When Nashville Predators All Star goaltender Pekka Rinne went down with his “lower body” injury on January 13th, there was little belief that the team could sustain itself in the ultra competitive National Hockey League standings. At the time, with the win over Vancouver, the Preds had an NHL best record of 29-9-4 and the time table for Rinne’s return was set at 3-5 weeks. Fortunately, there was a league wide All Star break in the middle of that time. Flash forward to today. Rinne has still not returned (NOTE: Pekka Rinne practiced with the team today, and has been announced as the starting goaltender for Thursday’s tilt vs. Anaheim!) and the Preds record is now 33-11-6 — 4-2-2 in their last 8, and a modest two game winning streak, which comes after a couple of road losses since we last spoke.
Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs came to town, with new coach (and former Preds Assistant) Peter Horachek in charge of a team with just three wins in their previous 20 games. The Preds had a strong first period, getting shorthanded and power play goals from defensemen Seth Jones and Shea Weber. Toronto cut the lead in half in the second period, and then added two goals early in the third period and suddenly the Predators were forced to come from behind, or face a rare loss on home ice. It was second-line forwards Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson who traded mid-3rd period goals to give Nashville a 4-3 lead, and then a game saving performance by Carter Hutton in nets, and the Preds improved to 20-2-1 at home, including a team record nine consecutive wins at Bridgestone Arena, while the Leafs lost their tenth straight game, and will be making golf plans around the same time the Preds will be starting post season play for the first time in three years!
What follows now is a huge Thursday night matchup against Pacific Division leaders, the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks, with a big overtime win against Carolina, fly to Tennessee with an equal number of points as the Predators (72), but Nashville holds one game in hand, giving them the edge in the overall NHL standings.
Anaheim is led by Captain Ryan Getzlaf, forward Corey Perry, off-season acquisition Ryan Kesler, and second year goaltender Frederik Andersen. Solid goaltending, a young mobile defense, and big forwards who crash, bang and score should make for great opposition to Nashville’s sound positional play at both ends of the ice.
This coming weekend includes a pair of afternoon contests for the Preds, including a Saturday (2pm) home game against the New York Rangers (defeated by Los Angeles in last season’s Stanley Cup Finals,) and a Sunday road tilt in South Florida against the Panthers. A Tuesday night game back at Bridgestone against Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning rounds out our week and begins a brief three game homestand for Nashville.
Kudos to Carter Hutton who has withstood a myriad of fan criticism, but held his ground (or, ice, if you will) and delivered competitive goaltending (4-1-2 in 7 starts since Rinne’s injury) that keep the Preds atop the standings of the entire National Hockey League, as we find ourselves about nine weeks away from the post-season.
The team should get a great lift from the Rinne return, but did not disappoint in his absence. Also expected back soon is defenseman Ryan Ellis, who has missed the last 10 contests, and prior to his injury, teamed with rearguard Mattias Ekholm, had been delivering the best hockey of his young NHL career.
Finally, a plug for an off ice team event:
February 15, 2015
Join the Predators Foundation GnashVegas Casino Gala & Auction presented by King Jewelers on Sunday, February 15th. Fans are invited to mix and mingle at the casino tables with the Nashville Predators players, coaches and personalities who serve as guest dealers. You will enjoy delicious food from a variety of Nashville restaurants and delightful beverages from an open bar. This exciting event will feature an exclusive silent auction with autographed memorabilia, baskets with player favorites and once-in-a-lifetime experiences with Predators players and coaches.
VIP guests will be invited to a reception with the team before the event begins and have exclusive access to the High Roller’s Club throughout the evening. The Club will include high roller casino games with Predators players, a private bar and reserved tables for eating & relaxing.
Try your luck in GnashVegas!!
For more information call (615) 770-2331 or go to www.nashvillepredators.com/gala
That wraps it up for this week. Join us again next Wednesday, and follow on Twitter for in-game tweets and observations on this magical Predators season.