It was on Saturday night, at the Pollstar Live! Concert Industry Awards Ceremony at Ryman Auditorium that we first learned Bridgestone Arena had been voted 2014 Arena of the Year for the first time in the eleven years it had been nominated for the award. Of course, our hockey team knows a little something about being the best, leading the NHL in points, and playing in their friendly confines, the team has managed a remarkable 26-3-1 record at home, including last night’s dominant 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. At home, the Predators just keep moving forward seamlessly, and our eyes are set on a big finish to the regular season, and home ice advantage throughout the post season.
Having spent the better part of the last week on the road, perhaps a dose of mortality was just what the doctor ordered. Beginning the road trip, the Predators played sluggishly on Long Island (a 5-2 loss in regulation), and moved on to Philadelphia (a 3-2 loss in the shootout) before salvaging a win against lowly Buffalo (2-1, again, in a shootout.) The 1-1-1 trip netted three of six possible points, and looked fairly pedantic given the kind of numbers the team has been amassing since the start of the season, and particularly the six games prior (all wins), and eight of nine wins since February began.
I had the pleasure of being in attendance this past Saturday in Philadelphia, where I thought the team would rebound after the uninspiring loss to the Islanders. After a great train ride from NYC, in which I met a few great Preds fans who were making the entire road trip, I nestled into my seat and watched our team muster just seven shots through the first forty minutes, and though a quick strike (a rocket by Craig Smith just 23 seconds into the period) tied the game early in the third, there was no Bridgestone-like magic forthcoming, and the team dropped the decision in the shootout.
The game did mark the Preds re-debuts of both Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson, who were obtained from the Maple Leafs almost a week earlier. Their return to the Predators was delayed by both weather and visa issues. Of course, with a six game winning streak in tow, it would have been a tough decision for Coach Laviolette to decide who to sit. Now both players are firmly ensconced in the lineup, and rookie defenseman Anthony Bitetto is back on the farm in Milwaukee, while forward Taylor Beck has been the odd man out for two of the three games since the lineup alteration.
Last night was yet another chilly night on the streets of Nashville, but inside the arena, a blazing hot first-place team dispatched the Avalanche from Colorado as if they were a mere light dusting on the windshield! Giving up the first goal, the Predators rebounded as they have eighteen other times this year (their 19-12-3 record when surrendering the first goal is first in the league in terms of most wins, however the Islanders 16-8-0 record is a better winning percentage.) Fifteen seconds after the Avs took their lead, Calle Jarnkrok, who had been scratched in the Buffalo game, brought the crowd to their feet with the tying marker, and then goals from Craig Smith, Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg and a shorthanded empty net goal from Erik Nystrom provided the firepower needed to cinch another two points, and set the Preds sights on Thursday’s home game against the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild, despite a tough 2-1 loss to Edmonton last night, will come into the game holding the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and because the Predators currently hold the best record in the West, this is the matchup that would be your first round playoff series if the season were to end today. Needless to say, both teams should be “up” for the game, and the Wild will, of course, bring familiar face, defenseman Ryan Suter to the ice.
Suter, of course, bolted Nashville for a rather lucrative free agent deal after seven seasons with the Predators. This is his third season in Minnesota, and the fans never miss an opportunity to express their displeasure over his presence in a Wild uniform. Also, arriving with the Wild will be former Florida Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim, acquired in a deal earlier Tuesday. Bergenheim has had six consecutive double-digit goal seasons, and sits on eight this year, and should find playing time for Mike Yeo’s squad during their desperate push towards the playoffs. SPECIAL NOTE: As this game is listed as an NBC Sports TV game, the start time, usually 7PM will be 7:30PM.
On Saturday, the Detroit Red Wings come to town with far less fanfare now that they are an Eastern Conference team. The Wings still boast an impressive lineup, and coach Mike Babcock has a complement of talent that includes All-Star veteran forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, but an infusion of young stars like Tomas Tatar, and Gustav Nyquist that keep the team sitting comfortably in the NHL’s Atlantic Division’s playoff picture. Detroit also features the league’s number one power-play, so the Predators will have to play disciplined hockey to keep the Wings off the board. This game is an afternoon affair, with faceoff starting at 2 p.m.
Before I’m back at it, the team will play Monday and Tuesday road games in the New York metropolitan area, with a Monday (March 2nd) game against the Rangers, and a contest the following night in Newark, against the New Jersey Devils. Both games will begin at 6 p.m. here in the Nashville area.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week!