Predators-Flyers Preview

The Associated Press

Though separated by two points, the Nashville Predators and the Philadelphia Flyers have been much different teams of late heading into their matchup Thursday night.

While the Flyers are losing as much as they win and struggling to score unless they have more men on the ice, the Predators seemingly always win and are getting plenty of goals with or without the power play.

Pekka Rinne will enter Philadelphia going for a league season-high 11th consecutive victory if he's in net for Nashville (31-16-4), the NHL's hottest team with wins in 10 of 11. The Predators are 5 for 13 on the power play during their current five-game winning streak and have outscored opponents 14-6 at even strength.

"It's someone different stepping up every night, and that's why we've been winning," said Mike Fisher, one of nine Predators with at least 10 goals for a team that has no one among the league's top 50 scorers.

Fisher has had the hot stick lately with five goals in three games for Nashville, which matched a club record with 11 wins in January and is a league-best 13-2-0 since Dec. 27.

Philadelphia (29-14-6) lost three of five to close last month, limited to 13 goals in that span but still second in the NHL with 3.31 per game. However, seven of its last 11 goals have come on the power play.

The Flyers are two points worse than Nashville, due largely to a 9-7-3 stretch since a seven-game win streak to open December had put them atop the Eastern Conference. Now they're looking up to Boston and the Rangers in the East, while Nashville only trails Detroit in the West.

A big reason the Predators have surged up the standings is Rinne, who won his final nine starts before the All-Star break and allowed no more than two goals in each. He may have been a bit rusty Tuesday, surrendering three goals in the first 22 minutes at Minnesota, but Nashville rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period to win 5-4.

"It goes to show our talent, our determination," said Rinne, who hasn't lost since Jan. 5 against Dallas. "We've been like that the whole year."

The goaltending in Philadelphia hasn't been as steady. Ilya Bryzgalov has lost eight of his past 12 starts, posting a 3.24 goals-against average. However, he's allowed just one goal in three of four, winning twice in regulation and losing two shootouts.

Bryzgalov made 23 saves Tuesday in a 2-1 shootout loss to Winnipeg.

"He was excellent," coach Peter Laviolette said. "There were lots of opportunities and lots of attempts, but our guy held us in there."

Laviolette may have been particularly pleased to see Bryzgalov stop two of three shootout attempts after allowing goals on all five shots he faced in previous tiebreakers this season. He's lost five consecutive shootouts going back to April.

Conversely, Rinne has stopped all 11 shots in three shootouts since the start of December. He outplayed Bryzgalov on Jan. 14, making 36 saves in a 4-2 home win over Philadelphia.

Many of the Flyers' top scorers continue to slump. Claude Giroux has no goals in his last 12 games - he was among the league leaders with 18 before that drought. Jaromir Jagr has no goals in nine straight.

Danny Briere, who has gone seven in a row without one, remains out with a concussion, the same reason James van Riemsdyk and Chris Pronger aren't playing.

While Philadelphia has lost its last three home games, the Predators have won three straight and six of seven on the road.

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