After eight games of the new NHL season, the Nashville Predators had a most enviable 6-1-1 record and sat atop the Central Division as they boarded a flight to California. While in the Golden State they would play three games against Western Division rivals, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.
How did this all shake out? The Preds went 1-1-1 on the trip. In collecting three of a possible six points, and now sitting at 7-2-2, the team finds itself in fourth place in an ultra-tight division. Just two points separate them from Winnipeg (15) and Chicago (14), with only Colorado (7) out of contention for a playoff spot.
Parity is the watchword in the NHL this season as top teams like Los Angeles and Pittsburgh lost games early in the season and pundits began to talk of epic failures. However, both the Kings and Pens righted their ships winning seven games in a row just as last year’s playoff teams Calgary and Anaheim continued to free fall down in the standings.
A very tight checking game against San Jose got the Predators off to a great start on the California swing. Goals from unexpected sources, Erik Nystrom and Calle Jarnkrok, sandwiched a lone Sharks tally. Stalwart netminder Pekka Rinne also earned “number one star honors,” as the Preds grabbed a 2-1 victory.
A few days later, in an afternoon contest between the LA Kings and Nashville, fans were treated to one of the more exceptional hockey games you’d ever want to see. Scoring, tight checking, great passing, and solid goaltending were all on display at both ends of the ice. It took overtime to decide the affair and for Preds fans it was the bitter taste of defeat, with Los Angeles eking out the 4-3 win, but everyone from Coach Laviolette, to each Nashville player felt they gave a strong effort and were happy to have gotten at least one point in the tilt.
The following day in Anaheim, Laviolette gave Rinne a well-deserved day off, and with Carter Hutton between the pipes, the Preds turned in a sub-par performance, allowing the struggling Ducks to score three first period goals (the first goals Nashville had allowed in the opening stanza all season long!) and rode their lead to a 4-2 victory.
Blaming Hutton for the loss would be misleading as the defense, normally on point, struggled with the tandem of Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis on the ice for much of the first period carnage. We can call it an anomaly, and also know that with just one win in their first ten games, Anaheim knew this was a home game they could not let get away. Having lost to the Preds at Bridgestone just a couple weeks earlier, there was extra incentive for the home team to come out flying as well, and the Predators just could not get out from under the early deficit.
This week will see our team play a Thursday night game in Minnesota vs. the Wild, who will enter the contest with an identical 7-2-2 record to the Preds. Minnesota is led in goal by Devan Dubnyk who spent a few not so memorable weeks in a Nashville uniform a couple of seasons back and last year resurrected his failing career with a sensational run that took the Wild through two rounds of the playoffs. This will also be another look at Ryan Suter, the All-Star defenseman who bolted from the Preds after the 2011-12 season and is now in his fourth year with the Wild.
With CMA Awards Week coming to a close, the Preds return home and settle in for a five game home stand. Saturday night’s contest against the rival St. Louis Blues begins what should be an excellent stretch of hockey. The Blues are 8-2-1 and hold the second spot down in the Central.
With both teams off to such fast starts, look for playoff-type intensity on the ice. This will be Preds defenseman Barret Jackman’s first game against his former teammates, having played over 800 games for the Blues who drafted him in the first round of 1999’s Entry Draft.
Tuesday has the Senators coming to town. Nashville has already played the Sens once this season, with Hutton earning a 4-3 shootout win in Ottawa.
We’ve seen good, bad and a little bit of ugly over the past week and we even saw glimpses of great. Once the team settles back into the friendly confines of Bridgestone, where they have not lost in regulation so far, we can expect loud crowds and plenty of cheers as Tim McGraw serenades us after each home team goal. Come on down if you can, and if not, catch the team on TV or radio. Be sure to follow S&E Nashville on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and for even more Preds coverage follow Marc Nathan on Twitter.