Hurricanes-Predators Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 06, 2012
Getting Shea Weber back on the ice wasn't enough to produce a win for the Nashville Predators, but beating their next opponent may be an easier task. Weber and the Predators look to get back on track and continue their dominance of the last-place Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night in Music City. After missing four games with a concussion, Weber returned Thursday against Dallas. Nashville's captain didn't get on the scoresheet as the Predators (21-15-4) lost 4-1, but Weber reported no ill effects and was mostly positive about his progress. "I think my conditioning was pretty good, actually," he told the Predators' official website after seeing nearly 26 minutes of ice time. "I felt good skating. My hands just weren't quite where I want them to be yet." Rookie left wing Gabriel Bourque scored his first career goal in his fourth game, but also experienced his first NHL loss as Nashville saw its three-game winning streak snapped. "There are 42 games left, I think, so we can't get too low," Bourque said. "We can think about this game tonight, and tomorrow we need to focus on the next game." That's a contest that appears quite winnable. The Predators have won five straight against the Hurricanes and are 6-0-1 in the last seven meetings. They haven't lost to Carolina in regulation since a 2-1 home defeat Dec. 3, 2002 - the Hurricanes' only victory in seven all-time visits to Nashville. Weber had a goal the last time these teams met, a 5-2 Predators win Dec. 4, 2010, to complete a sweep of last season's two-game series. Goaltender Pekka Rinne didn't play in that contest, but has won both of his career starts against Carolina while posting a 1.45 goals-against average. While the Hurricanes (14-21-7) still occupy the Southeast Division basement, they haven't been playing like a last-place club lately. Carolina improved to 4-2-1 in its last seven games with a 4-2 home victory over Buffalo on Friday night. Eric Staal had a goal and two assists, Chad LaRose and Justin Faulk also scored, and Brandon Sutter added an empty-netter for the Hurricanes. "Everyone was engaged and involved in the game,'' coach Kirk Muller said. "Everyone felt good about their game, I think. I don't think we had any passengers. So there is a real good atmosphere on the bench (and) a lot of it was from the players. ... That's good to see. That's where it's got to come from.'' Along with his team, Staal will try to change his fortunes against Nashville. The Carolina captain has no goals and one assist in six career games versus the Predators, his fewest points against any opponent. He's hot right now, though, with three goals and five assists over his last four contests. Staal's recent strong play has been aided by linemates Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen. "When you play with a guy like (Ruutu) - and obviously Jus can find those soft areas and make those passes - but (Ruutu) is a big, physical, strong winger and he's in on the D and kind of opens up space, and we controlled the puck well,'' Staal said.
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