On Tuesday night, just moments after Preds forward Craig Smith scored in overtime, to sent another crowd of over 15,000 fans home happy, the realization that this team is not going to be deterred by injury, a couple of pre-All Star break road losses, or even some potentially sketchy officiating hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Nothing seems to faze this team in the friendly confines of Bridgestone Arena. In fact, their record of 19 wins, 2 losses and 1 overtime loss at home serves notice to all incoming teams that as hard as you can work against these guys, they are still going to find a way to beat you and raise their sticks at center ice, saluting the fan faithful, when it’s all said and done.
The Predators have now played 22 of their 41 home games, and have put 39 of their Central Division leading 67 points on the board. When any player is interviewed after a home win, they always point out the team’s “7th Man” (read: the crowd) who can be described as loud, passionate and one of the chief reasons the team seems to find their uncanny way to grab victory from uncertain circumstance game after game. In recent years, home dominance has not been part of the Preds vocabulary. In fact, you’d have to go back to the 2005-06 season to find the Preds looking this strong at Bridgestone.
That season, the team won 32 of their 41 home games (8 regulation losses, 1 overtime loss) for 65 points. Simple math will tell you that this year’s team needs to go just 13-6-0 to tie that, and it’s a stretch to believe that a team playing this well and, more sooner than later seeing their number one netminder (Rinne) return to the crease, will lose six times at home over the remainder of the season. Exciting, to say the least!
In Tuesday night’s affair, the team found themselves down 1-0 on a deflected shot that Preds goaltender Carter Hutton really had no chance on. Hutton, called on to carry the bulk of the goaltending load while Pekka Rinne is sidelined with a leg injury (he is expected to return in the next week or so), has now garnered points in three of the four games he’s played since taking the crease. After the Preds scored a couple in the second to gain the lead, the Avalanche tied the game before the end of the period. An early goal at just 36 seconds of the third period, from rookie sensation Filip Forsberg, gave the Preds a lead they would hang on to for just about 19 minutes.
But, alas, periods are 20 minutes long, and as time was winding down, and the Avalanche, having pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker, were able to tie the score and send the game into overtime. Midway through the five minute period, Hutton made a couple of crucial saves, the last of which was converted into an outlet pass to Mike Ribiero, who already had two assists on the night. Ribiero found Smith streaking across center ice, and sent a beautiful pass to him, sending him in all alone on Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov, beating him for the game winner.
Now the team hits the road for games Thursday night in St. Louis, Friday night in Colorado, and Super Bowl Sunday for an afternoon contest against a couple of old friends, Patrick Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, now with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Preds will then return home for a game against Toronto next Tuesday. With the Maple Leafs struggling mightily, and having already been thoroughly dominated by Nashville in their own building earlier this season (a mid-November 9-2 blowout), we hope to see home win #20 a week from now.
A few other notes that should be documented. All-Star weekend was a big success for the Predators attending the festivities in Columbus. First, defenseman Shea Weber wowed the crowd and his fellow hockey brethren by firing the puck at an alarming speed of 108.5MPH to win the “hardest shot” competition. While our captain’s shot may not have eclipsed previous record holder Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, who clocked 108.8 on the gun in 2012, there wasn’t a person within an earshot of Weber’s howitzer that didn’t say is was clearly a stronger shot than Chara’s effort. Radar guns are like that! Next year, Weber will almost certainly have another date with the competition and a chance to set new records on his home ice, as the 2016 All-Star game will be held right here in Nashville.
Also, we want to mention that rookie Filip Forsberg, pressed into All-Star game action due to injury netted two goals in the contest to become the first Nashville Predator to score in an All-Star game. Forsberg looked awfully comfortable competing against the league’s best players, and continues to be a leading, if not THE leading candidate for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best rookie at the end of the regular season. Stiff competition from Florida’s 18 year old defenseman Aaron Ekblad, and diminutive Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau will continue to spike Forsberg’s game to the elite level he’s performed at all season long.
Finally, the next print issue of Sports & Entertainment Nashville is being put together now, and the magazine will be loaded with Predators content about your favorite players and personalities! We are thrilled that the response to this blog has been favorable, we appreciate you reading and we look to continue our coverage throughout the season, and post-season.