Through the first twenty games of the 2014-15 National Hockey League season, the Nashville Predators have more than held their own. From a strong opening night win, through a six game late October/early November road trip that netted them four wins, the Preds have been a major source of conversation by hockey pundits across North America. On any given night, there’s a blogger, a newspaper writer, a television or radio commentator devoted to the sport of hockey, talking up the surprising Nashville Predators!
Heading into Tuesday’s contest with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, the Predators held a 13-5-2 record, good for 28 points, which sets them just a single point behind Central Division leaders St. Louis, who have played one more game than Nashville to this point. This has been a real confidence booster, not only for the players and coaching staff, but for the fans as well, who have stuck by the team during the past couple of seasons that were marred with injury and prolonged defeat.
The visiting Kings, coming off a tough road loss to Dallas, may be the best test yet for our resilient Predators. Led by superstar goaltender Jonathan Quick, and All Star skaters Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik up front, and Drew Doughty on the blueline, Los Angeles boasts formidable offense, a usually steady defense and veteran leadership behind the bench with Coach Darryl Sutter, who has led his team to two Cups over the past three seasons.
When the teams took the ice on Tuesday, it was Martin Jones, not Quick, that led the Kings onto the ice, and Nashville struck first when Craig Smith broke in alone after an LA turnover at the blueline. The Kings came back with a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead, but the Preds matched that, getting goals from Ryan Ellis and Eric Nystrom in a span of less than a minute towards the end of the second period. Doughty tied the game very early in the third stanza for LA and both teams battled hard until the final whistle sent them to overtime. Nashville had the better of the play in the five minute OT, ringing two shots off the post behind Jones, but none actually crossed the goal line, and the teams then headed to the shootout. It was Preds forward James Neal beating Jones in Round Six that iced the win for Nashville, and now you can add “beat the defending Stanley Cup champs” to the list of accomplishments achieved in the first quarter of this NHL season.
The team faces Edmonton on Thursday, and Columbus on Saturday. Both home games, both against decidedly weaker opponents. What a glorious opportunity awaits Coach Peter Laviolette’s team. Another couple of wins in the bank would go a long way towards securing a highly coveted post-season playoff berth. Of course the idea is to take things “one-game-at-a-time” but you can’t help but look to the future of this team and think nothing but positive thoughts as they prepare for their next challenge.
One more exciting piece of news is that veteran forward Mike Fisher, who has been on the injured list since the start of training camp, appears to be healed and almost ready to see game action for the team. Adding an experienced offensive player like Fisher into the mix will certainly boost the already confident spirit of the entire Preds team. Having seen his team have so much success in the early going, you know Fisher is chomping at the bit to get back into action and contribute to the cause.
The Kings have come and gone, and Nashville has passed its most recent test, beating the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and proving once again that our team is making a statement throughout the National Hockey League. We like it, we love it, we want some more of it! — Til’ next week… GO PREDS!