A quick look at Sunday’s Panthers home game against the Nashville Predators doesn’t reveal an opportunity for the Panthers to pick up playoff race points.
The Predators sit second in the Western Conference after beating the Rangers on Saturday afternoon, and the Panthers linger just outside the Eastern Conference playoff party.
With new coach Peter Laviolette bringing a more open style than established the first 16 seasons as a franchise under conservative Barry Trotz, Nashville has a plus-33 goal differential, has the sixth best offense and is the NHL’s best five-on-five team.
But this completes a back-to-back home and away for Nashville. Also, awaiting the Predators is a Panthers team with a two-day rest, a two-game win streak and one of the NHL’s hottest goal scorers, center Brandon Pirri.
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Pirri’s got a four-game goal scoring streak working and goals in six of his past seven games. He has been a streak scorer this season — his nine goals came in two blocks totaling 10 games. Injuries, not opposing defense or goaltenders, ended his three-game goal-scoring streak earlier this season. The 6-0, 183-pound forward potted zero in his other 16 games this season after closing last season with four goals in his last seven games.
“[Earlier], he had three goals in three games, he was really jumping, he had a lot of confidence,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “What’s happening lately, the last six, seven, eight games, he’s got confidence, he’s got jump in his legs. He looked like he did early in the season when he was really hot.
“He’s got a great shot, that’s the best part of his game. He’s an opportunist.”
Just in case you were wondering, Pirri is three away from the Panthers’ franchise record for consecutive games with a goal. Pavel Bure ran off a seven-game streak during the 2000-01 season, albeit in March with the Panthers well-removed from the playoff race.
Bure scored 13 goals in those games on his way to his second consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer.
Missing from Saturday’s practice were defenseman Willie Mitchell with an “upper-body injury” and forward Sean Bergenheim with the flu. Gallant said both probably would miss Sunday’s game.
NASHVILLE VS. PANTHERS
When/Where: 3 p.m, BB&T Center
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Florida; WQAM 560
Series: Panthers lead 8-7-3-3. Nashville won this year’s only meeting, 3-2, in a shootout, in Nashville.
The game: Nashville’s 2.94 goals per game is sixth in the league and they do it five-on-five – their power play’s 17.0 success rate is only 22nd in the league, but they score a league best 1.38 goals five-on-five for every opposing goal. The Panthers get the good fortune of coming off two days rest while Nashville played a tight game against the Rangers Saturday afternoon.