Three months have passed since Peter Laviolette began his tenure as the second coach in Nashville Predators history, and as we turn the page on 2014, there is nothing to say about the team’s play that can be categorized as anything less than exhilarating for the fans, players, coaches and front office.
The Preds have 36 of the 82 games in the books and sit in second place with a record of 24-9-3, good for 51 points in the Western Conference’s Central Division, and trail Chicago’s Blackhawks by just a single point, with a game in hand.
Three thrilling games netted Nashville five of a possible six points this week, with the team taking a decisive 4-1 victory on Saturday over the Philadelphia Flyers, with three of the four goals being scored with the man advantage. As had been pointed out earlier, the Preds had just two power play goals at home this season before the offensive explosion on Saturday night. Then, hitting the road for a Monday game at Chicago’s United Center, the team built a 3-0 lead on the road. The Predators left the ice after the first period, and left the home crowd stunned, as their beloved Blackhawks had played twenty of their least inspired minutes of hockey in quite some time. Chicago, though, rebounded and came roaring back over the next two periods, tying the game with just over a minute left to play in regulation. With no resolution in the five-minute overtime stanza, it was All Star forward Jonathan Toews providing the game winner in the shootout, and giving Chicago the 5-4 win, with the Preds picking up the single point for the Overtime Loss.
In less than 24 hours, the Predators returned home for a Tuesday night clash against bitter rivals, the St. Louis Blues. With quite a few Blues fans making the trek from Missouri, the crowd enjoyed a healthy competition with their “Let’s Go Blues” and “Let’s Go Predators” chants often happening simultaneously.
Captain Shea Weber put the Preds on the board in the first period, but St. Louis came back on goals from Chris Butler and T.J. Oshie in the second frame. About a minute after the Oshie goal, Preds rookie forward Filip Forsberg came close to tying the game, but after a lengthy video review, the brass in the league’s “War Room” in Toronto ruled that it was inconclusive as to whether the puck crossed the goal line, and the score remained 2-1 in favor of the Blues. Just three seconds after the ensuing face-off, Preds forward Gabriel Bourque moved the puck with his skate, onto his stick and fired home the tying goal. Midway through the third period, with the Blues on a power play, Nashville defenseman Roman Josi seized an opportunity to clear the puck out of the Preds zone and created a neat two-on-one shorthanded play with his defensive partner, Weber. The captain nailed his shot against Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who was returning after missing 14 games due to injury. The shorthanded tally held up as the Preds put continuous pressure on Elliott and his Blues teammates. Put in the books a 3-2 final, and two more points in the bag for Nashville, as 2014 comes to a close.
The team now has a few days off, and heads to sunny California for a weekend slate of games against the Kings (Saturday) and Ducks (Sunday), before a return home for games against Carolina (Tuesday) and Dallas (Thursday.) The Kings just dropped road games in Alberta, losing to Calgary and Edmonton on successive nights. They have a game against Vancouver prior to the Saturday tilt against Nashville. The Ducks, meanwhile, continue to pace the entire National Hockey League with their 24-8-6 record (54 points) and they meet Vancouver on Friday, as well.
Finally, a couple of notes: The Preds acquired forward Mark Arcobello from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for veteran center Derek Roy earlier this week. Roy, 31, was signed as a free agent in the off season, and had limited success in limited playing time under coach Laviolette. Arcobello, 26, has seven goals this season, and will attempt to slot into the lineup as an energy type player who, despite his size (5’8, 170) shows a willingness to wreak havoc in the crease, and battle much larger defenders in an effort to create offense. Additionally, oft-injured forward Viktor Stalberg has been assigned to Milwaukee of the AHL.
Wishing all of you a safe and happy New Year, and thanks for your continued support of Sports & Entertainment Nashville, and of course, our very successful hockey team.