Sports, Thrill of Victory

After fantastic homestand, Preds hit the road with rough start in Toronto

The big surprise on the back line this season has been the excellent play of Yannick Weber (#7) and Matt Irwin (#52). Both brought in as free agents in the off season, with little fanfare, the pair are both among the top “plus” players in the league. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

Something has either gone brilliantly right, or horribly wrong with each game the Nashville Predators conclude.

Case in point: This past Saturday at Bridgestone Arena, the sellout crowd reached a massive crescendo as goaltender Pekka Rinne recorded a shutout as the team bested the Anaheim Ducks 5-0.

Remember, less than three weeks earlier, the Ducks tagged the Preds for six unanswered goals en route to an eventual 6-1 victory. How does that work?

Although recently sidelined for a game with a lower-body injury, Pekka Rinne was voted #3 star last week by the National Hockey League. His current Goals Against Average (2.13) and Save Percentage (.930) rank among the highest of his long, storied career. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

Although recently sidelined for a game with a lower-body injury, Pekka Rinne was voted #3 star last week by the National Hockey League. His current Goals Against Average (2.13) and Save Percentage (.930) rank among the highest of his long, storied career. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

After three consecutive home wins, and points in six straight (4-0-2), the Preds took to the road and landed in Toronto for a game Tuesday night. After being named the NHL’s number three star for the previous week, Rinne would have been the obvious choice to lead the team out onto the ice at the Air Canada Center, but a lower body injury (the vaguest of all diagnoses from a fan’s perspective) kept him on the sidelines and the start was given to Marek Mazanec.

Mazanec had started just one game this season, and followed it (a loss) with a relief appearance in the Anaheim road debacle, and had recently spent a few nights “tuning up” in Milwaukee, where the Predators have an American Hockey League affiliate. Mazanec did not come up big, and Nashville dropped a 6-2 decision to a very exciting, young Maple Leaf team.

Tonight, the team faces off with the Senators, in Ottawa. These two teams met in Nashville on November 8th, as the Preds skated off with a 3-1 win. That was the first of the three consecutive victories, with a solid 3-1 effort against St. Louis sandwiching both the Sens and Ducks games.

So, what now? According to sources, Rinne is healthy enough to get back in the nets tonight vs. Ottawa. This should also bode well for the Saturday road tilt vs. St. Louis.

The Preds are a dismal 1-5-2 on the road so far this season, and now facing two teams they beat at home, you would like to believe that the next two are positive in Nashville’s favor, but the way this season has gone, you never know. You do know that to this point, Rinne gives the team their best chance to win, but beyond goaltending there are more questions than answers to this point.

Let’s examine:

Specialty teams have been an eyebrow raiser to this point. In October, Nashville led all 30 NHL teams on the power play, but were ranked 29th on the penalty kill. In November, the team has been a dismal 3 of 27 with the man advantage (dropping them to a still respectable 6th in the league) and yet, has been perfect killing all 21 penalties against them (vaulting them into 19th place, which is certainly a dramatic and positive leap forward.)

The big surprise on the back line this season has been the excellent play of Yannick Weber (#7) and Matt Irwin (#52). Both brought in as free agents in the off season, with little fanfare, the pair are both among the top “plus” players in the league. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

The big surprise on the back line this season has been the excellent play of Yannick Weber (#7) and Matt Irwin (#52). Both brought in as free agents in the off season, with little fanfare, the pair are both among the top “plus” players in the league. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

At even strength, the team continues to confound. Filip Forsberg finally netted his first goal of the season, but tallying 33 last year means he has a lot of catching up to do. Six-year veteran Craig Smith has had three consecutive seasons of 20+ goals, and has 5 to this point which puts him on a pretty easy pace to reach those numbers again, but he has yet to tally an assist on the season, and needs to find some chemistry with his line mates.

In trading stud defenseman Seth Jones last year, General Manager David Poile acquired 6’3, 215 pound center Ryan Johansen, and announced that the team “finally had the #1 center they’d always hoped to acquire.”

The fans excitement was palpable, as Johansen would certainly bring a new dimension to the Preds offense. Here we are 15 games into the regular season and 57 games into Ryan’s Preds career, and the numbers suffer. Just one goal in fifteen games, and seven assists, with just three of those eight points coming at even strength. After seasons of 33 and 26 goals, Johansen is on pace for 5 in 2016-17 and obviously that has to change. The 4th overall pick in the 2010 entry draft needs to use his body size a bit more and fight a little harder for loose pucks. His faceoff percentage is a shade over 52%, which ranks him somewhere in the middle of the pack among top-flight centers throughout the NHL. Frighteningly, with the man advantage, he ranks dead last in the faceoff circle, winning just 26% of his draws. It’s so important to win the draw on the power play, and the numbers tell a story that needs improvement.

The highlights however belong to some unsung heroes. Viktor Arvidsson is a 23-year-old forward who defies his small stature with huge play every shift he takes. Arvy has 5 goals and 5 assists on the season, and is following up a rookie campaign where he netted 8 and 8 in 56 games, so he is looking to improve dramatically on those numbers.

Cody Bass has supplied some extra punch in the lineup, using his fists to incite both the crowd and his teammates. The journeyman forward has gained a role with Nashville and provides energy as well as some smart defensive play up front. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

Cody Bass has supplied some extra punch in the lineup, using his fists to incite both the crowd and his teammates. The journeyman forward has gained a role with Nashville and provides energy as well as some smart defensive play up front. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

Defenseman Matt Irwin began the season in Milwaukee, and with an early injury to regular Tony Bitetto and inconsistent play from Matt Carle, Irwin has stepped in, chipped in three goals, and has been a “plus” player along with his defensive partner Yannick Weber.

While newly-acquired superstar P.K. Subban has had to adjust to his new teammates, and style of play, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm all having to make similar adjustments due to the shakeup of the back line, the normally defensively consistent Predators are ranked 18th in goals against throughout the league.

Uncharacteristically high for a normal Preds team, the goals against should get lower as the three pairings get comfortable with each other, but it needs to happen soon, as each win or loss seems to define a destination en route to the playoffs.

Preds will be back in town as this three game road trip concludes on Saturday, and then there will be Thanksgiving week home games on Mon. (Tampa Bay), Wed. (Dallas) and Fri. (Winnipeg) – we hope you plan on making it out and supporting our hockey team!

Follow Sports and Entertainment Nashville on both Facebook and Twitter. Follow me on Twitter as well as my ancillary blog, which is less regular, but sometimes entertaining.