patient drafting and developing and no quick fixes.

colt135: I will rant about Nabokov. I hope Islanders fans like what Snow did. The idea is to make your team better, and for them Nabokov is an upgrade. With over 30 games left in the season, if he caught lightning in a bottle and went 20-10 (he won 44 last year), they could grab the eight spot.

My take: Whatever you're taking, I want some of that.

raquelm5: Hi, I am a hockey fan, I love hockey, I play hockey and I live in Miami so I have Panthers season tickets. My hubby HATES hockey so I am always trying to find someone to go to the games with me and no one wants to go and the ticket is free. Their reasons are either: a) they don't care about hockey, or b) the Panthers are so bad. I play in a women's rec league and it seems that the Panthers make the same mistakes we do. It is sad to watch and when they seem to be winning for once, they manage to loose. We always say that they "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" like the game vs. the Hurricanes when they were up 3-0 and lost 5-3. Should I bother renewing my season tickets so I go through the trouble of finding who to go with or fighting with my hubby to go with me? Oh, BTW, Bank Atlantic Center is 50 miles from where we live.

My take: Raquel, don't give up on them yet. Dale Tallon showed in Chicago that he knows how to rebuild a team. It's just going to take time, which I know is tough to take given the long drought of non-playoff years in South Florida. But give Tallon a chance. He knows what he's doing.

fbullock: Pierre, We find ourselves with another annual useless hockey game this Saturday night. No it's not an Isles vs. Devils game. Although it would be a lot better if it was. But sadly it's the NHL All-Star Game. It's just plan useless not just for the fans but for those having to cover it. I feel for you having to trek down there to RBC but make sure you shake enough corporate hands to make it worth it. Only person that will be happy this weekend will be the wife since I will have no pucks on this weekend. I wish the hockey gods could help me with the work I will have to do in the garage. Anyway, I feel there is no need in bashing this hand-holding corporate event unless I have a solution and I do. Why can't we take the weekend and have an awesome round-robin tourney? How about the All-Stars from: NHL vs. KHL vs. SEL vs. EHL. After three days the top two points teams play for a stack of cash. I don't believe any of the above leagues lose because of the monster TV deal it would bring as well as international sponsors. It’s a no brainer. Not to mention the side games of the above leagues. They could include an all-amateur game as well as high stakes skills comp. Oh what a weekend. Puck heads would be on full puck tilt for three or four days. As well, I believe the media would have a much better time with the storylines. Well, just throwing out one fan's dream, instead me and my dog Hosehead are going to grab us some Elsinore and clean the garage.

My take: Well, the game is actually on Sunday, but yes, I'm with you. I've wanted the All-Star Game canceled for years. The addition of the Friday fantasy draft is a neat touch. But I suspect Sunday's game will be a dud once again. Solution? Just blow it up. The NHL schedule is brutal on the players. Adding back those three days from the break wouldn't hurt.

What to watch for Monday night

January, 24, 2011

New York Rangers (28-19-3) at Washington Capitals (27-14-8), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Martin Biron (7-4-0, 2.33 GAA) vs. Braden Holtby (4-2-1, 2.79 GAA)
Preview: Coming off his first hat trick of the season, Alex Ovechkin looks to end his drought against the Rangers and avenge the Capitals' most lopsided defeat of the season, a 7-0 loss to New York. Ovechkin has not scored in his past three games against the Rangers, the longest drought of his career against New York. While the Capitals are hoping for more production from Ovechkin, the Rangers are looking for the same from Marian Gaborik. After ending his eight-game goal drought with a four-goal outburst against the Leafs, Gaborik has no points in his past two games.

St. Louis Blues (22-18-7) at Colorado Avalanche (24-18-6), 9:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Colorado
Starting goaltenders: Jaroslav Halak (17-15-5, 2.58 GAA) vs. Peter Budaj (11-7-3, 3.12 GAA)
Preview: As Colorado tries to avoid a third consecutive loss, it will need to continue its recent luck against St. Louis. The Avalanche have won five consecutive games against the Blues, their longest win streak against St. Louis since the franchise moved from Quebec at the start of the 1995-96 season. All-Star center Matt Duchene has a five-game point streak against St. Louis and is one point shy of 100 in his two-year career.

Nashville Predators (27-15-6) at Calgary Flames (22-21-6), 9:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Calgary
Starting goaltenders: Pekka Rinne (17-11-4, 2.08 GAA) vs. Miikka Kiprusoff (18-18-2, 2.84 GAA)
Preview: The Predators are an NHL-best 10-2-0 since New Year's Eve, helping them vault from 12th place in the West to fourth. But their hot streak has not helped them against the Flames recently. Calgary is 7-2-0 against Nashville since the start of the 2008-09 season. A Predators win Monday night would give Nashville 10 wins in January, which would be the just the sixth time in franchise history they have won 10 games in a month.

Dallas Stars (29-14-5) at Vancouver Canucks (29-10-9), 10 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Kari Lehtonen (21-10-5, 2.49 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (21-8-7, 2.35 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks are winless in their past four games, but have pushed the past three games beyond regulation to hold on to their lead in the West. Vancouver has won six of seven against Dallas, including all three meetings at Rogers Arena. But Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is 6-0-1 in January with a 1.70 GAA average. Lehtonen will need to continue his strong play to shut down the Canucks’ Ryan Kesler, who has 26 goals, which is already tied for his single-season career high.

Boston Bruins (27-14-7) at Los Angeles Kings (25-22-1), 10:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Los Angeles
Starting goaltenders: Tim Thomas (23-4-6, 1.83 GAA) vs. Jonathan Quick (20-14-1, 2.22 GAA)
Preview: The Bruins have picked up at least one point in their past nine road games heading into Monday night's matchup in Los Angeles, but they will need to overcome an injury to Marc Savard to improve their streak. Savard returned to Boston to be evaluated after being checked into the boards and leaving the game on Saturday. The Kings are looking to win consecutive games for the first time since a four-game winning streak from Dec. 21-27. With Tim Thomas' save percentage currently at .945, the Bruins goalie is trying to become the first with a save percentage of .940 or better heading into the All-Star break having played at least 20 games.

Barry Trotz figures he'll look back someday and shake his head in amazement that he got to coach two studs on defense like Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.

Short of pretending it's what Scotty Bowman feels when he reminisces about coaching the Big Three of Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard, in today's 30-team NHL, the Suter-Weber combo is an impressive tandem that drives the little engine that could in Nashville.

"Twenty years from now, I'm going to go, 'It was something to watch those two kids together,'" the Predators' head coach told Wednesday night. "Their combined skill produces the ultimate defenseman."

Between Weber's "physicality, big shot, leadership and nastiness," and Suter's "game management, great escapability, the way he does all the subtle things, these two guys just dominate a game," Trotz added.

[+] EnlargeNashville Predators
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesShea Weber, left, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne are most responsible for keeping Nashville in a playoff spot, coach Barry Trotz said.
In short, it's a major reason the red-hot Preds have won six games in a row heading into Thursday night's tilt in Florida.

The Preds are second in the NHL in goals against per game and third on the penalty kill. Those stingy defensive numbers are why they sit fourth in the tough Western Conference.

"We've had really good team defense," Trotz said. "It starts with Suter and Weber on the back end, they've been absolutely fantastic. And we've had great goaltending."

Pekka Rinne's numbers are among the league leaders, and combined with the Suter-Weber star pairing, you're looking at the three guys most responsible for keeping Nashville in a playoff spot.

What irks Trotz just a bit is that people around the league don't seem to recognize the star players on his team.

"Sometimes I think people don't think we have any players, and coaches and management here maybe get too much credit, but we have some really good players," Trotz said. "Suter and Weber are really all-world. I was disappointed because I thought Rinne, Suter and Weber -- all three should have been in the All-Star Game. I'm biased but I see them on a nightly basis, and I know how good they are."

Only Weber got the All-Star nod. Trotz continues to be amazed that Suter isn't regarded as highly as he should be.

"Ryan Suter doesn't get nearly enough credit for how good he is. He is just outstanding," Trotz said.

So is the coach. Although Trotz said that maybe he gets too much credit and his players not enough, the fact is the NHL should implement a rule that stipulates that Trotz is an automatic nominee for the Jack Adams Award every single season he's in Nashville. He coaches the heck out of a roster that every fall has new, unknown faces.

And right now, the team is on quite a roll.

"Our identity has come out in terms of being really resilient," Trotz said. "We've got people out, and people have stepped up."

The team ranks only 23rd in offense (top-notch offensive talent costs money), but the Preds have gotten "timely goals from different people," Trotz said.

"Sergei Kostitsyn, for example, he's been really good for us, stepping up and getting some timely goals," Trotz said.

Kostitsyn, who wore out his welcome in Montreal, has caught fire with 20 points (9-11) in his past 19 games, including five goals in his past six games.

"He's a guy that once he trusted us in what we were doing, he started to buy in," Trotz said. "And he started to play more and got more opportunity. And he's run with it. He's been a real good story for us."

He's had to be because the player Nashville figured would be one of their top offensive forces has been shelved nearly the whole season. Matthew Lombardi, who was signed to a $10.5 million, three-year contract this past summer, lasted two games this season before a serious concussion derailed him. For a team that doesn't spend a lot of money, that one has hurt.

"Lombardi is out indefinitely," Trotz said. "He hasn't been cleared yet to do anything. He hasn't played for us, so we don't know what it feels like to have him on the team. Other guys have stepped in."

Martin Erat could be back this weekend. Steve Sullivan is out until the All-Star break. Jordin Tootoo, who entered the league's substance-abuse program, is also out.

The Preds could use those players. But they won't complain.

"We've been resilient," Trotz said.

Well, of course, it's the Predators way.

Stock up

Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes: It hasn’t been a banner season offensively for the venerable Coyotes captain, but Doan is lighting it up now with an eight-game points streak, during which he’s collected 13 points. The Coyotes, by the way, were back in the playoff bracket and just six points out of the Pacific Division lead with a game in hand as of Friday morning. Doan’s continued strong play will be crucial to the Coyotes’ playoffs hopes.

Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators: Another player whose first half wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for is Hornqvist, who led the Predators with 30 goals last season. The Preds have been up and down in 2010-11, but are currently on an up-swing with four straight wins. Hornqvist is also starting to roll with goals in four straight games, five goals in all, including two in a big win over Los Angeles on Thursday. As of Friday, the Predators were fourth in the Western Conference.

Stock down

Andrei Kostitsyn, Montreal Canadiens: It’s been difficult times for the Habs of late. Defenseman Josh Georges is out for the season with a knee injury and the offense has gone south, as the team has fallen from first in the Northeast Division to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. There’s not much help coming from Kostitsyn, who has scored once in his past 16 games. Maybe the Habs got rid of the wrong Kostitsyn? Andrei’s brother Sergei is thriving in Nashville.

James Neal, Dallas Stars: While the Dallas Stars continue to lead the tough Pacific Division, it isn’t all warm and fuzzy in Big D. The Stars are hoping Neal will rediscover his scoring touch in the second half -- he has scored once in the past 12 games, even though he has a respectable 14 goals on the season. Neal had a breakout season in 2009-10 with 27 goals.

Stock up

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche continue to lose key personnel at an alarming rate yet continue to score goals by the bushel (they lead the NHL in goals per game). As of Friday morning, the hard-luck Avs were riding a four-game winning streak, including back-to-back wins over the defending Stanley Cup champs from Chicago this week. Sophomore Matt Duchene has been doing yeoman work in the face of an injury-depleted forward corps with 15 points in his past 11 games. He has eight goals over that stretch.

Sergei Kostitsyn, Nashville Predators

The Preds are streaking once again with points in nine straight games (7-0-2). Surprisingly, it's the forgotten Kostitsyn who has picked up his game over this period. After being essentially ridden out of Montreal at the end of last season, the younger of the two Kostitsyns (brother Andrei is still with the Habs) is starting to find a comfort zone with the Preds, playing mostly with Martin Erat and Marcel Goc. Kostitsyn has points in seven straight games (nine points over that period), and the Predators have jumped back into the Western Conference playoff fray thanks in large part to the trio's play.

Stock down

Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets

Once again, the bottom has fallen out on the former rookie of the year and Vezina Trophy nominee. Mason was shelled by Edmonton on Thursday night, allowing six goals on 27 shots through two periods. He was then yanked for the third time in four games. Mason has just one win in his past seven outings, and the Blue Jackets have fallen like a stone through the Western Conference standings as a result.

Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

Wonder why the talent-laden Sharks are such a befuddling team, flirting with the lower end of the West playoff bracket? Well, take a look at former captain Patrick Marleau, who has somehow managed to amass a minus-17 rating. Yes, plus/minus is a sometimes misleading (if not meaningless) stat, but the fact Marleau has one assist in his past eight games isn't. It's just plain shocking. So is the fact he's managed to score just once in his past 12 games.

Stock up

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks: Most of the rookie of the year attention has centered around the goalies Michal Neuvirth (suddenly chilly) and Sergei Bobrovsky, and flashy Carolina center Jeff Skinner. But folks in San Jose have been banging the drum for another skilled pivot named Logan Couture. The Guelph, Ontario, native has taken over the rookie scoring race with 21 points as of Friday morning. Couture also leads all rookies with four game-winning goals and is the only first-year player with a plus rating (plus-6) among the top five rookie point producers. Perhaps more impressive: The 21-year-old, selected ninth overall in the 2007 draft, leads the talent-laden Sharks in goals (14) and has scored six times in his past five games.

Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres: The Buffalo Sabres are slowly edging back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture (they were in ninth place, five points back of eighth as of Friday morning). If they’re going to get all the way back, they’ll need Vanek to keep doing what he’s been doing the past couple of weeks, and that’s contributing on a regular basis. Vanek, talented yet prone to long stretches of silence, has scored seven times in his past nine games and chipped in 10 points over that period. For a team desperate for leadership, Vanek is leading in the best way possible: by example.

Stock down

Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators: Hornqvist was one of the feel-good stories last season; the last overall pick of the 2005 draft (selected 230th overall) led the playoff-bound Predators with 30 goals. This season, not so much. Hornqvist has just one goal in his past 14 games. That paucity of scoring from a key member of the Preds’ limited arsenal may explain why Nashville finds itself clumped uncomfortably with more than half the Western Conference fighting for a playoff spot.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: We have always resisted the temptation to join the group that considers the Leafs’ acquisition of Phil Kessel from Boston (for what now looks like back-to-back top five draft picks) a colossal blunder. But that temptation grows stronger by the day. Kessel’s scoring struggles, along with the Maple Leafs’ woes, also grow. Kessel has scored just once in his past 10 games and has gone without a goal in seven. Not coincidentally, the Leafs have won just twice in their past eight outings.

DETROIT -- In the childhood bedroom of Anders Lindback in his hometown of Gavle, Sweden, was a poster of Nicklas Lidstrom, a hero to many in his native country.

Facing the legendary blueliner, along with Swedish star Henrik Zetterberg, for the first time in his young NHL career Wednesday night, the 22-year-old Lindback made it a night to remember with a 35-save performance at Joe Louis Arena in a 3-2 victory for his Nashville Predators.

[+] EnlargeAnders Lindback
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesAnders Lindback made 35 saves as the Predators handed the Wings their third straight loss.
Was that Lindback or Pelle Lindbergh in net?

"It was pretty cool," Lindback, the game's first star, told "Those are two of the best players in the world. It was a big win for me and for the team. I think we played a great game."

The strapping, 6-foot-6 Lindback improved to 5-1-2 on the season with a .919 save percentage and 2.64 goals-against average, and the Preds need him to run with it after the latest injury to starter Pekka Rinne. The Finnish No. 1 is out two to four weeks with a knee injury, opening the door for Lindback to establish himself.

"It's a big, big opportunity for me to show the coaches --" Lindback said, searching for a word. "I just have to win games for them."

Well he certainly did on this night. The Wings outshot the Preds 37-24, including 16-4 in the third period. But the kid from Gavle stood tall.

"He's a good goalie," his countryman Zetterberg said. "He was good in Sweden. I had heard a lot of good things about him."

If Lindback pans out and he's off to an impressive start, chalk one up again to Preds GM David Poile, assistant GM Paul Fenton and the rest of the scouting staff. The frugal Preds stay competitive year in and year out and it's largely based on some of the best drafting and development in the league. Lindback? A seventh-round pick by the Preds, 207th overall in the June 2008 NHL entry draft.

The second part of that equation is great coaching. And once again this season, Barry Trotz and his staff are coaching their butts off. Consider that Nashville's prime offseason acquisition, Mathew Lombardi, has played exactly two games this season before suffering a concussion that has left him out indefinitely. There goes your No. 1 center, on a team not flush with offensive talent. Add to that No. 2 center David Legwand missing nine games with a lower body injury. He came back Wednesday night here in Detroit only to leave the game after reaggravating the same injury. Top-pair defenseman Ryan Suter has missed 11 games with an injury. Did we mention the No. 1 goalie, Rinne, is also out?

"It's been our top guys getting hurt," Trotz said after Tuesday's big win. "It's no different if Datsyuk and Zetterberg got hurt for Detroit. Those are our top guys getting hurt, especially at center ice and defense. Just getting in any kind of rhythm has been difficult."

But here they are, now 13-8-6 despite the injuries, and Wednesday night very much one of those barometer games in a tough joint at Joe Louis Arena against the top seed in the Western Conference.

"They're obviously one of the top teams in the league yet again this year and this is a tough building to come in," said Preds blueliner Shea Weber, who was solid as a rock Wednesday night and named the game's second star. "We were fortunate to get that two-goal lead and I think we did a pretty good job playing with it after that."

In the other dressing room, the Wings (17-6-3) suddenly have hit their first three-game skid (0-2-1) of the entire season after flying out of the gates. Nothing to worry about, of course, but nevertheless the first bump in the road.

"We got to find our way out of this," the captain, Lidstrom, said. "The way we're playing right now ... the other night we had a good start and fell off. Tonight we did the opposite. We don't have to have the letdowns we've had the last couple of games."

Should be a good one here on Friday night as the Montreal Canadiens make a rare visit to Joe Louis Arena, a clash of two Original Six teams off to terrific starts this season. And the Habs better be ready -- the Wings have no intention of stretching this skid to four games.

With the ink barely dry on Jeff Carter's 11-year, $58 million deal, the Flyers' focus now shifts to Ville Leino, who is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. Leino doesn't want to go anywhere, so expect contract talks to be held again as early as this week.

"I've talked to them a few times and I'm confident we'll get something done," agent Bill Zito told on Saturday.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren is certainly taking care of business, eh? Claude Giroux signed a new deal ($11.25 million over three seasons) Monday, a deal anyone in the business will tell you is less than what he could have pushed for. But I'm told the kid wanted to play ball with the Flyers' cap issues and be a part of what he believes is a serious Cup contender.

[+] EnlargeVille Leino
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesVille Leino is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Ditto for Carter. Here are the details behind his deal:

2011-12: $6 million
2012-13: $6.25 million
2013-14: $6.5 million
2014-15: $6.75 million
2015-16: $7 million
2016-17: $7 million
2017-18: $6.5 million
2018-19: $5 million
2019-20: $3 million
2020-21: $2 million
2021-22: $2 million

With a $5.27 million cap hit for the next 11 seasons, Carter's deal is a bargain no matter how you slice it. He knows he could have received more elsewhere -- hello, center-desperate teams in Toronto and New York (Rangers)? But Carter made it clear to his agent and the Flyers that Philadelphia was where he wanted to stay.

Now, the Flyers have a nice core for years to come. Impressive.

As a side note, we checked with the league Saturday, and it has no issues with Carter's 11-year deal.

The Canucks and Ehrhoff

Christian Ehrhoff, a slick, puck-moving defenseman, will be in demand should the potential UFA hit the market July 1. The Canucks are trying to prevent that from happening.

In the midst of recent contract talks, I'm told the Canucks have made an offer to Ehrhoff's camp and agent Rick Curran responded with a counter-offer. Neither side has been able to bridge the gap, so both sides agreed to take a break and regroup, with the promise of talking again later this season.

"From a time standpoint, we both recognize there's no urgency and we'll continue to talk and try to close the gap of where our respective positions are," Curran told on Friday.

From a Canucks perspective, they know they can't match what Ehrhoff could make on the open market. What they've told him is they value him as a player, but need him to fit into a certain slot on their payroll so they can remain competitive. It's very similar to the pitch players receive in Detroit: Take a little less, but stay with a great team. But if Ehrhoff wants to cash in, no hurt feelings; that's his prerogative.

More contract talk updates

• Expect Predators GM David Poile to resume talks with Shea Weber's agent, Don Meehan, early this week when his team is in Toronto where Meehan is based.

• Interest in UFA winger Miroslav Satan suddenly picked up this week and several teams inquired about him. The 36-year-old waited until after the Winter Classic last season to sign with the Boston Bruins. While his nine goals in 38 regular-season games weren't that impressive, he posted 10 points (5-5) in 13 playoff games with the Bruins this past spring.

• Brent Seabrook is set to become a restricted free agent July 1 and will be Chicago's top priority at some point this season. But as of Saturday, I was told contract extension talks had not yet begun on that front.

• As I reported last week, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman met with Meehan, Steven Stamkos' agent, to begin contract talks. Know this: it's not going to happen overnight. Expect a long and lengthy negotiation. It's not every day the NHL's leading scorer needs a new deal.

• The Ottawa Senators have begun contract talks with the camp for Chris Phillips, slated for UFA July 1. "We have talked and have an idea where each party would like to be, nothing more," Sens GM Bryan Murray told via text message Saturday.

World Cup of Hockey to return?

Remember the World Cup of Hockey? You know, the on-again, off-again stepchild from those old Canada Cups?

Well, conversations recently took place once again to bring this baby back to life, two sources with knowledge of the situation told on Saturday. The last World Cup was held in September 2004, when Shane Doan's winner put Canada past Finland at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto before the NHL lockout turned out the lights.

There are different ideas being floated around right now, including a plan to hold the next World Cup in September 2013, five months before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Crazy, you say? I say, why not? Instead of holding those Olympic "orientation" camps 5-6 months out, why not hold a real tournament as an exciting lead-up to the Olympics? Count me in.

Why not hold the next World Cup in September 2012, which traditionally would have been its slot two years out from the Olympics? There is concern September 2004 would repeat itself if the NHL and NHL Players' Association do not reach an agreement on a new CBA. It left fans sour in 2004 and it would leave them sour again.

Again, I will stress the September 2013 idea is conceptual at this point and far from any official proposition, but it's still interesting.

There are pitfalls with the idea, of course. First and foremost, the NHL and NHLPA have yet to commit to Sochi in 2014. If the NHL doesn't go to Sochi, you have to wonder how Russia would feel about playing in a World Cup of Hockey, not to mention the International Ice Hockey Federation, which has urged the NHL to commit to the Olympics once again.

Whatever the case may be, the return of the World Cup of Hockey can't be a "one-off," as one hockey executive told on Saturday. It needs a long-term commitment.

The Islanders and their goaltenders

Well-respected Islanders blogger Chris Botta suggested this week that perhaps the idea of Rick DiPietro going down to the AHL to find his game is a conversation the Islanders should have at some point in time, sooner rather than later.

I reached out to Isles GM Garth Snow on Saturday and asked him about DiPietro possibly being demoted. He said that wasn't in the cards.

Dwayne Roloson was slated to start his fifth straight game Saturday night in Los Angeles.

"There's been no conversation in that regard at all, neither internally or externally," Snow told "Rollie is just playing well right now. We have two No. 1 goalies, but right now, Rollie is playing really well and we need wins."

DiPietro, who has barely played in two years, has a 4.21 goals-against average and .854 save percentage this season.

Katie Strang of Newsday also pointed out to me Saturday that the Isles' AHL team has three goalies on its roster right now, a point worth mentioning. Also worth mentioning? DiPietro's close relationship with Islanders owner Charles Wang.

Maple Leafs' top job

A radio report in Toronto this past week created quite a buzz, stating that Richard Peddie, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, would soon be on his way out.

First, let's explain the job for my American friends who I'm sure have better things to do than care about the inner-workings of MLSE, a company that controls the NHL's Maple Leafs, NBA's Raptors and MLS' Toronto FC, plus the Air Canada Centre, a brand-new condo building, a brand-new sports bar and, well, the world as we know it. It's a $2-billion business.

As for the radio report about his impending exit, Peddie said a succession plan has long been in the works.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that at [age] 64 and 14 years on the job that there will come a time where it's time to retire," Peddie told "This company, some people don't like it, but it has a lot of business discipline, and one of them is succession planning. I've really championed that. We've had a lot of dialogue over the years about the day I leave, and it's been very open, very mutual. So we have talked about it, but we have not finalized a date yet. It will occur when my successor does come in, but that's not immediate and I'm not quite sure when that will be."

Peddie was adamant that search has not yet begun. You can expect candidates will come from inside and outside the company.

One rumor has Leafs GM Brian Burke as a candidate and assistant GM Dave Nonis getting promoted if Burke becomes president and CEO. But from what I'm told, Burke would much rather Peddie stay on in his current role.

One strong candidate will for sure be current MLSE COO Tom Anselmi, who has tremendous respect in the industry. I'm told he's definitely interested in the top job.

Three players, three stars, all restricted free agents come July 1 but only one year away from unrestricted free agency.

Interesting position to be in if you're Jeff Carter, Shea Weber or Zach Parise. You don't really have the power to just walk away July 1, if you were so inclined. But you hold the hammer in talks for any long-term deal, because you're giving up UFA years one season from now.

I updated Weber's situation Monday night in the Hockey Hall of Fame blog, which was that the Nashville Predators continue to have a dialogue with his agent, Don Meehan, but, at this point, nothing is even close to imminent.

Parise just hired Meehan's firm, Newport Sports, via agent Wade Arnott. Some people might see that as an ominous sign, that Parise went from no agent to one of the sport's most powerful agencies, but New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello didn't sound concerned when asked at the GMs meeting Tuesday in Toronto whether the hiring by Parise changed anything.

"Absolutely not. That's a player's prerogative," Lamoriello said. "We have an excellent relationship with Newport. They've got a job to do, and we've got a job to do. That's part of sports."

Lamoriello later told before leaving the GMs meeting that obviously at some point this season he'd like to sit down and begin that process with Newport. How this will play out is anyone's guess, but, for sure, Lamoriello and Newport, especially Meehan, have hammered out a zillion deals together over the years. We'll see.

Then there's Carter, the Philadelphia Flyers' sniper.

"We're still talking," Rick Curran, Carter's veteran agent from the Bobby Orr Group, told via e-mail Wednesday.

Asked Wednesday about the status of talks, a Flyers front-office source told via text message that there was "no rush."

Washington Capitals winger Alexander Semin was in the same position as these three players a year ago and opted for a one-year deal to bridge the gap to his UFA year, which is coming up in July. Food for thought in case any of these three contract negotiations hits a wall on the long-term front.

Speaking of Semin, a source told on Wednesday that at this point, there is mutual interest from both parties to sit down in the new year and see whether there's a fit in terms of an extension. As per the collective bargaining agreement, players on one-year deals can't begin contract talks for a new deal until Jan. 1. But you can expect the Caps and Semin's agent, Mark Gandler, to sit down in 2011.

Seen and heard from Hockey Hall night

November, 8, 2010

TORONTO -- Now is not the time to back off the NHL's new rule against head shots, despite some frustration with how Rule 48 has worked so far, Washington Capitals GM George McPhee said Monday night.

Attending the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on the eve of the NHL's GM meetings here, McPhee said the league must keep with it.

"We have to stick with the instructions we gave them from the [GM] meetings last spring," McPhee said. "We have to give it a full year and see how it works. We all think it's a good rule. We're trying to save heads. If a couple of guys get suspended, that's the price you pay to protect some heads."

Joe Thornton's controversial two-game suspension Friday ignited headed debate about the rule, but McPhee said his team had superstar Alex Ovechkin suspended last season.

"That's the way it is," McPhee said. "And Alex has been a different player around the boards since that suspension. We have to give this new rule a chance."

Social media talk

Don Maloney's tabled discussion on social media policy for Tuesday's meeting, which we reported about over the weekend, has people around the industry talking. The NHL currently has no official policy regarding players on Twitter or Facebook.

"That's a conversation I think that's important and I'm interested in," Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told on Monday.

One official from the NHL Players' Association told that officials from the union and the league's head office chatted about the subject Monday. Veteran GM David Poile of the Nashville Predators isn't against Twitter, citing that his team certainly uses it to reach out to fans.

"I've got time for it, it's interesting, but it's also not a perfect situation," Poile said while attending Monday night's Hall induction. "You saw what happened with Dan Ellis in Tampa Bay. I know Dan Ellis. I know what he was trying to say about the money and what have you, but he got really crucified for his position. He was tweeting to have some fun, I think, and it backfired on him, and eventually that's going to happen to everyone who has an opinion."

The Washington Capitals have been arguably the most progressive team in the NHL when it comes to new media, and McPhee told his players have been advised about the proper social media decorum.

"We've talked to our players; we had meetings before the start of the year to educate them all," McPhee said. "To date, they've been pretty good."

Stamkos talks

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is in town for the GMs' meeting, and it just so happens Don Meehan, the agent for his star forward, Steven Stamkos, is also based here. A source told that Yzerman and Meehan will talk contract Tuesday.

Stamkos is in the final year of his entry-level deal and is slated for restricted free agency after this season.

The case for Fred Shero

There's been a lot of talk, and deservedly so, that former coach Pat Burns should have been inducted in this year's Hall class. But there's another former coach who should have been honored long ago.

Former Flyers and Rangers coach Fred Shero, who led the Broad Street Bullies teams of the 1970s to a pair of Stanley Cups, has the pedigree and should be in the Hall.

"Over the last couple of years, more and more people have asked me about it," Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, Fred's son, said Monday night while attending the induction ceremonies. "I think it would be a great thing, obviously. My mom passed away last spring ... but I think he had a great contribution to the game at all levels. He impacted the game. He affected peoples' lives in a good way. He won a championship at every level."

But his late father still hasn't been inducted.

"The interesting thing is, a lot of people who have asked me about it, a few of them said, 'We always thought he was in,' and a lot of people were surprised he wasn't," Shero said. "On behalf of the family, we appreciate people who bring it up and push for it, so we'll see. There's a lot of people that aren't in, and he's one of them. Time will tell."

Dino versus Jimmy D

Fellow inductees Dino Ciccarelli and Jimmy Devellano shared time together in Detroit during their respective careers, and fought in the boardroom.

"One thing I remember about Dino, and we laugh about it now, but him and I would get into some awful contract squabbles," Devellano said Monday. "Oh, would we ever get into some squabbles. As hard as Dino played on the ice, he played hard when it came time to get a contract."

Ciccarelli represented himself in some of those contract talks with the Wings.

"I'm a stubborn guy," Ciccarelli said. "I believed in what I was worth. When you're negotiating, they're trying to intimidate you. It's just like playing the game -- you don't back down. You hang in there until you agree to something."

It was me, Dino

Years later, I was finally able to apologize to Dino Ciccarelli. In his first year of eligibility, I was still working at The Canadian Press when that year's Hall inductees were announced and Ciccarelli wasn't among them. I called him up for his reaction, and when he saw the Toronto area code, he thought it was the Hall calling. Much to his crushing disappointment, he found out through me, a measly reporter, that he didn't get in.

"Oh, you? Oh, you're the ass who called," Ciccarelli said with a smile Monday morning during his media availability.

No hard feelings, Dino said.

"I think the media would always think I would get into it and be ticked off, but really, how can you complain? I wasn't even supposed to play, let alone play 19 years and have the success and score the goals," he said. "I got to the point where I said, 'If I get the call, it would be a great honor.' If not, then you still know you had a great career. So I wasn't frustrated with it. I had no control over it."

Weber update

Predators captain Shea Weber will be a restricted free agent at season's end, one year removed from unrestricted free agency. Those contract talks are the biggest in the history of the Predators' franchise.

Poile said the dialogue continues with Weber's representation, Don Meehan's Newport Sports.

"We talk all the time; they represent about 10 players on our team," Poile said. "They know where we stand. We talk all the time. We'd like to do something."

The uncertainty of what the next collective bargaining agreement will look like in two years has added another challenge.

"We don't even know what the rules will be," Poile said. "If you a sign for the next number of years, what are we signing him into? What system? We can say it's approximately the same system, but what's approximately the same system? Does that have a cap of $53 million or a cap of $60 million, or is it going down to $48 million? Is the players' share at 57 percent or 50 percent? Those are just basic things."

Quebec City and the NHL

Former Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut remains very active in an attempt to bring an NHL team back to Quebec City, including the efforts of building a new rink, which is paramount.

"Everything is going well," Aubut told in French on Monday night. "Lots of things happening behind the scenes. I'm very positive about things."

Wings and Howard

Red Wings GM Ken Holland said contract talks have not yet begun with goalie Jimmy Howard, who is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1.

"Obviously, Jimmy's been a great story for us and we'd like to keep him," Holland said Monday night before the induction ceremony. "We haven't started negotiations. We will sit down at some point in time, but I want him to get out of the gate here this year first. He's a sophomore. I don't want him to be distracted in his second season with a negotiation."

Predators' goaltending measures up

October, 28, 2010
Nashville -- Lots of jokes are floating around the Nashville Predators' dressing room these days, not just about the quality of their goaltending but, well, the size of that goaltending.

Certainly, the Predators are the only NHL team in history that can boast of having just shy of 13 feet of goaltending.

And it's a good thing that if 6-foot-6 rookie netminder Anders Lindback forgets his suit jacket, he can just borrow one from 6-foot-5 colleague Pekka Rinne.

"Yeah, about the same size. I guess that's one more positive thing," Rinne acknowledged Thursday morning before the 5-0-3 Predators were to play host to Central Division rival St. Louis.

OK. Maybe it's not all that funny. But the fact remains that the Predators, the only NHL team that began play Thursday without a regulation loss, are able to crack some jokes about a goaltending situation that could easily have been a nightmare.

During the offseason, the Predators made a conscious decision to eschew the many free-agent goalies on the market and see who might emerge as Rinne's backup.

The thinking was that if the backup couldn't get the job done, GM David Poile would start beating the bushes looking for some veteran help.

Already goalies like Thomas Greiss and Erik Ersberg, both of whom have NHL experience with San Jose and Los Angeles, respectively, have passed through waivers, but the Predators weren't interested.

Not surprising.

As it turned out, Lindback, an undrafted, unheralded 22-year-old out of Sweden earned the backup job to Rinne out of training camp. Had things gone according to plan, head coach Barry Trotz might not have called Lindback's number to give Rinne a rest until Game 8 or so of this season.

But, as Poile pointed out Thursday morning in an interview, things didn't go quite according to plan.

In the third period of the Predators' season opener, Rinne went down with a knee injury.

And in came Lindback for his first NHL action, and he never missed a beat.

He helped preserve that victory over Anaheim and went on to post a 3-0-1 record with a .925 save percentage.

"Oh yeah, that was a bit overwhelming," Lindback admitted. "It went so quickly I don't have the time to think. I just went out there."

The Predators boast the NHL's third-best goals-against average heading into play Thursday at 2.12.

A unique situation?

Poile has been around the game a long time and acknowledged turning over the goaltending reins to two relatively untested netminders isn't how they tell you how to do it in the GMs' operating manual.

"It was not historically what hockey managers have chosen to do," he acknowledged.

And specifically, the ascension of Lindback runs contrary to how the Predators have done business over the years.

"Traditionally, the road to Nashville has always run through Milwaukee," Poile told, noting the team's American Hockey League franchise.

That's where most of the Predators' top homegrown players honed their skills before coming to the NHL. It's where Rinne honed his skills before becoming one of the game's top young goaltenders.

When Rinne blanked Dallas 1-0 last weekend, it marked his 15th shutout since Dec. 1, 2008, most in the NHL over that period.

Although he will turn 28 in November, this is just Rinne's third full season in the NHL. But, he has quickly moved from NHL newcomer to mentor for young Lindback.

"Things happen quickly," Rinne said. "All these few years have gone by really fast and a lot of things have happened. But it's great to see a guy like Anders coming in and being ready like he is. Being only 22 years old, it's amazing and just really happy to have him [as] my goalie partner. Obviously, I do anything to help him if he needs any advice but he's a smart kid and works extremely hard and I think that's just a key thing, to have that work ethic," he said.

Lindback is currently living with teammate Patric Hornqvist, although Hornqvist is helping Lindback find his own apartment [and not one in Milwaukee as it turns out] and his first North American car.

As for nerves, Lindback seems unaware that he should be feeling any.

"Actually, I have really hard [time] to get nervous and that might be a good thing. I don't remember I got nervous the last time, really. I just get excited and just try and do my best every day," he said.

Has there been anything that's been difficult in the transition from anonymous netminder to front-line NHL player?

Apparently not.

"Everything's really been ... just living the dream," he said with a smile.

Just like the Predators.

Burnside: This week's games to watch

October, 25, 2010

In addition to picking the best games of the week, we’ve added our predictions for these key matchups.

Tuesday: Edmonton Oilers at Calgary Flames (9 p.m. ET)

The Oilers have lost four in a row and look ready for full free-fall action. The Flames, meanwhile, are trying to prove their slumbering offense has finally emerged from summer hibernation.

Prediction: Flames in a walkover.

Wednesday: Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET)

Carolina plays its first game in Raleigh after opening the season in Helsinki and then traveling to the West Coast. They host a Washington team that has been strangely silent offensively over the past week or so.

Prediction: Capitals ruin Canes' homecoming in Raleigh.

Thursday: St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators (8 p.m.)

The Predators began the week as the only team in the league without a regulation loss, while the Blues have lost just once in regulation. Combined, the two Central Division foes are an impressive 9-1-5.

Prediction: Jaroslav Halak outduels Pekka Rinne.

Thursday: Los Angeles Kings at Dallas Stars (8:30 p.m. ET)

The top two teams in the Pacific Division square off. The Kings will not get Drew Doughty back from injury to help with their need for more offense, while the Stars are hoping to build on a terrific start with what has been one of the most prolific offenses of this early season.

Prediction: Stars continue hot hand at home.

Friday: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m. ET)

The Battle of Pennsylvania is always a treat to watch (and we don't mean trick or treat, in spite of this game's proximity to Halloween). The Pens won the most recent matchup 5-1 and are getting healthy ,with Arron Asham expected to join the lineup this week and Jordan Staal back on the ice, although a return to action isn't yet in the cards. The Flyers, meanwhile, are looking to put together a streak of their own, having ended a three-game slide by beating Toronto on Saturday.

Prediction: Penguins continue to vex their cross-state rivals.