Preds visit Islanders in clash of first-place clubs

( - A pair of first-place clubs clash Thursday on Long Island, as the Nashville Predators visit the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

The Predators lead the Central Division, Western Conference and NHL with 84 points and Peter Laviolette's club is showing no signs of slowing down. Nashville enters tonight having won six straight to push its record in February to 8-1-0.

The Islanders, meanwhile, have won five of their last six games and currently own a four-point lead over the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Nashville is kicking off a three-game road trip tonight after completing a perfect homestand. The Preds won all four tilts on their recent stay at Bridgestone Arena and outscored the opposition 14-5 in the process.

The Predators ended the homestand with Tuesday's 5-1 rout of the San Jose Sharks. Craig Smith scored twice to lead a potent Nashville attack and Pekka Rinne was spectacular in net, recording 42 saves for the victory to improve to 15-1-1 over his last 17 games.

"I was feeling it tonight," said Rinne. "This is a huge win against San Jose. It's always a big matchup."

Shea Weber tallied a goal and an assist, James Neal and Paul Gaustad also scored and Mike Ribeiro supplied two assists for the Predators, who are on their first six-game winning streak since March 17-26, 2011. The club last won seven in a row from Nov. 12-25, 2009.

Nashville, which also will visit Philadelphia and Buffalo during this trip, is 14-9-5 as the road club this season.

The Isles had a four-game win streak halted with Monday's tough 6-5 regulation loss against the rival Rangers, but Jack Capuano's club rebounded the following night with a 4-1 win at Carolina.

Michael Grabner scored in his return to the lineup to help New York pick up the win. Grabner was activated from injured reserve prior to the game after missing five games with an upper-body injury.

"We found a way to win," Grabner said. "We got some timely goals and pushed back when we need to."

John Tavares finished with a goal and an assist, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson also scored and backup goaltender Chad Johnson made 37 saves in a solid effort for the Islanders.

Thursday's tilts marks the first of two meetings between the Isles and Preds this season. New York halted a three-game slide in the series with a 3-1 home win on Nov. 12 of last season, picking up just its second win in the last 10 encounters with Nashville.

The Preds have lost in two of their last three trips to Nassau Coliseum.

Rinne is expected to start for Nashville and owns a 3-0-1 record and 1.47 goals against average in four career games against the Islanders.

Jaroslav Halak, who allowed all six goals on 42 shots in Monday's loss to the Rangers, is likely to be back in net for New York tonight. He is 10-3-4 with a 1.77 GAA in 18 career games versus Nashville.