|Arvidsson, Predators vie to continue surge vs. Sharks|
There was a train of thought earlier this season that Viktor Arvidsson had softened a little bit.
After a breakout 2016-17 campaign when he scored a career-high 31 goals and helped the Nashville Predators reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time, Arvidsson cashed in with a seven-year contract averaging $4.25 million a season.
When Arvidsson's production didn't always seem commensurate with his new deal, some wondered if the big money had made him a bit reluctant to venture into the tough areas a goal scorer has to inhabit.
If that was indeed a question, Arvidsson appears to have answered it. Two goals on Monday night helped Nashville post a 5-2 win over Ottawa, and his third-period marker Tuesday night was the difference in a 3-2 win at Detroit that put the Predators in first place by themselves in the Central Division.
With a team-leading 21 goals on the season, Arvidsson likely will be the focus of the San Jose Sharks' defensive game plan when they try to score a rare win Thursday night in Bridgestone Arena.
"The kid made another huge play for us," center Ryan Johansen said of Arvidsson. "That's what you need when you're winning games. You need guys making plays and Arvy has been a big reason for our last two wins."
Speed, the willingness to shoot at any moment and the willingness to absorb a beating to make a play have been Arvidsson trademarks. Combine those with linemates like Johansen and Filip Forsberg, and you have a player capable of finding the back of the net on any shift.
Arvidsson's work this week has enabled the Predators (36-14-9) to jump over Winnipeg in the Central and earn a two-point lead with a game in hand.
The Predators also have past history in their favor against San Jose (33-19-8). Even good teams have "jinx" arenas where they can't win no matter what they do, and Bridgestone Arena is one of those venues for the Sharks.
In their last 10 visits to Music City, counting a 2016 Western Conference semifinal series, San Jose has won exactly once -- an overtime decision late in the 2015-16 season. Its only visit last season was a 7-2 loss on March 25.
The good news for the Sharks is that they started a key four-game road trip through the Central Division on Tuesday night with a 3-2 win in St. Louis. Logan Couture notched a goal and an assist, while Martin Jones made 13 of his 31 saves in the third period to protect the lead.
"Each night, a different line has stepped up offensively and scored goals," Couture said to the San Jose Mercury News. "We need to continue that."
It was the third straight win for San Jose, which holds second place in the Pacific Division.
Jones (19-15-5, 2.53 goals-against average, .916 save percentage) is expected to start in goal for the Sharks against a rested Pekka Rinne (30-9-4, 2.35, .926) for Nashville. Rinne took Tuesday night off as backup Juuse Saros stopped 34 shots to beat Detroit.