The Nashville Predators head into NHL’s Christmas break coming off a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins, who had previously dropped a game 3-2 to the Preds at Bridgestone Arena.
In the past couple of years, the Predators may have been down and out at the break, with very little hope of recovery that would lead to a shot at a dance within the post season, but this year things continue to look bright. The team sits in second place in the Central Division of the Western Conference with 46 points thanks to a 22-9-2 record, and two games in hand on division leading Chicago, who have 48 points. St. Louis continues to be in the mix, despite a current three game losing streak, at 45 points, and Winnipeg having only one regulation loss in their last ten games are knocking on the door with 43 points. Only the Pacific Division’s Anaheim Ducks can claim more points than the Hawks, as they have 51, but have also played three more games than Nashville, and one more than Chicago.
The loss in Beantown was an unfortunate punctuation on what had been to that point, a great road trip. On Saturday, in Minnesota, despite giving up an uncharacteristic five goals, the Preds pulled out all the dramatic stops, with Roman Josi breaking a deadlock to give the team a 6-5 overtime victory against the Wild. Then, this past Monday, the Preds continued to be the most talked about “surprise success story” throughout the league, with a dominant 5-1 victory in Columbus, against a Blue Jackets team that got to see their eight game win streak come to an end.
The Preds, while continuing to be led by the spectacular goaltending of Pekka Rinne, and brilliant offensive leadership from the top line centered by Mike Ribiero, with wingers James Neal and rookie sensation Filip Forsberg, see contributions being made by the entire supporting cast, including Craig Smith, who has become the 3rd Predator to hit double digits in goals this season, sophomore defenseman Seth Jones, who tallied his first of the season in the game at Columbus, and rearguard Victor Bartley who, while filling in for ailing veteran Anton Volchenkov, has impressively notched five assists in just seven games played this season.
After sharing a few days off with their loved ones, the team returns to Bridgestone Arena for a Saturday night tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers have struggled through their first 34 games of the season, with a record of 14-14-6, good for 34 points and fifth in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division. Led by Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Claude Giroux, the Flyers have plenty of offensive firepower, but struggle to keep pucks out of their own net. Steve Mason, the team’s number one goaltender, is hurt, and so netminding is in the hands of veteran backup Ray Emery, and 33 year old rookie Rob Zepp, who won his first NHL start earlier this week.
After Philly, the team makes a quick trip to Chicago for a Monday night game against the Black Hawks, and the return to Bridgestone to face off against St. Louis the following night. Both Saturday’s game vs. the Flyers and Tuesday’s game vs. the Blues are 7pm starts. Come on down and see the 2014 Preds skate swiftly into 2015, and hopefully many more months of exciting NHL activity and we gear up towards a strong run into post season play come April.
On behalf of Sports and Entertainment Nashville, I want to wish you all a safe and sane holiday season, and hope you continue to cheer for the Predators, as this is truly a top flight competitive team that deserves your support.