The Nashville Predators are gunning for a franchise record and a chance to sit atop the NHL standings Tuesday night. What’s more, their former captain will play his first home game since coming out of retirement last month.
These are heady times for Nashville, which also gets a schedule advantage when it hosts the Dallas Stars to start a four-game homestand at Bridgestone Arena.
At 42-14-9 after a 4-3 overtime win Sunday in Colorado, the Predators shoot for their first nine-game winning streak in franchise history. If they win and Tampa Bay falls in regulation to Florida, Nashville will lead the league with 95 points.
The normally raucous home crowd will get another boost with the return of Mike Fisher. In his second debut with Nashville on Friday night, Fisher sparked a comeback from a 2-0 second-period deficit with a goal that led to a 4-3 overtime verdict in Vancouver.
That was part of a perfect trip that saw the Predators rally for wins against Winnipeg, Edmonton, the Canucks and the Avalanche.
“Right now, the confidence level is really high,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said. “Never giving up and coming back every game, it’s unbelievable. Sometimes you have those games once a month or a couple of times a month, and now we’ve had one four games in a row.”
Coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to visiting Ottawa on Monday night at American Airlines Arena, Dallas (37-23-6) will be without starting goalie Ben Bishop. He left after one period with a knee injury and the team announced that he will be out for at least the next two games.
The Stars, who are four points clear of surging Colorado for the Central Division’s last playoff spot, will have to call up a goalie to back up Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen was originally scheduled to start this game even prior to Bishop’s injury.
Dallas’ injury list is growing. Besides Bishop, the team will be without forwards Radek Faksa (foot) and Esa Lindell (illness), who will not travel to Nashville. Another forward, Mattias Janmark, took a stick to the face Monday night but returned with a full facial shield for the third period and overtime.
“When you play every second night and every game is as tough as it is right now,” Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said to the Dallas Morning News, “you are going to get injuries. You’re going to have to learn to deal with it.”
Lehtonen (11-6-1, 2.29, .919) has played better hockey in a backup role to Bishop, benefiting from a smaller workload and Hitchcock’s defense-first system. But he and the Stars will be tested by a Nashville offense that has scored 37 goals in its winning streak.
The Predators have nine players with at least 10 goals, and four others with nine. They also have Rinne (35-9-4, 2.33, .927) enjoying one of the best seasons of his career at age 35.
“The good thing about our group right now is we’re just really doing a good job of staying in the moment,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “We’re just playing day-to-day and not worrying about the games that we won and not thinking about going home and playing games at home.”