Flames-Predators Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 31, 2011
ANDY LEFKOWITZ STATS Writer The fatigue that comes with the grind of a seven-game road trip seems to be catching up with the Calgary Flames. The Nashville Predators would like to take advantage of a weary opponent as they look to move up the Western Conference standings. Hoping to avoid a third straight loss, the Flames continue their trip Sunday afternoon against the Predators in the NHL's lone New Year's Day game. Heading into their final meeting of 2011-12, the Flames look to salvage a split of the season series. Nashville has won two of the first three meetings, outscoring Calgary 4-2. With the World Junior Championships being held in Calgary, the Flames are spending nearly two weeks on the road. Following this game, they'll wrap up the trip by facing Alex Ovechkin on Tuesday in Washington and against defending Stanley Cup champion Boston on Thursday. The Flames have split the first four games after falling 4-3 to Ottawa on Friday. Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross and Chris Butler gave Calgary a 3-0 edge after one period, but rookie Leland Irving failed to protect the lead despite finishing with a career-best 45 saves in his third pro game. "In the first, we weren't that sharp anyway," said Bourque, who has 12 goals this season but only one in his last 10 games against Nashville. "We didn't play well (Friday night), plain and simple. We really didn't deserve to be up 3-0." After wins over Northwest Division-leading Vancouver and in a shootout over league-worst Columbus to open the trip, the Flames (18-16-5) have failed to keep the momentum going by wasting early leads. Prior to losing to the Senators, Calgary led the New York Islanders 1-0 in the first period Thursday before falling 3-1. The Flames' four losses when leading after one period are the second-most in the NHL behind Carolina (five). Following a rare night off, Miikka Kiprusoff is expected back in goal for the Flames on Sunday. Kiprusoff is 1-2-0 with a 1.36 goals-against average versus Nashville this season, and stopped 26 shots in a 1-0 home win over the Predators on Nov. 29. Despite making 43 saves on Dec. 13 in Nashville, Kiprusoff was on the short end of the Flames' 2-1 loss. He had won his previous six starts in Tennessee, posting a 1.31 GAA and two shutouts. The Predators (20-14-4) return home after winning their second straight game in a shootout, 2-1 over St. Louis on Friday. Martin Erat scored the only goal in the tiebreaker while Pekka Rinne made 35 saves through overtime and kept the Blues scoreless on all five shootout attempts. "Not only are we getting great goaltending from (Rinne) but we are better defensively," said Predators coach Barry Trotz, whose team is seventh in the West. With the win, Rinne improved to 8-1-0 with a 2.54 GAA in 10 games since Dec. 8. He's 2-1-0 with a 0.67 GAA versus the Flames this season, including a 33-save effort in a 2-0 road victory Oct. 22. Thanks mostly to Rinne, Nashville has given up just two goals in its last two games after being lit up for 19 while losing three of its previous four. While the Predators are enjoying a brief surge, they clearly miss leading scorer Shea Weber (eight goals, 21 assists), who's missed three straight games with a concussion. There is no target date for his return. David Legwand, who leads the Predators with 10 goals, has none in his last five games versus Calgary. Erat, who has just eight goals in 30 games this season, has two in his last seven matchups with the Flames.
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