Sports, Thrill of Victory

Predators seek six points on upcoming California road trip

The Nashville Predators extended their home winning streak to four with a huge 5-1 win vs. the Anaheim Ducks last Thursday night. The Ducks are struggling and the Preds fired on all cylinders, beating Anton Khudobin Anaheim’s backup goaltender, thrice in the second period. Then two more times in the final stanza.

With six goals on the young season, Preds forward James Neal (18) has been a consistent NHL sniper over his first seven seasons. Neal needs just 10 more goals for 200 on his career. PHOTO BY DAVID MCCARGAR

Only a mid-period power play goal by the Ducks Jiri Sekac prevented Pekka Rinne from posting the shutout. Overall, it was a tremendous effort by the entire Nashville team after Anaheim had the edge in play during a scoreless first period.

Things were a bit different on Saturday as the Pittsburgh Penguins came to town, bringing seemingly a quarter to a third of Bridgestone Arena’s hockey fans. Despite a huge amount of “gold” in the building, it was when the Pens broke the ice, with Chris Kunitz scoring late in the second period, that you got an idea of how many fans were there cheering for Sidney Crosby and company.

Preds fans finally got their chance to cheer late in the third period as the oh-so-hot (on the scoresheet, people!) James Neal roofed his sixth goal of the season after taking a Ribeiro feed during a sequence that had the Penguins on their heels in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

With the score knotted at 1-1, the teams went into overtime and Phil Kessel broke Nashville’s unbeaten string at home, scoring his third goal of the young season just forty-one seconds into the extra frame. Nashville grabbed a point but dropped their second contest, as their record now sits at 6-1-1.

The off days prior to this California swing were not devoid of news. Viktor Arvidsson, the Preds rookie forward, was dispatched to Milwaukee and in return the team recalled Finnish forward Mikko Salomaki, who participated in one regular season game last season and scored a goal.

The team also announced a new six year, $22.5 million contract for Ekholm. This is a great value contract for the Preds, as the mobile Swedish rearguard is establishing himself throughout the league as a steady defensive player with some solid offensive instincts at times.

With a new six year deal, Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) will be counted on, along with partner Ryan Ellis (4), to give opposing forwards a tough time in front of Pekka Rinne. PHOTO BY DAVID MCCARGAR

Playing with defensive partner Ellis, the tandem received solid second pairing minutes and Ekholm has been a valuable member of the penalty-killing unit which is greatly improved since the start of this season. With long-term contracts on the books for Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ellis and now Ekholm – coupled with the outstanding play of third year man Seth Jones who is still on his entry-level deal and reportedly in negotiations for an extension – the Preds defense will remain stingy to the opposition for years to come!

The Preds four game swing begins out west Thursday night in San Jose where the Sharks have come out of the gate stronger than some had expected. With former Kings netminder Martin Jones taking the crease, the Sharks have opened their season 5-3-0. Jones specifically, started strong recording two shutouts in the early going.

Familiar names Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski continue to lead San Jose on the ice but its former Predator Joel Ward, in his first season with the Sharks, who currently leads the team in scoring.

The weekend holds back-to-back games for the Preds. Saturday afternoon they are hosted by the Kings, winners of six in a row at the time of this writing.

Preds former first-round draft choice (2010) Austin Watson played three seasons in Milwaukee (AHL) before getting his chance to stick with the Preds. He has a goal and an assist in his first five games this season. PHOTO BY DAVID MCCARGAR

Preds former first-round draft choice (2010) Austin Watson played three seasons in Milwaukee (AHL) before getting his chance to stick with the Preds. He has a goal and an assist in his first five games this season. PHOTO BY DAVID MCCARGAR

LA began their season 0-3 and many were pouring dirt on the grave but a team that, despite missing the post season last year, has won two Stanley Cups (2012, 2014) recently should not be discounted so quickly. Jonathan Quick in net, Anze Kopitar and young Tyler Toffoli up front, and Drew Doughty on defense can often spell trouble for NHL rivals. You should see a great game on Saturday.

Sunday sees the Preds rematch against the Ducks at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The woeful Ducks had scored just six goals as a team in their first seven contests. Most recently they scored three goals in less than five minutes against Dallas, taking a 3-0 lead, and watched it all slip away as the Stars answered with four of their own in regulation to send the Ducks off with a 1-6-2 record.

The team that most NHL beat writers suggested could win this season’s Stanley Cup is off to a brutal start, and the Preds having taken it to Anaheim here in Nashville last week, look to continue feasting on the fowl.

The road trip concludes in Minnesota Tuesday night vs. the Wild and Preds 2003 draft pick Ryan Suter. Be sure to follow S&E Nashville on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and for even more Preds coverage follow Marc Nathan on Twitter.