The Bruins had a mission to finish strongly in the final four games prior to the holiday break, and they’ve gathered four of a possible six points with wins over the Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres. A loss to Buffalo on the road was sandwiched in between, but the Bruins can make their Christmas holidays just a little more festive if they can dust off a Nashville Predators team missing its franchise goaltender, Pekka Rinne.
Rinne has missed the last couple of months after developing an infection in his hip, which will continue to keep him until at least January. Not only has that injury opened the door for Tuukka Rask to be the No. 1 goalie for the Finnish Olympic team in February, but it’s dragged the Preds down into the Western Conference pack of also-rans.
Sure, they have Shea Weber and Seth Jones as the pillars on defense. But there’s not much else, and the Black and Gold simply need to play with the same efficiency they did against Buffalo last weekend.
“You’d always like to finish on a high note” said coach Claude Julien. “It would certainly make Christmas more fun. It was our goal in the last four games was to finish strong, and we’ve had a couple of good wins with a loss in between. We need that win to finish out above .500.”
If they can do that with Adam McQuaid back in the lineup for the first time this month, then the Bruins get three days off and will perhaps have another player or two ready to return the lineup from their recent rash of injuries.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Matt Fraser has played six games with zero points, seven shots on net and a minus-1 rating in 9:48 of ice time since getting recalled by the Bruins. Aside from fighting Marcus Foligno, Fraser has been pretty close to invisible. It’s a difficult spot for the natural left wing playing on his right side, but the word on Fraser’s game is that there isn’t a ton there unless he’s getting off the beauty of a shot from the slot, or the faceoff circles. He hasn’t been able to get in the right shooting positions nearly enough, and it would be good to see him on the left side at some point. But he won’t be pushing Carl Soderberg off the left side while the two are on the same line together.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “You’d always like to finish on a high note. It would certainly make Christmas more fun. It was our goal in the last four games was to finish strong, and we’ve had a couple of good wins with a loss in between. We need that win to finish out above .500.” -- Claude Julien, looking for a win under his Christmas tree in the last game before a three-day break.
KEY MATCHUP: It’ll be all about the Nashville power play cranking at a 21.1 percent success rate against a Bruins penalty kill that’s undermanned, but still ranking third in the NHL (87.2 percent kill rate) after shutting out Buffalo’s PP on six chances last weekend. Shea Weber is the clear stud here with 7 power-play goals and 13 power-play points on the season, and you’ll see the B’s PK players trying to deny him the chance to utilize his big point shot on the man advantage. Something will have to give for one of these two teams on special teams in this game.
STAT TO WATCH: 0 – the number of wins against Central Division opponents for the Bruins this season. They are the only remaining NHL that hasn’t scored a win against a team in Nashville’s division.
INJURIES: Dougie Hamilton (lower body) and Daniel Paille (concussion-like symptoms) are out. Chris Kelly (fractured right fibula) and Loui Eriksson (concussion) are on injured reserve, but McQuaid is primed to return to the lineup after missing nine games with a tweaked groin. Shawn Thornton is serving a 15-game suspension.
Rinne continues to be out with an infection in his surgically repaired hip. Rookie defenseman Seth Jones has a facial laceration, but is expected to play.
GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Tuukka Rask was good against the Buffalo Sabres, and will get a chance to go into the three-day holiday break on a high note against a Predators team that has trouble scoring goals. Rask is 4-2-0 with a 1.77 goals-against average and .939 save percentage during the month of December, and is looking to finish things out strength in the last few games this month.
The Preds are 11-12-3 in the 26 games since they lost Rinne, and have survived in the interim with Carter Hutton, Marek Mazanec and Magnus Hellberg all rotating in and out of the lineup. It would be fitting if Hutton is the guy that makes the start between the pipes after a strong career in the long shadow of the TD Garden at UMass-Lowell, but that remains to be seen.