On Tuesday night, behind a two goal, three point effort from scrappy forward Viktor Arvidsson, the Nashville Predators skated to a 4-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks at Bridgestone Arena.
The inconsistent Preds have won three of their previous six games and still manage to remain a point ahead of the St. Louis Blues, holding down the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Central Division.
Tonight the team travels to New York City for a brief one-game road trip against the Rangers, winners of their past three contests, and doggedly clinging to one of the wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers have the second best offense in the NHL, but it’s been their defensive efforts, led by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, that have been keeping them in the win column of late. Lundqvist has stopped 108 of 113 shots in the past three games, and has already demonstrated to Nashville how to shut down an offense, with the team beating the Preds 2-1 in overtime during the team’s only meeting here at Bridgestone Arena on December 17th.
New York features two 20-plus-goal scorers. Veteran free agent pick up Michael Grabner leads the team with 25, and 4th year forward Chris Kreider has already tied his all-time best with 21. Another young forward, J.T. Miller leads the team in points, and needs just one more to tie his single season record of 43, set last year. Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash round out a set of forwards that are spread out among three solid scoring lines. Ryan McDonough, the team’s captain, is a solid overall defenseman, and is active on the team’s power play.
Nashville is a team that also scores by committee, with James Neal pacing the goal scorers with 17, followed by both Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg at 15. Captain Mike Fisher’s 13 closes out the list of double-digit goal scorers, but three Preds, including a streaking Calle Jarnkrok have 9, and defenseman Ryan Ellis has 8, and seems likely to easily surpass his personal best of 10 from last season.
After tonight’s tilt in New York, the team returns home for a set of weekend games at Bridgestone. Saturday, the team has a rare 1PM start against the Florida Panthers, and Sunday, an even rarer 5PM game against division rivals, the Dallas Stars. These are the last two games before the team has five nights off as part of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the players. Each team has a mandatory five-day break in their schedule, and the Predators will be idle from Monday through Friday, returning to the ice on Saturday February 18th in Minnesota, and then the next night in Columbus.
There have been some recent player transactions that have affected the team roster for the Predators. Veteran center Mike Ribeiro has been assigned to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee, and the team has acquired veteran forward Vern Fiddler from the New Jersey Devils, in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in this summer’s upcoming entry draft.
Ribeiro, who turns 37 tomorrow, is a veteran of over one thousand NHL games, and is clearly still an NHL caliber player, caught in a “speed” transition game with Nashville, and in the final year of an NHL contract that is not an attractive pick-up for other clubs at this point in the season.
With the trade deadline looming on March 1st, Preds GM David Poile will occasionally make inquiries as to whether Ribs might be a fit on a contending team looking for a veteran center down the stretch. Frankly, if he plays well in Milwaukee, it’s possible Nashville will bring him back for a post-season run, but the sands in the hourglass continue to trickle down to what will most probably be the end of a reasonably productive NHL career for Mike.
As for Fiddler, he returns to the scene of his NHL beginnings. A Nashville Predator from 2002 through 2009, Fiddler is a defensively responsible center that will be called upon for fourth line duties, as well as the occasional shift when the team is killing penalties. The Edmonton, AB native is 36 years old and happy to be back in a Preds sweater.
If you’re around this weekend, and want to catch some exciting NHL action, the Preds are in the thick of a playoff run, and will be playing with a high level of intensity against both Florida and Dallas, and you should witness the action first hand. Come on down and cheer on your Nashville Predators!