Goal-scoring has rarely been a problem for the defending Stanley Cup champions, and as both teams get ready for the rematch, little seems to have changed.
The Central Division rivals will meet on Friday in Nashville for the first time since their first-round playoff series last spring, with the Red Wings once again cruising and the Predators in the midst of a major offensive drought.
Entering the Western Conference playoffs as the No. 8 seed, Nashville won a pair of home games and pushed top-seeded Detroit to a sixth game in the first round last season.
But the Predators managed a combined 41 shots and one goal in losses in Games 5 and 6, getting eliminated with a 3-0 defeat at the Sommet Center. They totaled four goals in their four losses to the Red Wings, who went on to capture their 11th Stanley Cup.
“We had a lot of good battles with Detroit,” Nashville forward J.P. Dumont said after the series. “We have to learn from that and look forward to next year.”
But Nashville (16-14-3) has been embroiled in an even bigger scoring slump recently, with seven total goals in its last six games, including one or fewer in five of them. That includes Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Florida, when former Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped 27 shots for his second consecutive shutout.
“They had a good start and we didn’t have too much going on,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “It was a rough night from our side.”
The Predators’ leading goal-scorer, Jason Arnott, has gone nine straight games without a goal, while their top point-scorer, Dumont, has no points in the last three contests.
Nashville has missed on all 11 power-play chances in its last five games, though its opponents are 0-for-16 on the man advantage over that span.
Rinne stopped 40 of the 42 shots he faced against the Panthers in another strong defensive effort for Nashville. Rinne made 23 saves in a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday, and played again Tuesday in place of starter Dan Ellis.
Ellis, who played throughout last season’s playoffs, has allowed just three total goals in his last three starts. Including postseason, he’s 3-5-1 with a 2.24 goals-against average against the Red Wings.
That GAA is impressive considering the Red Wings’ explosive offense, which has been on display lately during Detroit’s three-game winning streak.
The Wings (23-6-4) have scored 16 goals in their last three games, moving into third place in the NHL with 119 goals. They took a 4-0 lead through two periods against St. Louis on Tuesday, cruising to a 4-1 win behind two goals and an assist from Pavel Datsyuk.
Datsyuk has exploded during Detroit’s winning streak, with five goals and four assists in the last three games.
“He’s been playing great. Everything he’s doing out there, he’s holding on to the puck, he’s making good decisions,” linemate Tomas Holmstrom said. “He’s shooting the puck more, too, and it’s paying off for sure.”
Osgood, dealing with a groin injury, practiced this week and won’t have to go on long-term injured reserve, but Conklin is 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA since Osgood last played.
This game is the first of six meetings between the division rivals. Nashville went 3-3-2 in the 2007-08 regular season series.