SPORTS

Nazem Kadri returns as Leafs host Predators

11/21/2013 09:55 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST
While the loss of Pekka Rinne certainly showed in the weeks following his injury, the Nashville Predators appear to have found a short-term solution between the pipes.

Red-hot rookie Marek Mazanec is likely to get another start Thursday night, though he'll have to face a Toronto Maple Leafs team that seeks its longest home winning streak in almost seven years.

After totalling four goals while going 1-3-1 over their previous five contests, the Maple Leafs (13-7-1) broke out of their slump with nine goals in back-to-back wins over Buffalo and the New York Islanders to open this five-game homestand.

They've outscored opponents 18-8 during a five-game home winning streak. Toronto hasn't won six straight at home since a nine-game run March 6-April 7, 2007.

Toronto centre Nazem Kadri, who has five goals and 14 points in 18 games, will be back in the lineup following a three-game suspension for his hit on Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom.

Kadri's return bolsters the centre position for Toronto, which is still minus injured regulars Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland.

In their absence, Phil Kessel, who leads the team with 12 goals and 21 points, has been particularly dangerous at home with seven goals during the streak. The winger also had a goal and two assists in Toronto's 4-0 victory in Nashville on Oct. 10.

''He's a highly talented player and doesn't need many chances to score goals,'' Leafs linemate James van Riemsdyk said of Kessel, who ended a four-game scoring drought with two goals against the Islanders.

Bozak told reporters Thursday morning he would not play return later that night from a hamstring injury and is hopeful for a return Saturday against the visiting Washington Capitals.

"It's a little sore still," Bozak said. "Hopefully by Saturday I'll be ready to go."

Jonathan Bernier, 3-1-1 with a 1.55 GAA in his last five starts after Tuesday's win, continued his dominance of the Predators with 36 saves in the October victory. He's 8-1-0 with a 1.67 GAA in nine career starts in this matchup.

The Maple Leafs have won three of the last four meetings in Toronto, though this will be Nashville's first visit since 2010.

Although they've allowed an average of 2.9 goals on the season, the Central Division-worst Predators (10-9-2) had given up 4.0 per game in their first nine after Rinne went down with a hip infection on Oct. 24.

Nashville, however, has looked like a much different club the past two contests behind Mazanec, who stopped 66 of 68 shots in consecutive wins over Chicago and Detroit.

In only his fourth NHL start, Mazanec finished with 27 saves in a 2-0 road win over the Red Wings on Tuesday. The 22-year-old also became the youngest netminder in franchise history to post a shutout and the second-quickest goalie in club history to record his first shutout.

Mazanec is 2-2-0 with a 2.45 goals-against average in his five appearances.

''He's catching up to the level,'' said Predators head coach Barry Trotz, whose club seeks its first three-game winning streak. 

''He's confident after seeing some of the best players in the world. When you start facing those guys on a regular basis, you're going to feel a little bit more confident if you have success.''

The Predators, whose 48 goals are the fewest in the Western Conference, have scored two or fewer in five of six games even with a 7-2 win over Chicago on Saturday. They could be without Eric Nystrom (upper body), while fellow forward Filip Forsberg will miss the contest (upper body).

Toronto will have to keep an eye on defenceman Shea Weber, Nashville's co-leader with six goals after scoring in each of the past two games.

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