On a very narrow road, three freight trains barrel down the National Hockey League’s Central Division highway. Last week, the St. Louis Blues came to town with their newly acquired soon-to-be Hall Of Fame netminder, Martin Brodeur, and took it on the chin, losing to our Nashville Predators 4-3. Buoyed by an impressive win, the Preds then faced another tough challenge when more than just the Blackhawks from Chicago invaded Bridgestone Arena, in what could only be described by this Preds fan as “Illinoising” – the crowd, a great number of them having driven in from out of town and displaying the red and black jerseys of the visiting team helped boost the Nashville economy, and for the first time in the past three tries, since December 17, 2013, the Hawk fans went home happy, as Chicago defeated the Preds by a 3-1 score. The game was close, as Chicago’s 2-0 lead was quickly cut in half when Colin Wilson beat Scott Darling to draw Nashville close, but an empty netter sealed the win, and sent the loud contingent from out-of-state onto the streets of Broadway and to their cars for the long (and this time happy) ride home.
After the Hawks game, the Preds schedule turned to the road, with six of the next seven games being played away from Bridgestone. Only a Tuesday, December 16th match against the Boston Bruins gives us a chance to see our team play at home, where success has been the norm, as the team has posted an outstanding 11-2-1 record. Of course, there is still work to be done within the friendly confines of their home arena, as a dismal power play, despite their success, has not netted a goal with the man advantage since opening night (Oct. 9) against Ottawa. Their 1 for 44 output, at 2.3% ranks 30th among the 30 NHL teams, and is an incomprehensible difference from their road power-play, which ranks 9th at 20%, despite an 0 for 6 showing in Colorado last night. Hard to believe? Sure, considering the great success the Preds are having, and the good news is that over the course of an 82 game season, these things tend to correct themselves and with the league average somewhere around 20%, we can only assume things bode well for the future.
Speaking of Colorado, last night, the team opened their road trip with some familiar names leading the way. Pekka Rinne, a cinch for an All Star berth this season, notched his third shutout of the season, and Filip Forsberg, a cinch for both and All Star berth, and a Calder nomination for Rookie Of The Year, scored the game winning goal early in the first period. Empty net goals late in the game from Gabriel Bourque and James Neal gave Nashville a 3-0 victory, and a good start to a trip that takes them to Arizona and San Jose later this week.
So, this narrow road called the Central Division has three very mighty teams (Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis) all setting the pace, with usually just a point separating them. Chicago, in the midst of a seven game win streak, paces the group with 39 points, and both Nashville and St. Louis have 38, but the Preds do have a game-in-hand at this point, and those two points are the difference between their holding down the top spot, or looking up from second place. The other Western Conference division, is the Pacific, where Anaheim currently leads the entire NHL with 41 points. The Preds next two opponents are from the Pacific, with the Coyotes of Arizona sit in sixth place, with 23 points, far off the pace of what it would take to be in the post-season, and then the San Jose Sharks, with 34 points find themselves in fourth place, a point ahead of the Stanley Cup Champion Kings.
Things continue to heat up for the Preds and the home tilt against Boston next Tuesday should be a great contest, as the Bruins offer fine goaltending from 27 year old Finnish netminder, Tuukka Rask. Rask, five years junior to Predator goaltender Pekka Rinne, certainly sees his fellow countryman as a formidable foe in this scenario, and will do his best to deliver his A-Game at Bridgestone. We hope you can come on down and check out what is quickly becoming the most talked about team in Tennessee.
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