Goalie Nods: The Hamburglar starts for the Sens

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Hammond looks to remain unbeaten in regulation

Andrew Hammond and the Ottawa Senators will look for a sixth straight win tonight when they play host to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs. Hammond enters the game with a 12-0-1 record to go along with a 1.55 goals-against average since getting called up from Binghamton.

The Sens enter tonight’s action two points back of the Boston Bruins for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Since the last meeting between the Leafs and Senators (Jan. 21), Ottawa is 17-6-2 while Toronto has gone 5-17-3.

James Reimer gets the nod for the Leafs.

Elsewhere…

Blue Jackets at Flames: Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Karri Ramo

Canucks at Kings: Eddie Lack vs. Jonathan Quick

Capitals at Jets: Braden Holtby vs. Ondrej Pavelec

Rangers at Hurricanes: Cam Talbot vs. Anton Khudobin

Islanders at Devils: Jaroslav Halak vs. Cory Schneider

Bruins at Panthers: Tuukka Rask vs. Roberto Luongo

Sharks at Canadiens: Antti Niemi vs. Carey Price

Sabres at Predators: Matt Hackett vs. Pekka Rinne

Blackhawks at Stars: Corey Crawford vs. Kari Lehtonen

Penguins at Coyotes: Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Mike Smith

Flyers at Oilers: Steve Mason vs. Ben Scrivens

Parise chirped Weber with ‘nothing you want to write’ after Wild’s OT win over Preds

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In the aftermath of Mathew Dumba’s overtime goal in Minnesota’s 2-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday, some viewers noticed Zach Parise chirping Preds captain Shea Weber prior to joining Dumba in the celebratory mob.

So, what exactly did Parise say to Weber?

“Nothing you want to write,” he explained, per the Star-Tribune. “We were just going after each other all game.

“You reach your boiling point. I think he reached his, too.”

The visual evidence (not overwhelming, but you can see Parise get after Weber around 0:08.)

Parise had good reason to chirp. The Wild are the NHL’s hottest team at the moment and, improbably, have trimmed Nashville’s 21-point lead in the Central Division — yeah, the Preds were up 21 on the Wild on Jan. 13 — to just nine heading into tonight’s action.

Three reasons why Nashville’s in a tailspin

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On Feb. 17, Nashville whipped San Jose 5-1 to move to 39-12-6, the best record in the league. With 84 points, the Preds had a comfortable lead atop the NHL and Central Division standings.

How times have changed.

Since that win, Nashville has gone 4-9-2 and lost its hold on both. Last night’s 3-2 OT loss to Minnesota gave a startling example of how much the Preds have struggled; on Jan. 13, Minnesota trailed Nashville by 21 (yes, twenty-one) points in the standings.

With last night’s win, the Wild had trimmed it to nine.

“It’s frustrating for everybody,” head coach Peter Laviolette told the Tennessean. “At the end of the night, you’ve got to win games.”

“We’re not playing the right way to close out games right now,” added veteran forward Matt Cullen. “And we’ve got 10 games to figure it out.”

So, what’s wrong with the Preds? Three things to consider…

1. Neal, Ribeiro and Forsberg have gone cold.

Ice cold, in fact. After combining to form one of the NHL’s top lines through the first few months, James Neal, Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg have been split up, put back together, split up again… and now Neal’s out, having missed the last three games with an upper-body ailment.

Even before the Neal injury, though, there were signs of trouble. Neal had just one goal in his last 11 games, Forsberg only has five points in his last 16 and Ribeiro has just three points in his last 11. Yes, the Preds are one of the league’s most well-balanced scoring teams — eight guys have 13 goals or more — but it’s clear that a good portion of the team’s success relies on the production of the “Big Three.”

2. They’re no longer dominating at home.

For most of this season, Bridgestone Arena has been an extremely difficult place for opponents. En route to racing out to the aforementioned 39-12-6 start, the Preds went a remarkable 25-3-1 at home — securing 51 of a possible 58 points — and their three regulation losses came against very good opponents in Anaheim, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Lately, though, things have turned.

Tuesday’s loss to the Wild was Nashville’s fifth straight at home, its longest skid of the season. Over that stretch, the Preds have allowed 18 goals — 3.6 per game, well above their season average of 2.8 — and defenseman Roman Josi suggested part of the problem is Nashville’s failure to play a full 60 minute game.

“The last periods just have to be better,” Josi said, per the team website. “We have to go after the goal and not take a step back. We have to find a way to win these games. It is all about winning in this league.

“You don’t get points just for playing well. We have to bear down and get two points.”

3. They’ve become the hunted.

A 75/1 longshot to win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of the season, the Preds were, for quite some time, the NHL’s biggest surprise story… but surprises wear off. Around the same time they raced to the top of the NHL standings, the Preds began to be a target for other teams, like Central Division rival Chicago.

Back in mid-February, ‘Hawks d-man Brent Seabrook made mention of the fact his team was targeting Nashville, and how “difficult” it was to make up ground.

“They seem to be winning every game,” Seabrook explained.

“It’s going to be tough,” Kris Versteeg added, when asked about catching the Preds. “They’re rolling.”

Both the ‘Hawks and the Blues have managed to erase Nashville’s once-commanding lead in the Central. Heading into Wednesday night’s action, St. Louis, who trailed by nine points on Feb. 26, is now one point up with two games in hand; Chicago, meanwhile, trails by just four with three in hand.

Wild win a record eighth straight road game

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Defenseman Matt Dumba scored 22 seconds into overtime as the Minnesota Wild edged the Nashville Predators 3-2 Tuesday night.

Dumba’s winner set a franchise record for fastest overtime goal on the road.

With the win, the Wild have won a record eight straight on the road and are 12-1-2 away from home with Devan Dubnyk in goal.

Charlie Coyle scored a pair in regulation while Roman Josi had both Preds goals.

Dubnyk made 25 saves to improve to 21-5-1 with a 1.67 G.A.A. and a .939 save percentage to go along with five shutouts in 28 straight starts.

The Wild have a three point lead on the Winnipeg Jets for the first wild card spot in the Western Conference and trail the Chicago Blackhawks by five points for third in the Central Division.

Neal to miss third straight as Preds host Wild in key tilt

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The Nashville Predators will be without co-leading goalscorer James Neal for the third consecutive game when they host the Wild tonight.

Neal, currently dealing with an upper-body issue, hasn’t played since a 2-0 loss to San Jose on Mar. 12. Prior to that the 27-year-old was mired in a bad slump, with just one goal in his previous 11 games.

As Neal hit the skids and eventually exited the lineup hurt, the Preds went through — and are still experiencing — their toughest stretch of the season. The club is 2-8-0 in its last 10 and has lost its grip on the Central Division; heading into tonight’s play the Preds trail St. Louis for the lead (via tiebreaker) and are just five points up on Chicago, with the ‘Hawks holding three games in hand.

As for the Wild, tonight’s game is (another) big one in the Western Conference wild card race. Minnesota holds the first of two spots with 83 points, two up on Los Angeles and three up on Winnipeg — and the Jets are in action tonight, hosting San Jose.