First I cried “Hostile California…” then it was “March Sadness…” Honestly, it was just getting tougher and tougher to write much positive about a Nashville hockey team that had taken the NHL by storm through the first 57 games of the season, as just four wins over the next 15 contests would bring the team hurtling back to the rough terrain of Earth’s atmosphere and, in doing so, wiping most of the sheen off the high-gloss finish that the Predators had accrued to that point.
Gone was the constant league-wide chatter of Pekka Rinne for MVP, as well as being a shoo-in for the Vezina Trophy (Goaltender of the Year.) Coupled with the dazzling play of Calgary’s high-octane smurf Johnny Gaudreau, and Filip Forsberg’s on-ice cooling off, talk of the Calder Trophy (for Rookie of the Year) coming to Nashville began to dissipate as well, and just like that, the once overwhelming favorites to win the President’s Trophy for most points in the regular season, the Predators seemingly needed to cling to the notion they could hold onto home-ice advantage in the playoffs, as St. Louis and Chicago in the West, and New York and Montreal in the East just refused to stop winning.
After last week’s rough overtime loss against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, there were some days off, finally. Some practice time, finally. Some mental and physical “re-set,” finally… and, a Saturday night game against the league’s weakest sister, Buffalo. How would this all play out for the Preds? Pretty well, actually, despite losing forward Colin Wilson for the tilt against the Sabres. An emergency call was put into the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee, and 21-year old Viktor Arvidsson was recalled for his first NHL game. Arvidsson, who was leading the Admirals in scoring this season (20 goals, 31 assists) responded with some up-tempo play, and a “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude. While he didn’t light the lamp, the Predators skated off with a 3-0 shutout win over the lowly Sabres, and Arvidsson was rewarded with the game’s “third star,” behind Rinne, and goal scorer Taylor Beck.
Last night against Montreal, Wilson returned, but things did not go as smoothly as had been expected. While Arvidsson was scheduled to be returned to the Admirals, both Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg were unable to go against the Canadiens, and again, an emergency call was made, and this time the Preds promoted 18-year old Kevin Fiala to make his maiden voyage with the team.
Fiala, the team’s 2014 first round draft choice, had spent the early part of this season playing in the Swedish Elite League, signing with the Predators, and joining Milwaukee in mid-January. Scoring his first goal in early February, Fiala has been adjusting to the North American game quite nicely, amassing 9 goals and 8 assists in his first twenty-six AHL games. With Coach Laviolette doing his fair share of line juggling, the new kids were given ample opportunity to showcase their talents against a very strong Canadiens team, led by goaltender Carey Price, who now, seemingly, has a stranglehold on awards previously mentioned.
The Predators got the game’s first goal on a highlight-reel effort from defenseman Mattias Ekholm, who split the Montreal defense, was hooked, hogtied, collared, and flat out mugged, but managed to get a shot from his knees that eluded Price. A couple of uncharacteristic lapses in defensive judgment gave Montreal both their tying and go ahead goals, but with just shy of eight minutes gone by in the third period, Preds blueliner Ryan Ellis floated a shot towards the net that took a wicked baseball hop on its way through Montreal’s Jeff Petry en route to the Canadiens’ net, and in a flash of luck, the Preds had tied the game at 2.
Overtime and a power play decided the contest as, with PK Subban in the box for mugging, Mike Ribeiro sent a seamless cross-ice pass to Forsberg who handily beat Price for the game winner, and a two game win streak at a frenzied Bridgestone ensued.
Thursday the Preds will take to the road and face off against a very high flying Tampa Bay Lightning team (6:30pm CDT), led, of course, by Steven Stamkos. Stamkos has already hit the forty goal plateau, and the number-one offensive team in the NHL has 99 points, just one behind Montreal in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division (and one ahead of their opponent, the Predators.)
Then, an early Saturday game (11:30am CDT) in Washington, DC pits Coach Barry Trotz’ Capitals against his former team. The Caps, at 88 points, currently sit as the first (of two) wild-card teams in the East, but are just three points behind the slumping Pittsburgh Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Then, a quick turnaround back to Nashville for this Sunday’s 4:00pm start against the Calgary Flames (Seth Jones Bobblehead Night, the last of the six giveaways) and finally, on Tuesday, the Vancouver Canucks come to town (game time at 7:00pm) and close out the month of March.
We’ve been way up, we’ve been down, but we are currently riding a two game win streak, and we’re staying strong and supporting the team with sellout crowds (last night, the team celebrated a record 26th home sellout this season!)
As usual, your support is greatly appreciated, by clicking the “Share” buttons up top, and remember to like our Facebook page, as well as our Twitter account. My personal Twitter account has been quite active recently with many of you following my travels to road games in Philly, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Keep it here through the end of the regular season, and into the playoffs. Go Preds!