Off to a 1-2-0 start, the Nashville Predators probably deserved exactly what they got, but also should have fared a whole lot better, especially on Tuesday night against Central Division foes, the Dallas Stars.
The season started on a super high note, as the team lit the lamp three times while on the power play in beating chief rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 last Friday night.
In front of a capacity crowd at Bridgestone Arena, the team was introduced to the crowd to fanatical applause, with special high-decibel cheering reserved for newly acquired defenseman P.K. Subban, and perennial all-star netminder Pekka Rinne. Subban scored the team’s first goal with the man advantage less than eight minutes into the first period, and tied the score at one (Chicago netted the first goal of the game five minutes earlier).
Roman Josi brought the team back from another one-goal deficit when he tallied on the power play towards the end of the opening stanza. Newly appointed captain Mike Fisher scored the Preds third power play goal late in the second, and then with the 3-2 lead, Nashville turned on the defense and Rinne held the Hawks at bay for the electrifying victory.
The mood was short-lived as both teams headed to Chicago for the second contest of the back-to-back tilt on Saturday night. Chicago, now 0-2-0, started their backup netminder Scott Darling in the hopes of breaking their season starting slump. Nashville countered with Marek Mazanec, who beat out prospect Juuse Saros for the backup goalie position after the team elected not to re-sign Carter Hutton, who held down the job for the past three seasons.
Mazanec ran into immediate trouble as the Hawks came out strong, and potted three goals in a span of less than four minutes in the opening frame. Preds forward Colin Wilson grabbed his first of the season with just under a minute and a half to go in period one, and the team went to the locker room down by two. A late second period goal by Craig Smith, on the power play, brought the Preds to within one at 3-2.
Here comes the ugly part. With momentum seemingly shifting towards the visiting Predators, Chicago went on the power play early in the third period. A crucial kill was needed, but the Hawks came up with the goal with just ONE second remaining on Ryan Johansen’s high-sticking penalty. Talk about road team deflation! Smack dab in the middle of the frame, the Preds will took over and the diminutive and fearless Preds sophomore Viktor Arvidsson scored, narrowing the gap to 4-3.
Again, the Preds see at least one, if not two points in their sightlines, but Chicago’s Richard Panik would net his third goal of the game with just a minute and a half to go in regulation. With the score standing at 5-3, the Preds needed to tally twice to take it to overtime, but no such comeback was in the cards. Disappointment evened the team’s win/loss record at one. While you couldn’t put the blame squarely on Mazanec’s shoulders, it was tough giving up those final two goals as the Predators were knocking on Darling’s door numerous times, outshooting Chicago 36-27.
Returning home, the team announced their second loss to injury in as many games. With second-year defenseman Tony Bitetto already sidelined after falling to the ice in a tussle with former Nashville enforcer Jordan Tootoo, we learned that forward Miikka Salomaki sustained a hand injury that would keep him out of the lineup for 6-8 weeks (the prognosis on Bitetto was slightly better, at 4-6 weeks.)
Veteran Cody Bass, who signed with Nashville as a free agent last season, and played predominantly for the team’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, made the roster out of training camp, and was plugged into the fourth line with Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok. Yannick Weber joined Matt Carle as the team’s third pairing on defense.
Tuesday night, the team met Dallas. Things were bad in the first period, despite the score remaining knotted at zero. The Stars outshot the Predators 16-4, and virtually owned the ice for the first twenty minutes. Once again, Rinne stood tall and deftly deflected away each Dallas chance. After the previous game in Chicago, it was clear that the Preds were still not playing their “A” game, but Rinne bailed them out. Early in period two Dallas struck first, but a minute and a half later, once again, with the man advantage, Fisher tied the game for Nashville.
The Predators seemingly woke up after the first Stars goal and played a reasonably good second period, rebounding in the shot department and putting 14 on net vs. Dallas’ 10. Unfortunately, a mid-3rd period score by Dallas made this a 2-1 loss for the Preds, who had a hard time handling the puck, as well as turning it over to the speedy Stars, never really giving Dallas goaltender Jere Lehtonen many problems.
As we move forward to a Friday game in Detroit, as well as a Saturday home game against the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Preds marching orders are clear. Better play at even strength. More presence in front of the net, both offensively AND defensively (the final Dallas goal saw Stars forward Jason Spezza virtually left alone in front of Rinne, and the only Nashville players in the picture were backchecking forwards, leading one to ask where the defensemen were at the time of the game winning tally.
Coach Laviolette has seen both good and bad in the first three games, and now the team faces its first two opponents outside the Central Division. Further to the schedule, the team will depart on a five-game West Coast swing after Saturday night’s Penguins game.