All season long the Nashville Predators have had trouble winning on the road, but have been decidedly successful at Bridgestone Arena.
Then along came last week.
After the incredible elation attached to the dramatic comeback against the St. Louis Blues, the team faced the Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers in successive home games. Taking a page from the Blues script, the Preds fell behind in the first period, but unlike the game against St. Louis, Nashville faced a stifling Wild defense, and ended up dropping the game 5-2.
When New York arrived on Saturday, they came with a lot of firepower and a world-class goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. The matchup was made even more curious when Coach Laviolette made the decision to go with rookie Juuse Saros in the Preds net over veteran Pekka Rinne. Additionally, it was learned that the team would be without the services of defenseman P.K. Subban, nursing what the team called a minor injury.
Saros faced the challenge, and he and the team performed more than admirably. After allowing a first period goal to the Rangers Rick Nash, the door was then shut through the remainder of the three periods, as well as a five-minute overtime. Mike Fisher delivered the equalizer for Nashville midway through period two, and after 65 minutes, the teams went to the shootout.
Unfortunately, things went the way of the Rangers, as Saros surrendered two goals, the first of which off the stick of rookie Jimmy Vesey, who heard the boo-birds all night long. Vesey, a former Predators draft pick, was granted free agency upon his completion of his education at Harvard, and signed with the Rangers prior to the start of the season. No Predator shots got by Lundqvist, and the final score stood, Rangers 2, Preds 1.
The team left Bridgestone with two consecutive losses, and was then set to test the waters of the Eastern shore, with back-to-back nights (Monday and Tuesday) in Philadelphia, and New Jersey.
With a troubling road record of 3-9-2, The Predators limped into Philadelphia on Monday night, having travelled again without the services of Subban. This time, with Rinne in net, the team eked out a 2-1 shootout victory. Trailing 1-0, Nashville got a third period goal from Filip Forsberg and for the first time in the season was able to record a shootout goal (from defenseman Ryan Ellis) and with Rinne holding Philadelphia off the board, the team notched their first road win in a month.
In New Jersey, the team was reminded of a stinging defeat the Devils had bestowed upon them at Bridgestone in early December. In that game, the team held a 4-1 lead going into the final period of play, but two quick strikes from New Jersey brought the team to within one goal, and the equalizer came forcing overtime, and the comeback was completed in the extra frame, for a 5-4 NJ win.
On this night, however, the Preds once again built a three goal lead, but held strong and added a couple more, before surrendering a late goal, giving Saros his first NHL road victory, a 5-1 affair. James Neal lit the lamp twice in the first period, with defenseman Mattias Ekholm adding his first of the season in the second period. Forsberg scored a power play goal in the third, and Ryan Johansen, off a beautiful feed from speedy sophomore Viktor Arvidsson, scored shorthanded to end the Predator onslaught. Arvidsson finished the night with three assists, his first three point NHL game.
Tonight the Los Angeles Kings come to Bridgestone, in the final game before the brief holiday break. The Kings, winners of the Stanley Cup in both 2012 and 2014 are currently a shell of the team that exhibited the strength and success of years past.
Star goaltender Jonathan Quick was injured in the opening period of the team’s opening game this season, and since then with veteran Peter Budaj taking the crease with varying levels of success, the team has had to survive injuries to key forwards Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown. Offense does not come easy for the once heralded Kings.
A bounce-back at Bridgestone would do wonders for a Preds team that should be sufficiently charged up after their successful road sojourn. But, this team has yet to find the consistency that has been bestowed upon others around the league, as recent win streaks of eight (Minnesota) and ten games (Columbus and Philadelphia) have highlighted the first half of the NHL’s season.
Is it Nashville’s turn to go on a tear? Tonight’s game may hold the key to said answer. After the holiday break, the team will have home games against said Wild, and Chicago. Both teams sit ahead of Nashville in the standings, and both teams have had very lengthy periods of success in 2016.
A healthy Subban, continued success from the goaltending tandem, and the continuation of hot scoring from Neal, Forsberg, Arvidsson and company will go a long way towards telling the tale of how this inconsistent team is able to shake off the problems that have plagued them through the start of the season, and move them closer to securing a position in the post-season.
From all of us at Sports and Entertainment Nashville, a warm holiday greeting, and a lot of Christmas cheer towards our Preds. Come on down to Bridgestone, and Let’s Go Predators.